vt Landscape #2
Slovenia / 91 minutes / color / Forum Ljubljana, Delirium, TV Slovenija, VPK Dir & Scr: Vinko Möderndorfer Pr: Eva Rohrman Cine: Dušan Joksimovic Cast: Marko Mandic, Slobodan Custic, Barbara Cerar, Maja Martina Merljak, Janez Hocevar, Jaka Lah, Janez Škof, Peter Musevski, Slavko Cerjak, Štefka Drolc, Nataša Ninkovic, Domen Šneberger.
Outwardly the genial Polde (Hocevar) and his feckless assistant Sergej (Mandic) run a little repair shop; in fact Polde’s a professional burglar and Sergej is his relatively recent apprentice. Polde gets the information for his burglaries from his blabbermouth neighbor Ruzica (Ninkovic), who works as a domestic cleaner. The latest target of the two burglars is the home of a General (Škof) who made his pile during the Communist era and is now living in retirement on the spoils. All Polde plans to steal is a painting, Landscape #2, which he intends to offer back to the General for ransom.
The painting that everyone wants.
Behind where the picture hangs, however, Sergej discovers a safe. Impulsively he opens it, grabbing a stack of cash as well as, inadvertently, an old document. He tells Polde nothing of this little extra theft.
Returning home the next day, the General doesn’t care about the cash, would much like his picture returned, and is terrified of the consequences should the contents of the document ever get out, for it details those responsible for the mass executions perpetrated in Slovenia immediately after the end of WWII. (Question: Why, then, has he kept the document rather than long ago destroyed it?) He calls in The Instructor (Custic), a grim-faced, steely-eyed “fixer” and assassin from the old days, telling him that he must at all costs get the document back—unless the General, who’s ancient and in poor health, should die, in which case the General doesn’t care what happens to the other guilty parties.
It doesn’t take long for The Instructor to identify Ruzica as the likely source of inside information, and through her he reaches Polde . . .
Sergej (Marko Mandic) and his steady girlfriend Magda (Barbara Cerar).
Meanwhile Sergej, despite being engaged to his sensible, loving fiancée Magda (Cerar), is celebrating his ill gotten gains by having a bonkathon with his other girlfriend Jasna (Merljak), an inventive and energetic sexpot. This section of the movie goes on for far too long, is far too explicit and has all the implausibility of an adolescent male’s masturbatory fantasies; it almost destroys the edifice as a whole, and many TV viewers must switch off during it in the belief that they’ve stumbled into a (not so) soft porn movie by accident. Presumably it was shot with mercenary intentions; it comes across like a small boy swearing in hopes of shocking his elders.
Jasna (Maja Martina Merljak) with her clothes on.
Once he emerges, Sergej is horrified to learn that his friend and mentor Polde has hanged himself. Visiting the older man’s house and workshop, he finds that the painting has gone and that Polde’s Down’s syndrome son Igor (Šneberger) is intent on a “game” that involves sticking a bag on his head. Igor puts two and two together and realizes an assassin must have asphyxiated Polde, then strung him up.
The Instructor (Slobodan Custic) torments Polde (Janez Hocevar).
The two policemen who appear, nice cop Inspector Lavrencic (Cerjak) and nasty cop Inspector Boris Novak (Musevski), although they don’t arrest him clearly regard Sergej as Suspect #1. Sergej, although worried that a killer may be after him, is too witless to take any sensible precautions—especially when there’s the prospect of another protracted bout with Jasna. This means that all of those around him—Magda, Jasna, his gay neighbor and best friend Damjan (Lah), who works in some kind of historical research institute and who alone realizes the incendiary potential of the document’s contents—are at danger from The Instructor . . .
Just another job done for The Instructor (Slobodan Custic).
The tale is set against the backdrop of the national fascination with the discovery of mass graves dating from the immediate postwar period, when the Communists executed thousands of not just collaborators and Slovenian Nazis but dissidents and anyone else inconvenient. The painting, Landscape #2, represents a tract of forest where one of the massacres was carried out, and the movie’s tragic climax occurs close by, where hundreds of candles have recently been lit to commemorate the dead. This element of the movie creates a good sense of a nation trying to come to terms with and leave behind its unsavory past; that there’s still a distance to go is hinted to us when at one point Inspector Lavrencic lets slip that he and Novak have likewise been instructed—presumably by the General, supposedly no longer a power-broker—to bring back the painting.
The last we see of the General (Janez Škof).
A death is announced.
Among the cast, Cerar is outstanding as the dowdy fiancée who has an unexpected inner steel. When The Instructor tries to kill her she startles him by putting up a serious fight, inflicting damage of her own. Hocevar impresses too, as the convivial old thief, and likewise Lah as the gay neighbor, while Custic displays just the right subtlety-veneered ruthlessness. Mandic’s character, Sergej, is too shallow for any valid assessment of his performance, although in the movie’s final moments, when Sergej must at last quit his irresponsibility and face the tragedy that has closed in on him, Mandic is more than effective.
Sergej (Marko Mandic) awaits his nemesis.
Marred by the dreary exploitation earlier on, Pokrajina Št.2 develops into an absorbing piece of neonoir.