Palm Springs review: End of The Road (2022)

If many bad things have righteosly been regarded as direct consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion on Ukraine in the recent times, our lack of empathy for animals is made out of a completely different material. We have been ill-treating other living beings since the beginning of humankind, using them selectively for our own purposes. In George Orwell’s words: “Some animals are more equal than others”, a quote that can be taken quite literally, considering how we feel about creatures we breed and serve for lunch, and those more noble, deserving of our love. There is a perpetual battle of opinions about which animals should be untouchable. In the Western World (but not only), cats and dogs are holy, and so are – for a huge majority of people – horses: noble, loveable creatures we can pat, admire while looking at, and ride on. But, unlike cats and dogs, horses are also a delicacy devoured in the West, animals being sent to slaughterhouses as soon as they can’t perform due to injuries, or when they get old.

Place them in an environment that doesn’t treat any living being with kindness, and you will get a more tragic picture of what kind of destiny meets an old or sick ‘rag’. In the Balkans, you can still see a multitude of stray dogs discarded by their owners for whatever incomprehensible reason or those chained in their owner’s frontyards, mutilated cats or abandoned pats left to their fate. Horses don’t have a much better treatment either, but in a way, as the Serbian director Ivana Todorovic points out, they are condemned to meet a similar destiny as humans: “If there is no one left to care of us, we are left to die”.

This way of thinking is inacceptable for horse lovers Zeljko and Viki, who take care of the discarded donkeys and horses in the only horse sanctuary (Staro Brdo Association) in Balkans on their small piece of land in Lapovo, a town located in the Šumadija District of central Serbia.

Yet again on her quest to understand empathy, the award-winnig director went to Lapovo to witness the kindness and dedication of two enthusiasts who fight hard to finance their heart project in a country that finances, post-war, the treatment of severely ill children through text messages. Still, one can hope that the faith in humanity is restored by the number of people who seem to genuinly care, and donate their money for the project.

Zeljko and Viki’s tireless battle to get the financing for the project is just a part of the story. The film is about something else: a genuine love for horses, and urge to offer them the best possible treatment before they die.

We observe the couple’s simple way of life and the deep bond to each horse under their care. Milan Vlaški’s camera is eyeing animals, their interaction with the two carers and each other, respectful of their space. There are many touching moments one witnesses in the process: whispers, the words of encourgament, genuine sorrow for the dying animal and the actual heartbreak when they meet their end.

Get your hankies ready, because you won’t be able to cope with the animals’ slow path to the other side. Just like in her award winning short doc A Harlem’s Mother (2010), Todorovic is here to remind you about the value of life. In this case, all lives truly matter.

The deep connection between the asylum owners and the animals is established not only through the director’s feeling for the moment, and Vlaški’s precise lensing, it is also accentuated by the meticulous work of the sound department which brings the countryside life close to the spectator .

End of The Road world premiered at Palm Springs Short Fest in the Animal Behaviour Program. It is a film that sticks to one’s mind, and that will certainly travel long festival distances.

Country: Serbia
Language: Serbian
Year: 2022
Runtime: 19′
Written/ directed by: Ivana Todorovic
Cinematographer: Milan Vlaški
Sound: Douglas Oppedahl
Sound Design: Milan Mijahlović
Music: Boris Mijatović
Editing: Marija Jelušić
Colour Corection: Jovana Radovanović