'The Other Side Of Everything' Offers Insight Into Modern Serbia
A mother-daughter relationship is jumping off point for documentary
"The Marathon Family" (1982, Slobodan Sijan)
"Underground" (1995, Emir Kustirica)
"The Wounds" (1998, Srdjan Dragojević)
"A Serbian Film" (2010, Srdjan Spasojevic)
“The Other Side of Everything” is a first-person documentary about a daughter exploring her relationship with her mother. But when the mother also happens to be a pivotal figure in Yugoslavian/Serbian history then the story becomes about something much bigger.
Filmmaker Mila Turajlic uses her mother, Srbijanka Turajlic as a guide through the recent political upheavals of modern Serbia. Her mother proves a riveting centerpiece for the film. She’s a retired engineering professor, constant activist, and unflinching pragmatist.
Director Turajlic begins her film with her mother cleaning a lock on a door to a room that has not been opened in decades. That door is in the Turajlic family apartment (in a building the family had built and owned) in Belgrade and the door was closed and locked when the Communists came to power after World War II and deemed the family quarters as too big for a single family so they divided the apartment. The act becomes a useful metaphor for Turajlic for the division in the former Yugoslavia.
In her director’s statement, Turajlic said:
I want to speak of my country from a very personal angle, and from a very precise point of departure — the place where I live. The more I stare at the locked doors that I have been faced with all my life, the more I realize how much about Serbia can be understood by talking about divided spaces.
The plot of the film grows like a spiral: A personal investigation into divided space (unfolds) a family chronicle (which becomes) an account of turbulent times (that ends up portraying) a story of a country.
But Srbijanka Turajlic is a great touchstone to have at the center of all the political upheavals her country has gone through in the last half-century.
At one point Srbijanka jokes that her father told her to go into something related to math in order to avoid potential political problems with the government. His reasoning being with math you are dealing with numbers and facts. But Srbijanka laughs that her choice to become an engineering professor did not prevent conflicts with the government. But that had less to do with the subject she was teaching and more to do with the fact that she felt professors needed to stand by their students when they protested and that simply as a person she could not let things she did not agree with pass without comment.
Her daughter, who remains almost entirely behind the camera (we catch an occasional glimpse of her) and as an off-screen voice, points out that it was unusual to have a mother who spoke out on national television about events going on in the country. Mila even challenges her mother to ask why she felt that need to be so relentlessly active on social issues. Srbijanka’s response is quite simply that she had no other choice.
While much of the film is set within the family apartment, director Turajlic often turns her camera to what is happening just outside the window. She explained in the press materials: “While the story unfolds inside the apartment, the view from the windows lets us enter a Serbia rarely ever seen in the media. I have been filming from the windows for the past 10 years, creating an archive of dramatic and intimate moments taking place on the streets below.”
Moments like protests happening on the street below. During the course of the film, we see the fall of Communism, the rise and fall of Slobodan Milošević, as well as recent elections. Through it, all Srbijanka remains a level-headed commentator. When there are defeats, she rises to the moment to provide a course of action. But when there are victories, she never lets herself get swept up in any wave of euphoria but rather points out what obstacles and dangers still lie ahead.
She is a role model for activism, proving the need to never shy away from voicing dissent and to always question those in power as well as to challenge every generation to take on the responsibility to fight for what they believe is right. Her story is both specifically one of Serbia as well as universally inspirational.
“The Other Side of Everything” serves up a compelling and provocative look at modern Serbia and allows American audiences (the film was co-produced by HBO Europe) some insight into a country they may not be that familiar with.