They were just a couple of unmarked doors, and they were always locked. The soft sounds of voices and the clinking of crockery as meals were prepared drifted through to the section of the elegant Belgrade apartment where the director Mila Turajlic grew up. Only much later would she learn what lay behind those doors, and why. Yet their eventual opening would liberate more than just the two rooms carved off and allotted to strangers by a long-ago government: It would help one woman decide it was time to pass the political baton.
That woman is Srbijanka Turajlic, the director’s mother, a proud Yugoslav and the dynamic and fearless subject of “The Other Side of Everything.” A retired engineering professor and a prominent player in Serbia’s opposition movements, she leads us through the traumatic 1992 dissolution of Yugoslavia and its lingering bruise on her psyche and circle of friends. Srbijanka was just 2 years old when the new Communist government decided that her middle-class parents had too many rooms and installed additional, poorer families; it would be seven decades before the last would be gone and the rooms reclaimed.
Spatially restricted yet ideologically free-ranging, this thoroughly absorbing documentary, shot mainly inside the apartment, details the family’s rich history within the fluctuating fortunes of Serbian democracy. It’s a story of police beatings and state surveillance, marches and speeches and the rousing, youth-led movement that would remove Slobodan Milosevic from power and which — in light of its divisive aftershocks — Srbijanka now regards as a “failed revolution.” Well-chosen archival footage brings her memories to life, but it’s the clarity of her thinking that dominates. A mind that views the pursuit of democratic freedoms and the long con of weaponized nationalism with subtlety and self-awareness is all too rare in any era.
Engrossing despite its daunting scope and tangled politics, “The Other Side of Everything” offers an uncommon opportunity to view the shifting borders and identities of an entire region through the eyes of the Eastern European intellectuals caught in the turmoil. Filming mainly from 2012-17, the director invites air and light into her shots through the apartment’s wide-open windows, her camera revealing a leafy, upscale neighborhood whose embassies attract boisterous civic protests.
Confrontation of all kinds is the movie’s unifying theme, tying personal to political and private to public in a story energized by the detailed memory and staunch pragmatism of its subject. All too often, Srbijanka explains, people overthrow their leaders with no clear plan of what to put in their place. Revolutions are fine; it’s what you do the day after that really matters.
The Other Side of Everything
Not rated. In Serbian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes.