WHEN YOU DEEM yourself capable of putting another person into a categorising box, you perform an act of unmitigated violence. And you can do this by simply calling those people ‘foreign nationals’, ‘migrants’, ‘others’, ‘a problem’, the list goes on. It’s a magic gesture which strips another person of their humanity. Forever. This is one of the central threads of the extremely potent and prescient Serbian film As Far As I Can Walk, which features on this year’s European Film Festival, which offers limited screenings in Maseru, between 28 and 30 October.
Under the directorial hand of Stefan Arsenijevic, this love story, which weaves together an ancient parable, the idea of homelessness and that of letting go, on a biblical scale, is mind blowing in its largeness and intimacy, its sense of alienation and its evocation of the texture and smells of humanity. But it’s not only the narrative that makes the work outstanding. Ibrahim Koma plays ‘Strahinja’, a bold and brilliant corruption of a legendary medieval figure, the bearer of fearlessness in a broken world.
Koma is not Serbian. He is Malian. He is not a young prince, but a contemporary young man who aspires to be a professional footballer. And his ‘pale steed’ is, more often than not, represented by his own feet which take him hither and yon, through indignity and discomfort, in a bid to hold together what he has left of normalcy, in terms of his torn dreams and his Ghanaian wife, Ababuo (Nancy Mensah-Offei). It’s a hard to watch film, because of its intense representation of the ebbs and flows of humanity across the planet; people fleeing the vagaries of a homeland in uproar; people who are economic escapees from a broken society; people chasing dreams, armed with nothing but their passion and one small bag of possessions.
But it is in an almost throw-away line about half-way through, and the denouement, almost at the end of the work, that this film’s unequivocal narrative brilliance knocks the whole work up several notches. Rather than a political diatribe about migrancy or the human detritus of conflict, this is a piece of work which is about the self and its need to chase something big. Even if that something is an illusion. Beautifully performed and magnificently constructed, As Far As I Can Walk resonates with the shift in values that Howard Jacobson’s novel The Finkler Question contains, and lends a three-dimensionality to the main character which will sit on your heart forever. You are Strahinja, in your own set of circumstances, if you take them seriously enough.
If you haven’t managed to see this film during this year’s European Film Festival in South Africa, and won’t get to the Alliance Francaise in eSwatini by the end of the month, remember this work: it’s bound to have other screenings in other contexts. It’s a sheer masterpiece. The kind of work that makes this film festival a privilege to behold.
As Far As I Can Walk is directed by Stefan Arsenijevic and features a cast headed by Reham Alkassar, Strahinja Blazic, Slavisa Curovic, Nebosja Dugalic, Rami Farah, Maxim Khalil, Ibrahim Koma, Soulafa Oaishig, Nancy Mensah-Offei and Bashar Rahal. Written by Stefan Arsenijevic, Nicolas Ducray and Bojan Vuletic, it is produced by Miroslav Mogorovic and features creative input by Martynas Bialobzeskis (music), Jelena Stankovic (cinematography), Vanja Kovacevic (editing), Jasmin Cvisic, Johanna Hellwig, Yoana Ilieva and Brigitte Moidon (casting), Zorana Petrov (production design) and Carine Ceglarski (costumes). In English, Serbian and French with English subtitles, it is part of the 9thEuropean Film Festival South Africa, screening in Maseru at the Alliance Française, 28-30 October.