Agnus Dei

Directed by Agim Sopi | Review by Nora Jaenicke

Agnus Dei deals with all the themes that ensure a film has an everlasting impact upon the viewer. Against the backdrop of the Kosovo war, the tragedy of two lovers separated by it and the inevitable repercussions sets the gears of this heart-wrenching drama in motion. By placing the viewer amidst the brutality of a war that has not been portrayed on screen enough, we are immediately swept away by the tragic faith of the protagonist, wondering what he will do in order to escape it.

Peter was born from a love that shouldn’t be, raised by a mother he loved to the point of sacrificing his own life and setting out to become a soldier in a war that he initially deeply despised. The war sees him change. He becomes vindictive and almost unrecognizable from who he once was: A sensitive teacher who tried to run away to Budapest so that he wouldn’t have to join the army. “Oh Light may I behold thee never more, I was born from the ones I shouldn’t have. I live with those I mustn’t have. And I killed the one that I shouldn’t” is what he confesses at the end upon realizing his tragic faith.

From the very beginning of the film the viewer witnesses a scene which sees Peter’s mother cheat on his father. When Peter finds out about his mother’s infidelity, she confesses to him that their family was destroyed by the Albanians, and that after being forced to leave to Serbia, her relationship to Peter’s father just wasn’t the same anymore. “We became like brother and sister”, she says, while crying, hoping that her son will understand.

“So we abandoned our property and immigrated to Serbia”, she continues.

When Peter learns that his mother found a lover for herself for the one and only reason not to abandon Stoyan, his father, and therefore keep the family intact, he forgives her. It is a brilliant scene in which the actors reach the peak of their performances. The motives of each one of the characters are all too clear, and the complexity of the situation is revealed with such honesty that the viewer can empathize with each one of them, remaining curious on how this complex family construction will affect the overall narrative of the story.

During the war Peter ends up killing the man he thought to be his enemy, only to find out, later on, he was the centrepiece of his life. It was the tragic love story, which echoes the all too familiar plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, between Peter’s mother and Didi, the man she told her son to be responsible for their escape to Serbia, which sets all the other events in motion. We witness a mother lie to protect her son and herself from a past which won’t stop haunting her and a secret love that she was told to be ashamed of because it unfolded during the wrong time and the wrong place. It was a love that “simply shouldn’t be” and we understand her for being the way she is. And it is precisely this understanding which gives us insight into the film’s core tragedy: A family torn apart by lies and protagonists that were forced to deny their true feelings because war didn’t allow for them to be themselves, and love the ones they wanted to.

It sees a son desperately trying to revenge what he thought to be his family’s tragic destiny, only to find out later on that his revenge brought nothing but more pain to their lives. As if this weren’t enough, faith wanted him to also fall in love with the daughter of the man he just killed. When he realizes the final truth, he can no longer bare the pain and takes his own life.

The dialogues are perhaps sometimes a little too direct, revealing too much of what could otherwise be told by mere action. But this is only a small detail and the only critique one could point out in an all in all magnificently unique film that will keep you on the edge of your seat while watching one conflict-laden scene after the other. Director Agim Sopi has to be praised for the extremely realistic battle scenes, excellent cinematography and the delicacy with which he describes the layered conflicts among family members, as they battle with a tragedy they did not ask for. One can, in fact, say that in this breathe taking drama which takes on the proportions of a real epic, the war becomes a character in itself, by indirectly orchestrating the whole plot and influencing the character’s decisions.

All in all “The story of a War,” as tough to watch as it can be, can be an extremely rewarding and disquieting experience if narrated with such great depth and complexity as this one.

 

 

Nora is currently in post-production of one more short film -Joyce, also a short film version of a feature that she is hoping to make: A mosaic of interrelated stories that explore the American Dream and the plight of immigrants in New York City. She is an avid traveler, continuing to explore the world and telling stories about it, whenever she gets a chance.