SXSW 2017: Goran
Goran, the third feature film from Croatian writer and director Nevio Marasovic, is a bit of a mixed bag. The film can’t be classified as any one genre, but is instead a mysterious blend of dark comedy, personal drama, and quiet thriller. It’s set in the snowy hills of Gorski Kotar, and revolves around Goran, a reserved middle-aged taxi driver who takes care of his blind wife by night. It takes place on Goran’s birthday, shortly after his wife announced that she’s pregnant (the father being something they’d rather not discuss), and while his wife and their friends celebrate his birthday in an upstate cabin, Goran begins to question the legitimacy behind his friendships, and the truth behind his marriage. The film is intriguing in description, but proves to offer little more than a neat synopsis - it’s a barely functioning drama for the most part, before leading to an absurd, utterly misguided finale that comes more than a little out of left field.
It becomes clear about thirty minutes in, that the film’s saving grace is in its lead performance. Delivered by forty-year-old Franjo Dijak, Goran is portrayed with a certain stillness that is enthralling to watch. Dijak walks the line between reality and absurdity with a grace that the film never seems to achieve; in one scene he could acutely illustrate Goran’s crippling fear of adjustment, and in the next be snorting cocaine and guzzling jugs of vodka, dancing to Croatian pop as the camera swoops around his sweat-streaked face. The film only partly works because of his attention to detail, and all of the film’s greatest scenes - such as a brief moment where Goran touches the tips of his fingers against the passenger seat window that his unknowing wife leans her head against, are all due to his terrific work. But it becomes increasingly evident throughout Goran that its flaws are deeper than anything that can be saved by a good performance.
The picture seems too simple to be a feature film, but just a bit too expansive to fit into a short, so it exists in this awkward middle-ground where every emotional beat feels stilted by its lack of legitimate story. The film is mysterious, and very light on exposition - the nuances of its plot demand close reading of every conversation. This is not an inherently bad thing, and there’s a certain reward behind realizing that you’ve pieced together exactly what’s happening - it’s the reason thrillers like No Country For Old Men have been so successful - but the thinly veiled details of Goran’s plot feel like a chore to uncover, mostly because the film does an awful job of developing any other character than its central one. I couldn’t tell you the objective of any character apart from the protagonist, which is a crucial error in a film about the desires and dreams of a man’s friends and family getting in the way of his mundane reality. The film truly tests how little I can give a shit about these asshole characters, and while their mean-spirited nature is definitely the point, it makes for a profoundly unenjoyable experience.
All the tension building and conflict results in a cathartic indulgence in sex and violence that film does not deserve. The finale comes after a long narrative lull, where every character just sort of does nothing for fifteen minutes - it’s one of the outcomes of the film’s poor pace, as it still feels bloated at 90 minutes. The brutal finale defies both the reasonable trajectory of the film and all pre-established aspects of its characters, even including a terribly misguided sex scene between two male characters with non-established sexualities for shock factor alone. It’s a disaster to witness unfold - and not in the way it had hoped to be. While the film’s final minutes aren’t as awful as the scene prior, the terribly misplaced finale will leave such a sour taste in your mouth that you’ll forget the film has any reason to continue.
All in all, Goran is an intriguing thriller in plot synopsis alone. Its central performance is noteworthy, but even that can’t save the film’s poor pacing, pointless non-characters, and dreadful finale.