English Title: Days
Original Title: Dani
Country of Origin: Yugoslavia
Studio: Avala Film
Director: Aleksandar Petrović
Producer(s): Avala Film
Cinematographer: Aleksandar Petković
Editor: Ljubica Nešić
Runtime: 79 minutes
Genre: Drama/Art Cinema
Volume: East European
A day in the life of a married woman: the sun rises above the modernist district of New Belgrade and Nina is alone in her lofty apartment. She wanders alone through the city streets, and passes time by measuring her weight in the pharmacy, before meeting a man named Dragan who has come to collect medicine for his dying father. When later they meet for the third time, Dragan invites Nina for a drink, as the custom of the region demands. But nothing is customary in their relationship. They wander through metropolitan Belgrade, along fancy boutiques of Knez Mihajlova Street and the famous Terazije, through the chaos of Kalenić Square and along the vast emptiness of the newly built airport. When they finally take shelter in an unfinished building beside the airport, the sun is about to set and they are faced with both an end to the day and their relationship.
‘I measured it three times today and every time it was different,’ Nina tells Dragan about her weight measurement. It is as if the precise number of grams of her weight could also define her identity; and since these numbers elude her, so does her sense of self. When together they step onto the balance, the experience fills them with joy. It is calming and liberating: together, they are ‘balanced’ and they also have different weight, a new identity.
One of the most striking aspects of this second feature by Aleksandar Petrović, the pioneer of new Yugoslav film, is the contrast between a loosely constructed, episodic story and a firm, precise use of film language (something that is even more striking if one considers that Petrović studied at the famous FAMU in Prague in 1948 but in fact never graduated in directing for the cinema). In Dani/Days, this rigorous technique is made manifest most overtly in the structure of the film as a whole. The narrative develops between two shots that bookend its precise temporality – one in the morning and one at night – of the same empty crossing in a suburban location in New Belgrade, as seen from above. It is the POV of the protagonist Nina in one of the huge, newly built apartment blocks, looking out through the window. When seen from the outside, she seems lost in the crowd, shapeless and anonymous. The corresponding reverse shot, from inside her apartment, displays only her, but she is still one of the many who are alienated within its imposing concrete structure. These twin shots, which mirror the opening and closing views of the city, underline the film’s dramatization of Nina’s search for an identity, a useless search, as is implied when the aforementioned night shot of the same crossing seen at the beginning announces the end of Days.
Similarly striking is a decisive focus on the female character. Nina is a frail, disoriented heroine who anticipates, in particular, the protagonist played by Catherine Deneuve four years later in Buñuel's Belle de Jour (1967). Days filters its avowed universality of theme through the female experience of this character, with her obsessive use of mirrors – her inspection throughout of her facial lines, eyes, mouth, and her constant search for reflections of her image in shop windows and even in other people’s eyes – acting as signs of a preoccupation with looks, but also signifiers of instability and uncertainty. For Petrović, they are at the same time representative of a modernist methodology, a sub-textual exploration of the relation between film and reality, and of the elusive nature of truth.
New Yugoslav cinema of the 1960s was, in general, directly shaped and affected by the French New Wave. However, the most pervasive influence on Days was that of the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni: from the decisive role of the urban surroundings in La notte/The Night (1961), to the sense of tenuous female agency and subjectivity in L'avventura/The Adventure (1960), and the notion of the missed appointment, indeed the missing characters, in L'eclisse/The Eclipse (1962). Petrović, though, builds on his progenitor’s vision in marked ways. While the protagonists of The Eclipse ultimately fail to meet, in Days they merely fail to meet at the appointed hour, only to run into each other later in the day, as if by coincidence. Still, their encounter is also fated to end unhappily. The prime subject of modernist cinema – the seemingly helpless search for a meaningful existence – is drawn out and taken to its limits by Petrović. Death is a common theme in all of his first three feature films – Dvoje/And the Love has Vanished (1961) is similarly about the death of a relationship; Tri/Three (1965) is about dying in the war; whilst in Days life proves to be an extended courting of a literal death that offsets an interior, spiritual demise. Dragan is waiting for news of his father, who has just learned that he is dying, and Nina visits her old aunt, running errands for her that include visiting the graves of their dead relatives. They live, laugh and love to ever-present backdrop of death.
Author of this review: Melita Zajc