PFF Review: The High Sun (Zvizdan)

David Lakata - November 22, 2015

            Despite its occasional moments of levity, the three romances of The High Sun depict the uneasy ethnic tensions that still permeate Balkan life more than twenty years after the collapse of Yugoslavia. Even for American audiences who may not know much of Yugoslav history or how the internecine wars of the nineties tore apart families and countries, The High Sun effectively uses the failure of three Serbian-Croatian relationships to illustrate the longevity of the region's animosity.

      Set in 1991, the first tale languidly shows pre-war Yugoslavia’s beauty with its expansive, lingering shots of Croatian countryside and rows of picturesque red-roofed houses. The film finds the lovers of this story, Ivan and Jelena, initially relaxing by the beach, before the arrival of a Serbian convoy disrupts the tranquility. Here, the film's sounds perfectly match the couple's mood, beginning with the idyllic, diegetic sounds of the lake and later distorting to meet the stressful silence of the characters’ frustration: when Jelena's brother furiously drives her home after a failed attempt to flee to Zagreb, the car is filled with the driving pulse of “Amerika” by Idoli, a Yugoslav new wave band; this song appears throughout the film, providing a musical motif for the film's moments of Serbian-Croatian discontent. The story's final scene though, with a gunshot that abruptly ends the plaintive tones of Ivan's trumpet, makes achingly clear the pains of the Yugoslav war.

      The next story also begins with a visual survey of the Croatian countryside, now pocked with dilapidated, vestigial farmhouses from before the war. Set in 2001, Natasha and her Serbian mother have hired Ante, a Croatian handyman, to fix their recently purchased house. Portrayed by the same actors as Jelena and Ivan, Natasha and Ante's brief romance is hardly surprising. Indeed, this story feels just like the first story but with lower stakes and less emotional investment. Natasha's and her mother's bickering over Ante's nationality comprises the story's strongest section, but Natasha's insolent responses to Ante ultimately prove tiresome. Without the amour of the first story, the trio of characters fails to offer a compelling tale.

      The final tale initially seems to conclude the film on a more lighthearted note with the promise of a sex and drug filled rave. As Luka and his friends drive to the party, many familiar elements of the film appear: the road on which Ivan was killed, the village of Natasha and her mother, and the driving pulse of “Amerika.” Despite the carousing of Luka's friends, the rock song foreshadows the tensions that resurface when Luka visits his Serbian ex-girlfriend Marija. Even twenty years after the start of the Yugoslav wars, the drunken revelry of a rave still fails to hide the constant hatred between Serbs and Croats.

      The reappearance of actors throughout the film generally strengthens the parallels between the three settings, underscoring the unchanging ethnic tensions that have consumed the Balkan region for decades. The forbidden love of the first story carries the film's central emotional thrust, while the latter two tales merely reiterate the permanence of the Serbian-Croatian hatred. For a moviegoer unfamiliar with Yugoslav history, the film offers a dearth of explanation for the intensity of the region's hatred, an omission that precludes detailed discussion of Balkan history. However, The High Sun makes its point loud and clear: the end of the Yugoslav wars only signified a ceasefire, not a peace.

David Lakata

Logical, persistent, and curious, David Lakata is a junior studying computer engineering. In addition to reviewing films for The Moviegoer, David directs Penn Labs, a organization dedicated to making software for the Penn student body. When not watching movies or writing code, David enjoys photography, reading, and going to concerts. Some of his favorite films include Inherent Vice, The Great Beauty, and Paprika.