What the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) offers this year

Goran Paskaljević’s cinematic response to fascism, xenophobia

Serbian filmmaker’s Despite the Fog opens the 50th IFFI

Goran Paskaljević’s Despite the Fog finds its genesis in a moment of introspection. When a wave of refugees entered Europe five years ago, impacting the socio-political fabric of the continent, the Serbian filmmaker wondered what would he do if he spotted a lost refugee child on the street. “Would I take him home or leave him there like a street dog?” asked Mr. Paskaljević, during a press conference at the 50th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa.

Despite the Fog, which seeks to answer this question, opened the 50th edition of IFFI, also marking the film’s Asia première. Responding to “the growing xenophobia, Islamophobia and fascism in Italy and Europe,” Despite the Fog, chronicles the journey of an Italian Catholic woman who shelters an abandoned Muslim refugee boy who lost his parents on a refugee boat. But the societal backlash and discrimination, manifesting themselves in snide remarks and acts of violence, puts her in a dilemma. “There are many films about refugees made in Europe but mine is an intimate story,” Mr. Paskaljević said.

Through this film, Mr. Paskaljević wanted to explore how the Italian middle-class refuses to accept refugees under the current far-right influence. “We have [Matteo] Salvini, our [former] interior minister, who is a fascist and a populist. And also there is no solidarity in Europe, where Italians forget that 100 years ago, they too were refugees [going] to other countries,” said the 72-year-old filmmaker. The ‘fog’ in the film’s title, he said, is a metaphor for xenophobia.

Mr. Paskaljević’s oeuvre has been critical of war, often told in an allegorical fashion. His 2004 film, Midwinter Night’s Dream cast a scathing eye on Serbia’s involvement in the Balkan wars and nationalism, narrated through the relationship between an ex-soldier, an autistic girl and her Bosnian mother. In 2012, When Day Breaks, Serbia’s official entry to the 85th Oscars, explored the repercussions of the Holocaust, drawing parallels between the political past and the Balkan present. In Despite the Fog, Paskaljević contextualises the human impact of the war in Syria. “Wars are mostly created by the Western powers and if there’s no war in Syria, they won’t leave their country,” said the filmmaker.

A graduate of the prestigious film academy in Prague (FAMU), Mr. Paskaljević dabbled in documentary filmmaking in the early days of his career, lending a layer of non-fiction aesthetic to his cinema. “When I started my career, I was fascinated by Italian neo-realism, so I’m proud that I have finally made a film in Italy,” he said.

The veteran director also served as the jury head at the 44th edition of IFFI, where he met actor Victor Banerjee, who invited him to Uttarakhand for a holiday. During his stay in the hills, the two conceived the idea for Dev Bhoomi (2016), a film shot in the Himalayas, chronicling an old man’s homecoming to his roots. “That was my love letter to India,” said Mr. Paskaljević.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 10:03:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/goran-paskaljevis-cinematic-response-to-fascism-xenophobia/article30042932.ece

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