By Sophie Monks Kaufman
Take Me Somewhere Nice
Dir. Ena Sendijarević, Netherlands/Bosnia and Herzegovina, Dekanalog
“Cold weather, cold people.” This is how teenager Alma (Sara Luna Zorić) describes the Netherlands to new Bosnian fuckbuddy Denis (Lazar Dragojević). She has traveled from the former country, where she was born, to the latter, the homeland of her parents and where her dad returned to alone. He now lies sick in a rural hospital, the inciting incident for Alma’s trip. This is Ena Sendijarević’s debut feature, and she shares the dual nationality of her lead character; the difference is that she was born in Bosnia and left at the age of five with her family because of the war. An immensely charming and deliberately odd riff on themes of identity and immigration, Take Me Somewhere Nice occasionally takes the form of a road movie as Alma spends much of the runtime trying to make her way from the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where she is staying with a previously unmet cousin, to the country outpost of Podveležje, where her dad is. Mishaps and digressions abound in the course of her stop-start journey. Though dogged, Alma has no sense of urgency, setting the rhythm for hang-out movie energy, while a sun-flushed aesthetic imbues every moment with the potential for sensual distraction.
The scorching summer sun is constant, implied in such details as a fridge filled exclusively with water bottles (plus one orange). More bottles are carelessly strewn across the kitchen floor, and even more invade the bathroom. Characters move in a dreamlike way, as though slowed by an invisible wall of heat. Simply watching could raise the viewer’s body temperature a couple of degrees. Sex scenes have an air of inevitability as active lust and lazy sensuality blur. When Denis and Alma stumble upon each other and get it on, it seems less because they want to and more because they can’t be bothered not to.
Denis is the best friend and “intern” of Alma’s surly cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac), whose profession remains something of a mystery. Alma is reliant on Emir to drive her to the country hospital, but he claims to be too busy. This leads to a hypnotic stretch that evokes the limbo of waiting in a strange place. She walks through humid night air into the relief of an air-conditioned shopping mall, where she buys hibiscus-rose juice and a blonde dye job. Zorić has a deadpan manner that enables her to take displacement in her stride. No Sofia Coppola-like alienation here —Scarlett Johansson at a window gazing down on Tokyo from behind glass in Lost in Translation, or Stephen Dorff floating in a pool as the poster child for ennui in Somewhere. Alma may have no living memories of Bosnia, but it flows through her blood, perhaps enhancing a sense of belonging.
Sendijarević explored the flipside of this geographic duality in her short film Import, which chronicled a Bosnian family trying to integrate in the Netherlands. The dominant tone in Take Me Somewhere Nice is set by the filmmaker’s absurd sense of humor in the face of unsettling twists and turns; a throwaway allusion to the Bosnian war of 1992–95 suggests a gravity that a different kind of film on the same subject would aim for, but this one belongs to teenagers. “Kool Thing” by Sonic Youth is played later in the film, blasted out of a car radio as Alma, Emir, and Lazar speed a beat-up jalopy around a field at night, high as kites on a found stash of drugs—the anticipation of release has been humming throughout the film. These teen characters are often careworn and mean to each other, yet in this moment they are a hive mind seizing the opportunity to feel on top of the world. It’s also notable that Alma smiles and whoops, reminding the viewer of her stoicism until this point.
Again and again, Alma wakes up in surprising places, processing the small matter of where the hell she is with a look of furrowed concentration. Zorić carries this low-key performance with easy naturalism, never mugging or turning herself into a glum Daria-esque cartoon. She is costumed in a lilac velvet dress, sometimes stripping to sunbathe in pastel underwear, yet her girlish stylings belie a stubborn resilience, and she defends her boundaries with an impressive ferocity for one so young. At one point, she fends off Emir with a plastic chair, still fuming, as he tries to make amends for an initial reluctance to offer transportation.
The possibility of sex and violence permeates yet bursts of sudden humor in the deadpan, Greek New Wave mode are also a constant. Denis meets Alma for the first time slumped outside Emir’s flat. She introduces herself as Emir’s cousin and proves it by opening her mouth wide. “Same canines,” she says, as Denis inspects the inside of her mouth with intrigue.
At the film’s midway point, Alma, Emir and Denishit a dog with their car en route to Podveležje, its blood and whimpering introducing the specter of mortality in a visceral way. As the environment grows less populous and a vast agrarian landscape emerges, the relationship between the three lead characters deepens. They present as more of a team now that they are city kids thrown into the quiet of village life. The eager Dragojević has a charming, Tigger-ish presence that contrasts with the perma-sullen Prnjavorac. Emir is cynical about everyone, while Denis is an optimist whose broad dreams are easy to puncture with an unkind word. He wants to travel to Europe, he craves money and a big house. Emir, on the other hand, is devoted to Bosnia. His mistrust of Alma stems from seeing her as a tourist. He’s a patriot, not a nationalist, and the difference between the two, he says, is the difference between love and hate. Sendijarević gives her characters dialogue that speaks the themes of the film, yet she reveals them most in their rash sexual impulses.
As early as she is in her career, it’s clear that Sendijarević exists within a filmmaking universe that spans European dark humor—Scandinavians Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismäki, Greek New Wavers Yorgos Lanthimos and Athina Rachel Tsangari—and stylized American indie auteurs like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. What most defines Take Me Somewhere Nice is Alma, a plucky, lusty teenager who navigates sex, death, and lack of money with a self-possession that works as an amulet. The film opens on multiple visions of Alma as she regards herself in a store’s changing-room mirror. These are the possibilities of selfhood. It ends on a shot of the top of her legs as she paddles in the sea. She is washing herself clean after a beach lovemaking session, which is also an act of kindness that reveals her sensitive physical intelligence. The self she has chosen shows the power that can happen when compassion and desire commingle.