Acceptance: To Hold and Be Held

From the moment people are born, they’re asked to accept – the “what” is of no importance really; they just have to embrace every change come what may. Death is part of life. Accept it. There’s a sibling on the way. Accept it. Someone else got the boy/girl/job/spot/cookie. Accept it. Described as such, life takes the guise of a Sisyphean structure – a vicious circle if you will.     

Besides being the agent of accepting, one can be the receiver of acceptance- of a tangible or invisible embrace releasing oxytocin. It’s those warm and fuzzy feelings the Balkans Beyond Borders Film Festival wishes to address in seeing acceptance as a connection; to a place, to family, to one’s body, to oneself.

Yasemin Demirci’s Climate Change (2020) demonstrates the difficulties one goes through while moving to a new country, very different from their homeland, through the character of Iklim (Nezaket Erden). The film essentially navigates the shattered confidence one may be confronted with after high school graduation. Iklim leaves Turkey, having chosen a UK-based education, and finds herself lost in a huge city. The vastness of London, so beautiful yet so cold, is accompanied by extreme close-ups of Iklim’s face. Cinematography purposefully displays two polar extremes to communicate the overwhelming weight of walking in a new reality – of dreading the path taken might have been the wrong one after all.  

Choosing a path can be challenging, especially when a parent’s approval is not a given gift, but a conditioned contract. Fehmi Öztürk’s A Mother’s Sonata (2020), inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata (1978), talks about the difficult power relations in mother-daughter relationships. The cohabitation between the two women during lockdown is disturbing to say the least. Boundaries, both emotional and physical, are constantly crossed. Though the overall atmosphere is believable to a certain extent, in the details, something feels amiss. The setting is colorful and modern, but the soundtrack is dystopian and semi-sinister. Mise-en-scène is built on an array of escalating contradictions always a step away from being torn down. Perhaps, however, that’s how it feels when a child knows nothing of unconditional love in private.

But, parents can be loving and grateful for the life they’ve created – no strings attached. Even when expectations are not laid out on the table, a child might have to endure rare difficulties from within. Lucija Brkić’s experimental documentary One Friday Afternoon (2021) recounts the memories of finding out a painful truth. Static shots of medical equipment and old photos timed with a ticking clock arranging the story of a human life. Like a ticking time bomb the short goes on – it speaks volumes on the turmoil one can experience when their body is not following suit like countless others. It’s not easy realizing that you’re made of flesh and blood – it’s actually quite uneasy to be “afraid of my body” as the voice-over confesses. “Accept it” is now heavier especially when you’re that young. 

The body can disappoint in different ways; it can be the wrong one assigned to someone at birth. Stavros Markoulakis’ Madonna f64.0 (2020) observes Maria (Konstantina Lia), a transgender woman, who returns home though she’s clearly not welcome. Three women under the same roof and a baby. Sounds simple enough, but it’s not. The short opens up a dialogue with an important message regarding the difficulty people often face to be who they truly are around their families. A baby is embraced no matter what, but the same cannot be said about an adult. Behind closed doors, when mother isn’t looking, there are times that siblings fight. Maria knows who she is, however, and her feet stand steady on the ground even when a new instinct is discovered. 

Being sure of oneself is not always easy – it takes strength and determination. Though these are tools stemming from within, external factors have an impact on said conviction. Trusting one is enough is no easy task when societal expectations, broadcasted via social media, bombard one’s daily routine. Karmen Obrdalj’s When the Morning Dawns (2021) follows Iskra (Aleksandra Plahin), a young woman, self-conscious about her position in her relationship. On the roof, in her apartment, in a club and on her bed, there isn’t a setting that can contain her insecurity. Even when she’s letting go, living the moment, it’s a decision made under peer pressure. Notable is Plahin’s performance throughout the short’s 20-minute runtime, especially from the moment Iskra finds herself on the ground. Sometimes all one needs is a self-embrace, while on a freeing bike ride with the right beat.

Atmospheric mise-en-scène is more than important when viewers are introduced to characters. Looking in from the doorway, we meet Olja (Jana Bjelica) and Igor (Jovan Jovanovic) in Jovana Avramovic’s Lost Days (2020). Immediately the relationship established is that of intimacy – the camera peers into a confidential conversation linguistically built through a well-played script between two people having formed their own language. The “would you rather do this or that” questions answered with absolute honesty connotes a closeness whose acceptance seems unbreakable. Perhaps that’s until an intruder crosses the doorstep – everything changes when a new variable is added to the equation. 

There’s no feeling like belonging, looking around at faces realizing that every thought that comes to mind is okay. It’s intimacy at the highest level – knowing that no matter the destination, day or night,  there are beating hearts in close proximity ready for anything, no questions asked. 


Ioanna Micha 

Film Critic