As a caustic, wrist-slashing vision of youthful despair that has a social conscience, Svetozar Ristovski’s debut brings to mind anti-feel-good movies like Lilya 4-Ever or Los Olvidados, tracking the descent of quiet 12-year old Marko (Kovacevic) from A student to homeless criminal. Tortured by a vicious gang of hooligans and invisible to his barbarically dysfunctional family, Marko soaks up the encouragement of his teacher (Nadarevic), who stokes his faith in escaping to Paris via a poetry competition. But after life deals him one lousy hand after another, Marko hardens into a disillusioned miscreant.
Opening with a Nietzschean adage about the torment of hope and closing with a senseless school murder, this bitter, acidulous slab of Macedonian misery primes viewers to read Marko’s story as a metaphorical indictment of the Balkan republic’s empty promises to its youth. State authority, embodied by a Stetson-wearing, camo-attired Albanian cop, is both corrupt and craven. Even the outlaw figure, conveniently named Paris (Djuricko), who schools Marko in the ways of “the sewer,” abandons him. Ristovski certainly has a strong sense of irony, with the haunting music of Erik Satie signaling faraway promise and the Panglossian national anthem tethered to unsavory images. But the film’s cathartic final act leaves you feeling manipulated and dirty, a bit like you’ve just crawled through a desert for no damn good reason. (Opens Fri; Quad.)—Damon Smith