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The Great Water

By Paul J. Kowalski

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As the Republic of Macedonia's official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, I approached "The Great Water" with interest, but also skepticism. In a nation undergoing postbellum socio-political disturbance, successfully producing a film of this scale certainly goes against all odds, and alone deserves a certain merit; however, with the intention of success beyond their own borders, such films far too often go crassly Americanized, conveniently catering to the taste of the world's most lucrative film industry hub. The reality is that Hollywood has enough Hollywood to go around. Westernization remains a bar to separate more valuable films from abroad full of distinct national or artistic flavor, from other pictures that merely emulate mainstream American style in a non-English language. For better or worse, "The Great Water" falls into this broad, latter category.

Lem Nikodinoski

Basing his film on a 1970's novel, director Ivo Trajkov appropriately explores the implications of war and tyranny in "The Great Water". The film starts with a famous politician, Lem Nikodinoski, slipping into a coma and recollecting the events of his childhood. The rest of the movie focuses on Lem's boyhood, spent captive in a communist orphanage at the end of World War II. The children are daily drilled with Stalinist ideologies including proletarian values, atheism and above all, total and utter subservience to the state. A series of conflicts ensues while the religion-clinging Lem (brilliantly played by Saso Kekenovski) refuses to give up his morality and individuality. This comes to the story's forefront with the appearance at the orphanage of Isak, a mysterious young boy. The stoic's resilience to Stalinism in the form of a seemingly supernatural religion he secretly practices and in which Lem becomes involved, injects the film with a dose of mysticism.

Isak Leads a Mystical Ritual

"The Great Water" is beautifully photographed by cinematographer Suki Medencevic, who forms a polished and successfully mood-inducing moving canvas of images. Unfortunately, Trajkov (and perhaps his director of photography) are to blame for overdoing things - or at least not succeeding in connecting many disparate elements together. The story regularly remains subjugated by elaborate visuals, clumsy dialogue and in general, an epic-like expectation via the film's style. Frequent, sweeping dolly shots, the pretentiousness of an overdramatic voice providing Lem's narration, and an obtrusive, garish score complicate matters to a level incongruous to the film's content. These superfluous cinematic elements call attention to themselves for their own sake - but not in a Goddard-esque direction. In "The Great Water" they occur at a perilous cost to the narrative.

Military Drills

Even the storyline takes on too much ground, and leaves the viewer unfulfilled. Trajkov skims the surface of many vital issues - religion, communism, coming-of-age, friendship, sexuality - but fails to penetrate to the heart of a single one. Isak's supernatural practices, for instance, seem ungrounded, out of place and insignificant in the context of the story being told. Eventually "The Great Water" amounts to a long list of irksome, half-finished questions under the guise of an eye-catching fabric, and as tends to happen to such films, finally renders it unremarkable.

The Young Lem in Class

The film's highest praise goes to Saso Kekenovski, the lad who plays the lead role of Lem. His commanding performance shows him capable of a range of difficult emotions, and at such a young age, promises him a lengthy career in film acting. Also deserving of our attention is Maja Stankovska, who, completely unbeknownst to the audience during the film, is the young lady playing the male role of Isak.

For more information, see www.greatwatermovie.com

Published on Dec 31, 1969

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