Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of men.
In the city of Veles, Macedonia twelve-year old Marko dreams of being a poet. At the local school however instead of learning poetry he learns how to survive-day after day the young boy is kicked in the stomach by the leader of the local punks; at home his drunken father would repeatedly spare a fist in his teeth. Determined to escape the "cesspool" Veles has become Marco befriends a mysterious stranger who will teach him that in real life you "Eat or be eaten"!
If there ever was a Balkan film that matched the intensity Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine (1995) revealed then Svetozar Ristovski's Iluzija a.k.a Mirage (2004) must be it. A carefully observed production about maturation Mirage combines the poetic brutality of La Haine with the absurd humor of Emir Kusturica's Underground (1995). Anger, disappointment, and desperation are closely intertwined in this Macedonian film which does not shy away from showing the spiritual corrosion of a society where hope is nowhere to be found.
To say that I am overwhelmed by the sheer power of this film will most likely be a grandiose understatement. I was so moved by young Marko Kovacevic (playing the poor Marko) that for hours after the film ended I thought about a similar character, a performance that impressed me as much as this one. Needless to say I could not come up with anything. The range of emotions running through Marko's face-fear mixed with anger, desperation mixed with hope, pain mixed with joy-are something no acting school can teach. You either have it in you or you don't!!
Even though there is hardly much in this film that you have not seen before, certainly as far the story goes there is nothing surprising, the splendid acting by the Macedonian crew elevates Mirage into one of the best Balkan films to be released in North America in a long time (Ivo Trajkov's Golemata Voda a.k.a The Great Water considered). In recent years I felt that the kitsch which Kusturica would always emphasize on in his work somewhat clichéd most of the films Balkan directors produced. Everyone wanted to imitate what worked before, even Kusturica himself I felt reached its limit in Zivot ja Cudo a.k.a Life is a Miracle (2004). With Svetozar Ristovski's Mirage however it seems like a new formula has been found where the director has managed to balance perfectly Balkan absurdity with realism.
So, I find it quite distressing to see that some highly-esteemed critics saw Marko's story as being "drab and pointless" (The New York Post). What is so "drab" about seeing your dreams crash with a bang? What is so "pointless" about seeing a young boy struggling to make sense from a world where all that matters is the size of your fist? Or feel betrayed by the only person you thought capable of helping you realize your dreams?
In 2004 the film was nominated for Grand Prix at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and was part of the official selection at the Sofia International Film Festival, Bulgaria.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and enhanced for widescreen TV's Mirage looks quite good. The print herein reviewed does not offer any damage, edge enhancement is at a tolerable level, and the actual print appears to have been properly converted. Colors are lush and well-saturated. I must however point something which I noticed with other released by Picture This! DVDs. It appears that when blown through digital projector the image becomes slightly unfocused (in fact I think that it breaks down rather noticeably). I am unsure if this has anything to do with the master the Macedonian company has provided but it becomes evident that compression is indeed not at the highest possible quality. Aside from that I am quite pleased with the rest of the treatment Mirage has received.
How Does the DVD Sound?
Presented with a Macedonian 5.1 track and optional English subtitles (yellow) the audio treatment is spectacular. The dialog is easy to follow, the rears are used quite well, and I could not detect any sound distortions (hissing, pop-ups). Furthermore, the sound has a great density (what I mean is that is sounds full with great overtones where music is being used).
Unfortunately aside from the original theatrical trailer (as well as a section of trailers for other upcoming Picture This! Releases) and a photo gallery there is nothing else to be found on this DVD.