Review: One of Us (2020)

courtesy of Pipser

In a predominantly conservative society as it is Croatian, some painful topics are being constantly swept under the rug. Đuro Gavran is aiming for breaking that kind of silence with his mid-length documentary One of Us. The film has just premiered at the documentary competition of Sarajevo, postponing its premiere originally scheduled for ZagrebDox after the festival was cancelled earlier this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Its TV-friendly 52 minute-format should contribute to national and regional exposure and make some noise regarding the important topic of sexual abuse within the family.

Gavran opens the film by setting the stage: a restaurant waitress is making a table ready for a small, odd-number high school reunion. The friends, 2 young women and 8 young men, including the director himself, were in the same class. So, beers and brandies are flowing slowly along with the food servings, and the recaps about who is where in life, family- and business-wise, are being made. The mood is good and benign jokes are being made about one of the friends’ business choices, and about Đuro’s own feeding habits (vegetarianism).

However, there is a huge elephant in the room, and the viewers are introduced to it early on in the form of a letter being typed over a black screen in which one of the classmates explains why she is unable to attend the reunion. She lives on another continent and she has severed all ties with her family. She just wants the truth to come out. The truth about her father raping her throughout her childhood and adolescent years.

The parts of the letter written by the woman later identified as M. are being shown at more or less regular intervals during the dinner party. It becomes more of a topic, first during the cigarette breaks taken outside, than at the table, as friends drink more liquor in order to make the necessary psychological preparations for the unpleasant talk. The question is not what to do next, it is clear that friends will give her all the support she needs, and try to take legal actions against her parents. The question that occupies them all is how they couldn’t notice anything over the course of 4 years they spent together in the same classroom. Potential answers arise as the dinner goes on, but the answer becomes clear only once the integral version of the letter is read at the very end of the film.

The stage is set perfectly, the tone of the film is balanced and gradually risen, and there is no sense of manipulation on Gavran’s side, although he plays the double role – the one of the filmmaker and as one of the reunion participants. The whole event was filmed in real-time by three cinematographers, Damian Nenadić, Bojan Mrđenović and Tonči Gaćina. The film is smoothly edited by Nina Velnić, and the only interventions is the additionally included music by Mak Murtić and the sound design by Martin Semenčić, highlighting the contrasts between the quiet moments of thoughts interrupted by the rattling of the glasses and cutlery.

Having the unpleasant, but highly necessary topic in mind, and the blend of filmmaking craft and ethics by Gavran, One of Us has to be considered as an exceptionally important piece of documentary filmmaking.

Original title: Jedna od nas
Year: 2020
Runtime: 52’
Country: Croatia
Language: Croatian
Directed by: Đuro Gavran
Written by: Đuro Gavran
With: Ana Grbić, Ivana Cafuk, Marko Rajić, Hrvoje Turković, Dario Orban, Đuro Gavran, Tomislav Prgin, Tomaš Nagy, Damjan Mitrić, Goran Horak, M.
Cinematography by: Damian Nenadić, Bojan Mrđenović, Tonći Gaćina
Editing by: Nina Velnić
Music by: Mak Murtić
Sound design by: Martin Semenčić
Colourist: Tomislav Stojanović
Produced by: Đuro Gavran
Production company: Pipser
Supported by: Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC), City of Zagreb