Director: Ena Sendijarević
Stars: Sara Luna Zoric, Lazar Dragojevic, Ernad Prnjavorac
Another week, another COVID-19-tainted home viewing experience. In this case the film’s very name. Take Me Somewhere Nice. That sounds pretty good right now. The simple things we took for granted. Travelling. Company. A casual life. For me the title also echoes fondly with a Mogwai song of the same name; one of those rare occasions when the Scottish band dared to define their cinematic music within the framework of a traditional song. It’s a wistful, melancholic piece, slightly undercut by references to UFOs. That sense of something heartfelt and personal clashing with an odd or quirky outside element fits with this smart, charming debut from Ena Sendijarević.
A Bosnia/Netherlands co-production presented in the ol’ boxy 1.33:1 aspect ratio, her film follows a young woman named Alma (Sara Luna Zoric) as she travels from Bosnia to the Netherlands to visit her father, who is sick. Not a joyous sounding destination but, as with most road movies, it’s really all about the journey.
I’ll admit it; I’m an absolute sucker for modern use of the square-ish frame chosen here; how directors use it to change the emphasis of contemporary storytelling; making rooms taller, positioning characters in the lower half of the frame (Sendijarević is very fond of this). It openly draws attention to itself. Some might argue that this in itself is a barrier; stylisation that keeps the viewer from complete immersion. An act of ego, even. And in certain cases that may be true. For Sendijarević, this sensibility extends further, however. Her film is self-conscious in other ways.
It’s there in the gorgeous pastel colour palette. It’s in how she chooses to frame objects like cars or a fridge filled with bottled water. Take Me Somewhere Nice shares aesthetics with many modern commercials. It feels like a browser pop-up or full page ad in a magazine. Patterns are accentuated, or contrasted with blank spaces. Using the visual language of advertising seems to be part of this director’s savvy hankering for immediacy. Her clearest contemporaries might be said to be Sean Baker, Isabella Eklof or Andrea Arnold. Echoes of all three could be argued to exist here.
It’s not often I dive right into aesthetics, but it is on these arresting terms that Take Me Somewhere Nice really grabs on first approach, and also lingers after.
Alma’s trip doesn’t quite go to plan, of course. Her cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac) has little interest in helping her out, so she takes a bus, but the bus keeps to a tighter schedule than Alma, and she soon finds herself marooned. Through these events Alma finds herself alone and she quickly embraces the independence. Which is not to say self-sufficiency. She still relies on the kindness of others, but enjoys choosing whose kindness she indulges. TMSN, then, is both a road movie and a coming-of-age flick, as Alma tests out her confidence levels with and without the support network of her family. Her stubbornness, however, clearly runs in the blood…
Taking a long journey as a metaphor for gaining maturity is hardly a new idea. Indeed, it’s a rather safe template and Sendijarević is no doubt aware of this. The dangerous dark tunnel of The Future is one of a handful of recognisable metaphors applied along the way… Alma learning to drive herself is another… Assembling such tropes as though on a washing line allows her to focus attention on fleshing out that visual style. Approaching the standards from her unique perspective if you will. And while, yes, it has its fore-bearers, she still stamps the work with her own individuality, brought to the table in part thanks to a very specific sense of humour. She enjoys placing characters at different levels or heights to one another, and finding ways to make that either humorous or visually arresting.
I remember, when I was a child, looking at adults and thinking that there was a point at which you, as a person, become ‘finished’. Somewhere around 30, I had guessed. You reached a point and you were done learning or evolving, so you could concentrate on other things, or just be at peace. Part of growing up is realising that this isn’t true at all, and that we never really stop growing. After one particular set back, Sendijarević places Alma on a set of swings, deliberately infantilising her. Irrepressibly, though, she soon bounces back. And of course, the end of her journey isn’t where she expects it to be. There’s always somewhere else to go. Deliberately, the ending here is no ending at all.
Bubblegum pinks, baby blues and a soundtrack of euphoric Euro-pop laced with a welcome smidgen of Sonic Youth… Take Me Somewhere Nice is a swift and summery journey, one sneaky enough to throw in a few about-turns for its lead and, by extension, for us too. Think of it as a little vacation you can take from the safety of your own home*.
Take yourself somewhere nice.
*You’ll need a MUBI account in order to take this trip, but that’s something I’d wholeheartedly recommend under any circumstance.