Culture

Dutch-Bosnian director grapples with sense of belonging in ‘Take Me Somewhere Nice’

Identity and place are complexities that migrants all too often grapple with. In Ena Sendijarević’s debut feature film Take Me Somewhere Nice, she explores her confusing upbringing through a quirkily dark rom-com that follows the story of a Bosnian-born Dutch-raised teenager, Alma, played by Sara Luna Zoric.

The film strikes a clever balance between dry witty comedy and a coming of age exploration, following the story of Alma’s holiday from hell. After determining to visit her ill father in hospital she leaves the Netherlands for Bosnia, a country to which she bares loose connections. Greeted by her cold and rather gangsterish cousin in a deserted airport parking lot, the film embarks on a charmingly absurdist adventure.

Alma’s quest for her father and link to the country is presented through an off-kilter candidness, where her maturation is greeted with an ironical glare far beyond her years. Her narrative is decorated with the inclusion of various characters from all walks of life but holistically united with a sense of anti-heroism. Their imperfections meet with Alma’s, and set the stage for a witty dialogue that explores her sense of belonging.

“I hate the Netherlands. Cold weather. Cold people,” says Denis, a lover who Alma encounters on her travels. Despite this, her cousin warns Alma that Denis’s love may be limited to his options for a passport, constructing a complex commentary on the division between eastern and western identities.

Later on, Alma’s cousin, Emir, tells her that he, unlike Denis, would never leave Bosnia as he loves his country. After being accused of being nationalistic, he tells her: “No, I’m a patriot, it’s different. One is out of hate and the other love”.

This construction of a sense of belonging is aided with a subtle symbolism that Sendijarević intertwines throughout. The film begins with Alma clothed in a velvet blue dress that she wears when travelling from the Netherlands, and after not being able to open her suitcase the dress becomes her costume – with almost a cartoon character-like consistency. Yet halfway through the movie, after what appears to be a maturation of character, the protagonist leaves what she was wearing from the Netherlands for an oversized white shirt she found in an abounded suitcase. This swapping of uniform is accompanied by ellipses and jumps between unexpected episodes of fear to a stylised unseriousness that leaves the viewer grappling with the consequences of a confused identity.

As the director, Ms Sendijarević, explains: “I wanted to explore the relationship between migrants and home country, because I think there is this image of when a person has two countries in their background they have the best of both worlds, but in reality I think having a different home country leaves a lot of complexities in your life. Alma tries to make some kind of connection with this country but its more difficult than you would expect, she ends up coming from one absurd situation into the other.”

By the end of the film it does seem that she is moving towards acceptance not a resolution, of its complexities.

Each act appears in a semi-surrealist sense, accompanied by a Wes Anderson-esque cinematography of pastel palettes, that adds a layer of absurdism to Alma’s experience. The characters are filmed in such a way that they leave a lot of dead space, establishing feelings of emptiness as well as an unfriendly sense of closing in. Imposing geometric scenes of soviet apartments are cut with symmetrical compositions, all making the reader feel as if the story is hyper stylised and unreal. “I wanted to show the audience that the world I am portraying in this film is a construction,” says Ms Sendijarević, “so I hope that fewer will feel another construction is possible, reality is merely an absurd possibility.”

However, the film is cleverly cut with deadpan humour that intersects the heaviness of the themes. This is aided by Alma’s strong sense of character, a teenage carelessness teetering on the edge of adulthood that embodies sophisticated cool against a childish need for belonging. This creates dimension and agency away from pity. “What happens when you look at minorities in a say way, is you take some of their power away by victimising them,” the director explains, “this film is a film of anti-heroes, you have lazy characters, self absorbed characters all the characters seemed to be lost in this bubble of materialistic world and they don’t know what to do…they are not heroes, but I have always identified more with anti heroes.”

In a paradoxical sense, the absurd, humorous and witty construction of migrant complexities empowers the characters away from pity and towards a self-actualising agency. This is poignantly important for Ms Sendijarević as the protagonist’s story rings true to her own, whose parents fled Bosnia during the war in the 1990s to the Netherlands. This parallel leaves the viewer wondering – how much is fiction and how much is auto biography? Making the work of self-discovering even more valuable.

The 2019 film received great acclaim, wining the Rotterdam Film Festival’s special jury prize for exceptional artistic achievement, best feature fit at the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival and at the Sarajevo Film Festival, while being nominated for the Dutch entry for the Academy Awards.

However, this film goes far beyond critical acclaim – instead the story of a teenage girl grappling with her past and future between east and west serves as a reflective artwork for the directors own experience – and sure to be the first in a long list of achievements for the young Dutch-Bosnian.

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