Rate a couple of films from 3-5 stars on Netflix and any controlling theme in the film will cause the relatively simplistic AI to recommend several others of that same theme. The recent batch for me is really a combination: films from Eastern Europe and films focusing on or carried by children.
Mirage fits both bills. It is a Macedonian (former Yugoslavian, not the Greek state) film carried by a pre-teen Marko Kovacevic. The easiest way I can describe it is to call it the anti Billy Elliot. Father is on strike, pre-teen with a talent, family problems. Those are the armatures of both films. How they proceed is completely opposite. If you know Billy Elliot and couldn’t stomach something literally totally opposite, then stop reading here. There is no way to go into a description of this troubling film without giving away significant parts of the plot. If you want to see a movie controlled by despair then keep reading. Otherwise, please stop now.
Marko’s (Mr. Kovacevic) talent is writing, poetry specifically. His teacher (Mustafa Nadarevic) recognizes this and encourages Marko to work on a poem for an independence day celebration that would then be submitted to the French Society for a possible trip to Paris. This is the sliver of hope. Marko’s father (Vlado Jovanovski) is on strike from what appears to be a mine and spends what little money he has on bingo and booze. His mother (Elena Mosevska) is emotionally dead and his slutty sister (Slavica Manaskova) is an amplifier of loud anger and hatred whose vocal timbre would shatter glass from half a mile. Against this backdrop is a gang at school that terrorizes Marko. In short, there is nowhere, except briefly with the teacher, that Marko can go to feel safe. However he tries to create a haven in a train graveyard. He also creates a protector figure who he calls Paris. The film doesn’t start at any peak, but what little elevation at the start slides down into despair and hopelessness.
The film started with a quote from Nietzsche to the effect that hope is a terrible thing because it just prolongs the inevitable despair that is man’s lot. You can expect a film starting like that would not be filled with much to lift the spirit. By the way, the color of despair isn’t black (close your eyes and create blackness; now anything is possible—this isn’t true with eyes open). In this Macedonian village, the color of hopelessness is an ochre dust.
Mr. Kovacevic does an admirable job going from a figure with desire for escape to France to a calloused over, defeated, child ready for the worst of what the world can offer before he has his first kiss. Mirage cannot be carried, only dragged. The weight of this effort wears so deeply on the actor that there were moments where it seemed to take on the tenor of a documentary. A head held high through the first half becomes a head fallen forward occasionally leaking tears until even they go away. Mr. Kovacevic spends about half his time on film saying nothing at all but commenting on the scene either by taking it in or with expressions that go from even vague possibility to a knowledge that opportunity will never knock.
As the gang continues to bully Marko, he gets more and more tense, naturally, and seeks to distract himself from this in his father’s manner, vodka. This greases the skids so that the only direction is down and down and down. The difference between Marko’s down and the downs of the people around him is that he once held something he considered a promise of something better. If you accept from the beginning that things will never be better, you won’t be happy, but you won’t be disconsolate either. Marko’s soul is one that cracked.
Mirage has taken the mantle from Requiem for a Dream which I have called the bleakest film I’ve ever seen. In Requiem, everyone makes his or her own hell based on their behavior alone. Since Mr. Aronovsky (and Mr. Selby—the writer) are talented at making an audience care or at least have sympathy for the characters, the audience has a vested interest in the story even if we recognize the behavior made the madness. Mirage is similarly bleak and covered with the ochre dust but Marko doesn’t choose his path the way those of the previously bleakest film. He is pushed down a path where he has only two options and one of them is barred by a lack of learning. He never learned how to be hopeless or at least oblivious to it, so his only real option from the bullying and simple lack of a safe and quiet place is to lash out. And you can imagine that the anger of a 12 year old with no assistance in venting it is going to be entirely uncontrolled.
There is no other way to put it: I have no idea whether to recommend it. Here are just a few of the conditionals: if you can handle bleakness, if you can handle the disappointment of talent, if you can handle a screeching harridan, if you want to see a disintegration of a young soul . . . then you will not be disappointed. If you watch this film, I do recommend washing this one down with a comedy or a good romance, or you can do an anti-matter/matter mix by watching Billy Elliot
What did you think of this review?