Directed by Svetozar Ristovski. 2004.

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“Blessed is the lion which becomes man when consumed by man; and cursed is the man whom the lion consumes, and the lion becomes man.” – Jesus, Coptic Gospel of Thomas 

Marko Trifunofsky is a shy and sensitive twelve year old who is an easy target for school bullies and an abusive family but who comes alive when a teacher asks him to tryout for a poetry competition whose first prize is a trip to Paris. Macedonian director Svetozar Ristovski’s provocative and disturbing Mirage should come with a Dante-like warning “Abandon hope, all ye that enter here”. We are informed at the beginning of the film that, according to Friedrich Nietzsche, “hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man”, but we are still not fully prepared for what is to come. Because we are so involved with the expressive young man, magnificently played by first-time actor Marko Kovacevic, the raising and dashing of his dreams is a truly riveting and heartbreaking experience.  

Set in Veles on the Vardar River, the calm, picturesque quality of the city belies the turmoil beneath the surface: anti-American rallies, labor disputes, a corrupt police force, and an educational system that barely functions. Marko lives at home but his family life is far from nurturing. His father Lazo (Vlado Jovanovski) is a drunk and a gambler who dominates his passive wife Angia (Elena Mosevska). Marko has to share a room with his angry sister Fanny (Slavica Manaskova) who has no time to be civil to anyone between her many sexual encounters. Unhappy at home and mercilessly taunted at school by a bunch of faceless conformist punks led by the conscience-less Levi (Martin Jovchevski), son of corrupt policeman Blashko (Dejan Acimovic), Marko’s only refuge is in an abandoned railroad car and in visits to the professor’s book-lined apartment.  

Unable to withstand the constant bullying and the pervasive atmosphere of corruption and criminality, Marko’s descent into hell becomes sadly predictable. Slowly, as the boy realizes that his teacher is as cowardly and hypocritical as the others and that his escape from the “sewer” of Veles is little more than a pipedream, he is incongruously transformed from a poetic and innocent child into a thief and violent delinquent under the tutelage of an ex-soldier named “Paris” (Nikola Djuricko) whom he meets (or imagines) in the train car. Paris tells him that in life one must “either eat or be eaten”.  

Reminiscent of Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine, Mirage is a harsh, uncompromising look at the lives of marginalized people in a region too few in the West pay attention to. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is powerfully realized and difficult to forget. If Ristovski (now living in Vancouver, Canada) has made Mirage to call attention to the fact that the region is a powder keg waiting to explode or to suggest that the Macedonians must move beyond hope into the realm of political action, he has succeeded but the pill tastes very bitter. 


Howard Schumann
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