Film Scratches focuses on the world of experimental and avant-garde film, especially as practiced by individual artists. It features a mixture of reviews, interviews, and essays.
A Review by David Finkelstein.
Waiting for Sevdah is a 41 minute poetic self-portrait by Saidin Salkic, a Bosnian filmmaker now based in Australia. The film begins with the image of a man (Salkic) washing red paint or blood from his hands. A quietly whispering voice recites a poem about “agony” and how it may be healed by “music.” To understand the film’s backstory, it is helpful to know that Salkic was born in Srebrenica, and was a young adolescent at the time of the wartime atrocities there.
The first half of the film is a slow-paced portrait of Salkic, seemingly the only inhabitant of the pleasant Melbourne suburb where he lives alone. Accordion music, repeated chords which sound somewhat like a car alarm, do indeed create a feeling of agony. Salkic, his heavy guyliner making him look like a silent movie star, spends an entire day and night alone, drinking coffee, staring at the empty streets, quite evidently engaged in “waiting.” If we see other people or cars, it is only fleetingly, near the edge of the frame.
Midway through the film, we begin to hear a repeating chime, like a metal bowl struck by a spoon (very awkwardly edited from shorter sound clips). A little girl in a purple track suit (his daughter Sevdah) pedals down the street on her bike. She arrives, and everything changes. For the rest of the film, we see father and daughter playing together, blowing bubbles and rolling a hoop. We don’t get to see Salkic as a caregiver, nor any of the difficult parts of fatherhood, only his pleasure at sharing her games. (The girl herself is only sulkily playful.) We hear awful piano music, aimlessly and tunelessly wandering, completely at odds with the joyful mood of the images. This music (composed by Salkic) reveals the bewildered confusion of a player with no knowledge of either music or his instrument, and the music undermines the mood of the scene in a bizarre way.
What have we learned from this study in contrasted moods? Salkic loves his daughter. He feels depressed without her, relaxed and playful with her. His recovery from past suffering depends on her. These revelations feel meager, compared to the duration and slow pace of the film.
Waiting for Sevdah has the slow, meditative pace, the lyrical photography, and the poetic language of many “art films.” But the writing, the editing, the music, and the photography are all too crude to capture much poetry. The emotional shift referenced by the story is obviously real and heartfelt. Salkic tries to distill his emotions in order to create a poetic intensity, but the schematic way he renders them has the effect, instead, of flattening them. We’re left with a diagram of the emotions, rendered with clichés, rather than the real thing.