The High Sun transports the viewer to coastal Balkan villages where the sea is refreshing, but the relations between the Serbians and Croats are frosty to say the least. Director Dalibor Matanic’s films requires little knowledge of the history of Yugoslavia, offering instead universal themes of love, lust, passion and hatred.
The High Sun presents three stories in three different time periods, but uses the same actors in each story, playing different roles. It opens in 1991 at the beginning of the Croatian War of Independence. The first sequence follows a doomed romance between Serbian Jelena (Tihana Lazovic) and Croatian Ivan (Goran Markovic). Their dream of escaping the conflict in their villages and making a new life together in the city is threatened by Jelena’s highly aggressive military brother. Next, Matanic takes us to 2001 where Natasa (Lazovic again) and her mother return to their rural home after the fighting has passed to find it in a terrible state of disrepair. Croatian repairman Ante (Markovic again) helps to rebuild their home but Natasa finds it impossible to forgive the fact that Ante’s people were responsible for her brother’s death in the war. Finally in 2011, university student Luka (Markovic in a third role) is passing through his hometown for one night only, and while there to just attend a party, has to face up to a past relationship he left behind.
While the locations remain largely the same and the gravestones of characters deceased in previous stories are briefly glimpsed, it is the thematic connections that resonate more than anything else through the three stories. The Romeo and Juliet style illicit affair of the young lovers in the first story ends on a note of tragedy, while the second and third stories contain more in the way of quiet hope. The stories are connected by the dead as the gravestones are stark reminders that the world has moved on, despite the losses of these young people. Those who remain are left scarred by the deaths of their loved ones, but as The High Sun somewhat successfully shows, time can help heal any wound.
The passing of time is signalled not only by the year which is helpfully plastered up on screen at the beginning of each new story, but also by the costumes, the colours and the sense of optimism that increasingly pervades the drama. The military uniforms and traditional costume of the first story gives way to the run down and war-torn architecture of the second sequence. By the time, we are brought almost back to the present in 2011, the youth are dressed colourfully and completely differently to the older generation, and the throbbing bass of a drug addled rave offers a glimpse of the peace and love that young people have to look forward to.
Matanic directs this standout scene with bucket loads of visual flair as Luka takes what is assumed to be MDMA. He has a wild time in front of the outdoor speakers, pumping relentless dance music and attempting to forget about the responsibilities in his life that have kept him from returning to his hometown. It is also directly after this scene that Luka has a moment of clarity in the sea that has featured as a prominent location in all three stories. Matanic savours the moments of calm, womb-like bliss as characters lounge in and under the water, allowing cinematographer Marko Brdar to capture the beauty of nature in both the sea and with the numerous sunsets and sunrises that dot the film.
However, as well shot as The High Sun is, it would be far less successful without the committed performances of its central pair. Taking the leads in all three stories, Lazovic and Markovic are excellent in all three of the respective roles. Played with passion, their love stories feel dynamic and the characters rarely lapse into repetition. Of course Matanic deserves much of the credit for this as writer and director, but the challenge of playing three different characters in one film is admirably risen to by his leads.
The High Sun is a solid drama that features some interesting creative choices, never quite hitting the high emotions it could reach for, but remaining engaging throughout with its tales of romance tainted by conflict.
About the Author
Peter Turner Senior Reporter & Critic for Tastic Film Magazine.