||The Great Water
By Sheri Linden
Set in a post-World War II Macedonian orphanage whose real purpose was not the care of children but their political indoctrination, Ivo Trajkov's "The Great Water" is, above all, a haunting deathbed reverie.
Poetic visuals and strong performances create an indelible dreamscape in which childhood friendship and betrayal resonate through a lifetime. Macedonia's official submission to the Academy Awards is an exquisitely crafted film that could connect with niche audiences.
Unconscious in the hospital, a septuagenarian politician (Meto Jovanovski) drifts back to 1945, when he was a terrified 12-year-old orphan. Lem, a small boy with enormous, doleful eyes (Saso Kekenovski, unforgettable), is captured by soldiers and brought to an abandoned factory by a lake. Within the massive stone walls, among hundreds of kids, he barely withstands the regimen of militaristic exercise, Communist dogma and cruelty.
When the mysterious Isak arrives (Maja Stankovska, utterly convincing playing a boy), Lem is instantly drawn to him for his beauty, dignity and preternatural calm. Said to be the devil's seed, Isak "radiated some strange light," the elder Lem muses. (Rade Serbedzija, of "Before the Rain," provides the old man's mournful voice over in the English-narrated version of the Macedonian-dialogue film.) The self-possessed Isak, who has a repertoire of rituals involving blood, hair and candles, makes Lem earn his friendship, setting off a disastrous chain of events.
Before their terrible parting, the boys must navigate a world of pathological fervor -- its ludicrous extreme being the inquisition conducted by assistant warden Olivera (Verica Nedeska) when she loses her "holy," Party-bestowed gym shorts. Lem reluctantly learns the survival skill of lying, and soon he's spouting odes to Stalin, winning the paternal affection of the warden (a standout performance by Mitko Apostolovski).
Adapting the novel by Zhivko Chingo, director Trajkov and his co-scripter, Vladimir Blazevski, have created a searing memory piece. Suki Medencevic's widescreen cinematography illuminates a shadow realm halfway between heaven and hell.