|The Great Water
Adapted from a popular novel by Zivko Cingo that was published in the early 1970s,
THE GREAT WATER examines the Stalinist period in the former Yugoslavia. Set just after the
end of World War II and the three years that followed, it centers on Lem Nikodinoski (Meto
Jovanoski), an elderly Macedonian politician who has suffered a heart attack. As he undergoes
treatment, his mind flashes back to when he was a young boy. With no family and no home,
young Lem (Saso Kekenovski) subsists as best he can in the countryside of Macedonia. Captured
by the Communists, he is sent to an orphanage for ideological reprogramming, that is, he must accept
Stalin as the supreme being.
The orphanage, which is actually a former fortress on a lake, is run as a cross between a penal
colony and a Communist boot camp. It is run by the taskmaster Ariton (Mitko Apostolovski), whose
wife (Nikolina Kujaca) is an almost ghostly presence to the students, yet Lem discovers a room that
looks into her room and discovers her biggest secret – she’s actually a Christian. The second in
command is the female Olivera (Verica Nedeska), a tough-as-nails type who views Stalin as more
than a father figure. One of the more amusing anecdotes covered in the film deals with a pair of red
gym shorts she was awarded and which mysteriously go missing.
The arrival of a mysterious student Isak Keyten (Maja Stankovska, who offers a turn in the
same vein as Linda Hunt’s celebrated work in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY)
challenges everything at the orphanage. Isak appears to have powers that include controlling the
weather. Lem forms an attachment to Isak that is initially rebuffed but gradually the pair come to an
understanding and become blood brothers. Until Lem discovers that Olivera has taken an interest
in Isak as well and he exacts revenge by destroying a sculpture of Stalin that the female warden made.
Isak is accused of destroying the bust and is punished. When Lem eventually confesses to the
headmaster, Ariton offers surprising advice that leads Lem on the path to the man he would eventually
For its American release, a somewhat redundant English narration (by noted actor Rade
Serbedzija) was added. Not being familiar with the original source material, I did feel that writer
Vladimir Blaszevski and director Ivo Trajkov omitted something. There were numerous questions
that arose which were left unanswered. Was Isak really a warlock or was something else at work?
Was Lem’s attraction merely hero worship, or was there something else?
THE GREAT WATER was Macedonia’s entry in the 2004 Oscar derby for the Best
Foreign Language Film award, but it failed to make the final five. Perhaps its slot went to the slightly
more accomplished THE CHORUS, which also told a flashback story of children in an orphanage.
MPAA Rating: None
Running time: 93 mins.
Viewed at the Quad Cinema, New York City.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.