I Am From Titov Veles Review
Finding ways to overcome limitations of funding, resources, restrictive conditions and political repression does seem to have the side-effect of bringing out the best in filmmakers, with some of the most imaginative, inventive and creative work dealing with relevant social, political and humanitarian issues in recent years coming from China, Iran and Africa. The same can be said for East European countries in the former Soviet Bloc coming out of the years of deprivation and repression under Communist rule, most notably evident in the resurgence of committed filmmaking by Romanian directors creatively finding a way to look back at the legacy of the years under the Ceausescu regime.
It’s the legacy of the years under Tito that weighs heavily on Titov Veles, a small Macedonian town which not only bears the name of the Yugoslavian Communist dictator, but is still dependent on and subject to the influence of the factory built there under the regime, a factory that still spews its toxic waste out over the town, the pollution killing the people living there. In her second feature film, I Am From Titov Veles, director Teona Strugar Mitevska, through this image of the legacy of the past and its influence over the present and the future, combines personal experience, memory and impressions with an artistic sensibility that makes allusions to mythology, literature, poetry and painting to create a unique and deeply original work.
I Am From Titov Veles finds its originality of perspective through taking the viewpoint of the youngest of three sisters living in the small Macedonian town. Afrodita (Labina Mitevska) is a young 27 year old woman who has remained mute since the death of her father, and is prone to dreams and reveries that help her to process the wretchedness of the world she lives in with her three sisters. Afrodita’s eldest sister Slavica (Ana Kostovska) works at the town’s toxic factory, where she hopes to marry the wealthy owner, but struggling with an addiction to methadone, she relies on her sisters to set up the necessary arrangements, which calls for some painful sacrifices from both Afrodita and her older twin sister Sapho (Nikolina Kujaca).
Narratively, there is little more to the film than this. Like Chekhov’s Three Sisters, each of the women feel like they are living in exile at home, longing to return to an illusory homeland and willing to do whatever is necessary to escape from Titov Veles - in this case a Greek homeland that their family were expelled from, like many others during the WWII. Slavica hopes to escape her misery through marriage, Sapho through procurement of a visa, and Afrodita through her own imagination. Showing this through the eyes of Afrodita however, the director’s depiction of the grim reality of their lives and their surroundings takes on the lyrical quality of three fallen angels expelled from paradise unable to bear the torment of their mortality. The film consequently features strong scenes of misery, torment, horror, humiliation and degradation, suffusing them with the beauty of the natural light and fluid cinematography in a manner that never lessens the weight of the situation, but rather poetically heightens it, touching on indescribable underlying sentiments and emotions that are often difficult to grasp in any rational way.
In cinematic terms, such emotional lyricism evokes Kieslowski more than the spiritual poetry of Tarkovsky. A Franco-Belgian co-production with Macedonia/Slovenia, the hand of editor Jacques Witta, who worked on Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy and La Double Vie de Véronique, can perhaps be identified as contributing to this impression, but Teona Mitevska has her own visual style and language, finding a unique and personal way to describe the condition of her characters and her homeland. The term Chekhovian is often misused to describe an intense chamber drama, but I Am From Titov Veles matches the author’s human observations in the truest sense of the term, and not just in its story of three sisters, but in the psychological and emotional veracity with which it touches on the wonder and the wretchedness of human existence without ever resorting to cliché, narrative contrivance or perceived truths. I Am From Titov Veles consequently, if sometimes very painful to watch and often elusive in its meaning, demonstrates a true artistic sensibility, coming as close to a masterpiece as any film I have seen in the last decade.