Wednesday, February 5, 2014
New Belgrade. Microbiologist Pavle leads a solitary life in a sterile, grey apartment building. He is trying to discover the source of a bad scent around the building, while at the same time a series of inexplicable suicides is hitting the area. He discovers that the source of bad scent is coming from the nearby crematorium, where a local older employee tells him stories about traditional burning of corpses through history. When a girl he loved passes away, he phones the ambulance and informs them that he is donating his organs before committing suicide by bleeding to death.
Upon its premiere, Vlatko Gilic's dark psychological drama that ponders about existentialism, "Backbone", went entirely unnoticed in the Yugoslav cinema. Depressive and ambitious, "Backbone" is a study about human isolation in the modern society that leads to depression and suicide, and its biggest virtue is the strong mood originating from the long, expressionistic takes without dialogues that are reminiscent of Antonioni. Unfortunately, the storyline is vague and - appropriately - lifeless, which is the reason why it leaves a very bizarre and incomplete impression as a whole, despite an effective tragic ending. A subplot involving fog that shows up one night is sadly underused, whereas numerous explicit scenes (a surgeon slicing up the brain of a deceased person; a man strangling a black dog) just exacerbate the depressive tone that becomes an overkill with time. Not for everyone's taste, yet director Gilic showed his repulsion towards the modern urban isolation strongly, which gives the film an ambitious seal.