Judge Bill Gibron was hoping for something along the lines of Yvonne, Renee, and Loretta in What the Parrot Saw, but instead he got a decent Croatian drama about a disintegrating family and the camcorder that caught it all.
Croatian Candid Camera…Kinda.
It's Iva's 15th birthday and her stepfather has just given her a new camcorder. Eager to try it out, the young lady begins recording her family. Her mother Zeljka is a bitter, alcohol-soaked hag, livid that her new husband would turn her child's party into a semi-formal business meeting. Indeed, as Bozo runs around making demands and fretting over the all-important meal (he insists his wealthy German guest have scampi, not the veal roast in the oven) Zeljka loses herself in glass after glass of vodka. He is finally pushed over the edge when he learns that Zeljka's model friend will not be attending the evening's festivities. Hoping to woo the foreign businessman with a little local "color," Bozo must get Zeljka's good-for-nothing artist brother Darko to hire an escort. When Nina arrives, she's the life of the non-existent party. As events progress, everyone forgets about Iva and the teen takes her typical place in the corner, her newfangled gift acting as an all-seeing fly on the wall. Eventually night comes and the German is nowhere to be seen. Secrets are revealed and tempers flare. Food and liquor flow. The Teutonic topic of discussion finally arrives, but things don't go as intended. Everyone ends up at a local restaurant, where best laid plans simply unravel and falter in a haze of alcohol and angst. It's all captured in What Iva Recorded.
Beginning with a gimmick that we've seen dozens of times in the recent indie milieu—a POV perspective narrative with a handheld camera—and clichéd in the way its story of family strife plays out, What Iva Recorded is actually a fairly engaging movie. Maybe it's the way director Tomislav Radic renders the reality of his film. While we understand that there is a fair amount of pretense in what he is offering (no one argues in such complete, clipped thoughts), there is a real thread of authenticity in everything that happens. The camerawork bears out the conceit and the acting seems genuine and unaffected. The Croatian cast, showing their international flair with occasional lapses into English, does a good job of playing to the room, not the lens, and the handheld work is always spot on and expertly framed. Granted, some of this gives away the "only a film" facets, but we still get the impression of eavesdropping on a family in freefall. Bozo is a beleaguered man, trying to find his way in a postwar world. Zeljka obviously married him out of safety and convenience, since their love is as volatile as their individual tempers. Then there is Iva, who appears oddly blank, unable to do much except smirk sarcastically and complain about her tormented teen life. In other words, this is a typical post-modern marriage.
Sadly, that's the only approach Radic takes. Instead of enlivening our drama with a little of the "melo" stuff, or adding additional subtext or structure, the director believes that real life (or a scripted facsimile of same) is far more interesting than invented histrionics. Seemingly filled with both written dialogue and adventurous ad-libbing, What Iva Recorded often comes across as a badly-filmed stage play. Parts of the plot are meaningless (like the scampi argument or the brother's apparent desire to play political instigator) while others overstay their welcome (Zeljka can't differentiate between an escort and a whore). When the movie does click, it's truly like looking into your neighbor's window. We see how life is lived, the moments of vulnerability, the times when annoyances or circumstances get the better of people. Unfortunately, the movie doesn't have a lot of places to go once it sets up the story. We wait to see if the German ever arrives (he does), then see how he will react to Bozo's contract requests (he doesn't). The entire party atmosphere seems doomed (it is) and the restaurant dénouement is incredibly anticlimactic. With performances that shift between believable and bombastic, and a real lack of narrative focus, What Iva Recorded is remedial moviemaking at best. Still, the gimmick still gives us something to hold on to, even if the finale fails to offer up anything engaging.
Presented by LifeSize Entertainment in a decent 1.33:1 full-screen transfer, What Iva Recorded looks like it came directly out of a low-end digital camera. The colors are crisp, the details well-defined, and the overall look walks the fine line between amateur and artificial perfectly. We don't experience a great deal of whiting out or flaring and bleeding, but don't be mistaken: this is not a reference-quality DVD. The image helps hold up the premise and that's about it. On the sound side, there are a few technical elements that give away What Iva Recorded's raison d'etre. First off, you can occasionally hear the body mics being worn by the cast, especially during the moments of mayhem. If this is supposed to be the effort of a young teen and her handheld camera, how did she come into possession of professional sound equipment? Secondly, the subtitles are terrible. Giving us the bare minimum of translation in a scattered, stumbling fashion, we often feel we are missing much of the important undercurrent in the film. To make matters worse, we get nothing in the way of bonus features. No trailers or featurettes, no interviews or documentaries. We learn nothing about this production and it may be the way director Radic wanted it. After all, if this is a transfer of a tape from a teenager's collection, there wouldn't be added content, right?
Like listening in on someone's private phone call or sneaking a peak at a couple's public argument, What Iva Recorded has some initial voyeuristic interest. However, once we learn that the secrets will be shallow and the revelations routine, we quickly grow bored. Tomislav Radic may think he's being innovative with this single-camera approach to his subject, but it's not the device that lets him down. It's What Iva Recorded that is his eventual cinematic undoing.
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Studio: Life Size Entertainment
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