The Optimists (film)
|Directed by||Goran Paskaljević|
|Produced by||Goran Paskaljević
|Written by||Goran Paskaljević
|Music by||Aleksandar Simić|
|Edited by||Petar Putniković|
|Release date(s)||September 11, 2006|
|Running time||98 minutes|
The Optimists (Serbian: Оптимисти) is a 2006 Serbian black comedy film directed by Goran Paskaljević. The film, presented as five unrelated narrative sequences, was inspired by Voltaire's satirical work Candide. The Optimists features an ensamble cast of Serbian actors, with Lazar Ristovski appearing in all five storylines.
The film had its premiere at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was subsequently screened at several other film festivals earning multiple awards. Ristovski was named Best Actor at the 51st Valladolid International Film Festival while the film won the Golden Spike award as the best film of the festival also earning the Youth Jury Award. The Optimists was included as part of a retrospective exhibition on director Goran Paskaljević at the Museum of Modern Art in 2008.
A village has been almost destroyed by a large flood. A hypnotist (Ristovski) comes to the village and speaks to the destitute inhabitants. Free of charge, the hypnotist offers to lift the villagers' spirits through hypnosis. The villagers doubt the hypnotist's noble motive and he is accused of an apparent theft. The police arrest, beat and interrogate him.
A sleazy businessman (Tihomir Arsić) takes a young woman (Bojana Novaković) in his employ to a rural area and he rapes her there. The girl's father (Ristovski) is upset and wants to kill the man. The businessman is powerful and the father is afraid of getting fired so the father, instead, ends up greatly apologizing to the businessman suggesting that the assault was the daughter's fault and that it inconvenienced the businessman.
Ilija (Viktor Savić) is a young man whose father Ratomir (Ristovski) recently died. Ilija takes the money that was saved for his father's funeral and he quickly loses it all while gambling. He meets an old lady (Mira Banjac) who was recently diagnosed with a terminal illness and who has had a lucky streak on the slot machines ever since her diagnosis. Ilija joins her in hopes of rejoicing with her success.
Pera (Ristovski), the owner of a large slaughterhouse, calls a doctor (Nebojša Glogovac) to his home complaining that his 12-year-old son (Nebojša Milovanović) is giving him a heart attack. The 12-year-old is kept locked up in a room because he feels overly dedicated to the family business, so much so that he slaughters every animal he sees. The doctor realizes that he is expected to treat the son, not the slaughterhouse owner.
A con man posing as a faith healer (Ristovski) approaches a group of people with various disabilities and illnesses. He offers, for a fee, to take them by the busload to a spring that has magical healing powers where they will be cured. The group boards the bus and arrives at the destination. Once there, the con man abandons the group and leaves the site. The group, having realized they're being abandoned, does not do much to stop the bus from leaving because they're still determined to get the full benefit of the spring's healing waters.
Dan Fainaru of Screen International wrote a positive review for The Optimists in which he stated that, besides the film's "seemingly gloomy viewpoint", the director's "compassion is as pronounced as his sarcasm, and his sympathy for his characters no less evident than his derision." Fainaru tied the Candide inspiration to Paskaljević's "attempts to pinpoint some of the reasons that have held his part of the world back in the past and still do to this day", he commented that the director "plays his cast like a virtuoso", that he "displays superb confidence in his choice of camera set-ups" and commended the cinematography, music and art direction. On Lazar Ristovski's performance, Fainaru commented that Ristovski's "powerful personality often tends to sweep everybody else off the screen."
Reviewing the film for Variety magazine at its screening at the 2006 TIFF, Dennis Harvey gave the film a mixed review. Harvey stated that although the "stories' conceits have promise", "there's a certain flatness of execution that reduces everything to the same watchable but dispiritingly minor plane." He also opined that the film expresses a futility that "might well have become a powerful statement in itself" but that it is, ultimately, "is blunted by a sense of artistic inertia." Commenting on the separated narrative structure, similar to Paskaljević's 1998 film Cabaret Balkan, he stated that "Rather than parting on a note of irony or resolution, most of these tales simply deadend when situations have achieved their equilibrium of hopelessness and defeat." He reservedly commended the acting, appreciating Ristovski's work for "nimbly vanishing into five separate roles" and commenting on the other performances as being "solid if seldom inspired". On the film being inspired by Candide, Harvey commented that certain elements were notably missing. He claimed that "Voltaire's satirical savagery is missing here - not his cynicism, but the wit and fury that punched it across."
- Cinéma Tout Ecran (2006)
- The FIPRESCI International Critics Award
- Best Production - Goran Paskaljević
- Young Jury Mention
- 51st Valladolid International Film Festival
- Golden Spike
- Best Actor - Lazar Ristovski
- Youth Jury Award
- Fainaru, Dan. The Optimists (Optimisti), Screen International, September 15, 2006. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- Harvey, Dennis. The Optimists, Variety, September 15, 2006. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- Hernandez, Eugene. Toronto ‘06 Daily Dispatch: Oh, Canada! Toronto Fest Looks North to Launch 31st Fest, indieWire, September 7, 2006. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- Anderson, John. A Serbian Director’s Eye Remains Fixed on Uncomfortable Truths, The New York Times, January 9, 2008. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- 12th International Film and Television Festival, Cinéma Tout Ecran, November 2006. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- Green, Jennifer. The Optimists triumphs at Valladolid, Screen International, October 30, 2006. Accessed April 27, 2010.
- The Optimists (2006) Serbia, Associação Brasileira Mostra Internacional de Cinema, 2009. Accessed April 27, 2010.