Balcancan is slightly different from the films we usually talk about here. It’s not a cult, horror, exploitation film or anything of that sort, but it has a touch of quirkiness we appreciate here at Macabresque.
Directed by Darko Mitrevski, this Macedonian-Italian joint production is a road film/dark comedy, and is about a Macedonian man called Trendafil Karanfilov and his search across the Balkans, for the dead body of his mother-in-law, wrapped in a carpet. All the important dates of Trendafil’s life has been marked by wars, which is shown as the reason for his reluctance to join the army and/or take part in any violent act. When the military wants to enlist him, his wife Roza suggests leaving the country and going to Bulgaria, taking her mother Zumbula with them. Zumbula dies on the road and in an effort to evade bureaucracy, they wrap her up in a carpet to cross borders without any problems. When the carpet bearing Zumbula is stolen, Trendafil decides to call Santino Genovese (the son of Don Genovese, who was Trendafil’s father’s blood brother) and ask for help. Together, Santino and Trendafil travel across the Balkans to find the carpet and the body, encountering various shady figures from underground crime world, druglords, arms salesmen, organ mafia…
Dina Iordanova, in her book Cinema of flames: Balkan film, culture and the media, writes about the common cultural identity in as well as the common stereotypes about the Balkans, saying that the Balkans have been subject to an othering process in the Western discourse, being labeled as people inclined to violence, “exotic and attractive” but “impossible to deal with”, and as “the gypsies of Europe”. Balcancan – like many other films by such directors as Kusturica and Gatlif – reaffirms this view, but portrays these characteristics as lovable idiosyncrasies, or using them to create a dark humour.
Iordanova also states that the travelogue form, featuring the gaze of an outsider is quite dominant as a narrative strategy in the representations of the Balkans, both internationally and internally. Violetta Petrova explains this situation by saying it both tries to “‘tame’ the hostility of the foreign gaze” and mirror the stereotypes about the region (link).
Balcancan is a good example of this, as it is a road movie with a Macedonian local and an Italian character as its protagonists, presenting both the local perspective and an outsider’s gaze on the violence, wars, crimes and corruption that’s been sweeping the Balkans. It’s a self-depreciative attitude, emphasizing an awareness of the problems in the country, which has the power to drive an absolute pacifist like Trendafil Karanfilov into a violence-crazed killing machine and destroy an entire underground organization that sells children’s organs in the black market.
Balcancan, which has broken the box office record in Macedonia when it was released, is a must see for anyone who enjoys film about the Balkans.