Judge Jesse Ataide gives more than a passing glance to this modest little Balkan rom-com.
Love and discovery under the crumbling roofs of Belgrade.
Before the charming little Serbian romantic comedy Loving Glances begins, a brief credit flashes across the screen dedicating the film to René Clair. The reference may be lost on some viewers, but it's a fitting tribute, as Loving Glances has much in common with the innovative French director's light comedy classics, such as Under the Roof of Paris and Le Million. While the time, language, and setting might be slightly different than Clair's madcap vision of 1930s Paris, writer/director Srdjan Karanovic has crafted a film with the same whimsical tone, gentle comedic touch, and delicate human drama that marks Clair's early (and best loved) films.
Loving Glances opens with the hapless male protagonist Labud (Senad Alihodzic, who rather resembles Tom Green with a Beatles haircut) standing in front of a dilapidated dating agency in war-torn Belgrade (former Yugoslavia). Just as he is about to go inside, a striking redhead in a crisp beauty salon uniform suddenly appears on the sidewalk next to him, and they begin to kiss deeply and passionately. A moment later, it is revealed that she doesn't exist outside of Labud's active imagination, which causes Labud to go inside the agency (optimistically called "Happy Millennium") and begin his search for his true love.
The incident sets the sweetly surreal tone that marks the rest of the film. Soon Labud is holding conversations with his cranky mother and his lumbering old college professor, who writes painfully mundane love poetry. Both are invisible to everyone but Labud.
Though Labud lives the difficult life of a political refugee (which includes washing his hair in a park fountain, storing his few material possessions in a locked trash can, and performing various odd jobs to make enough money to eat), his optimistic outlook on life and his ongoing quest for love (as well as with the constant dialogue he has with his invisible family and friends) keeps him ever hopeful for a chance for better future.
Things begin to look up for Labud when the Happy Millennium's computer program mixes up all the firm's contacts, leading to his meeting Romana (Ivana Bolanca) by accident. An attractive young woman, she also sees imaginary people, in the form of her uptight immigrant sister (and her Australian boyfriend), her dead alcoholic father, and her sex-starved ex-boyfriend. They are just as intrusive in her life as Labud's are in his, and though they never openly talk about it, it provides a subtle connection in the relationship that begins to develop between them.
Complications ensue as Labud and Romana's unexpected relationship continues. When they discover that they come from different religious traditions (Labud is Orthodox, Romana is Muslim), the lovers choose to overlook that fact in light of their emotional attachment, but their imaginary family members wage war on each other in an attempt to keep the two apart. It quickly becomes obvious that the introduction of this surreal element, which at first seems to be a humorous gimmick, actually serves as an effective visual representation of how social, familial, and religious pressures often interfere with an individual's search for both identity and love.
Loving Glances is presented in its original 1:85:1 anamorphic form, and though at times there's some slight picture distortion, the image is adequate. The audio is likewise decent, with English subtitles offered for those who aren't up-to-date with their Eastern European dialects. In general, the modest presentation does justice to this little Serbian rom-com.
Extras include a written director's statement and production notes, which help give the film and its premise some historical context. The trailer menu offers a look at four other TLA releases (though the trailer for Loving Glances is notably absent).
While Loving Glances can't quite be described as a hidden gem plucked from the international market, it does offer a pleasant and diverting 97 minutes with some unexpected variations on the familiar romantic formula we've seen in countless films over the years.
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