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Sunday, January 24, 2021

Nasumice / Adrift (2018) Caleb BURDEAU




« We’ve changed ? Hardly, not significantly. The World has changed.

I’ve stayed the same : I live in constant change and I know all about you, all that can be known, all but your address, the city you live in, your children, the langage you fill out forms in, where you go in the morning and who you come back to in the evening, that I don’t know but I can guess (I can see it all with frightening clairvoyance).

We have not changed. You live unchanged, a witness to changes.

And you know almost all about me, all that you need to know.

And those of us who didn’t make it ?

But how can we talk at all about what they’ve changed into ?

It is the world that changed by not being around, we have stayed the same.

Far from each other, obsessed with the same world.

Small as we are, insignificant. »

Poem by Saša Skenderija (Common Places, 2011) Bosnian-American poet


It all started on the 14th of February 1994, in Venice, Italy.

After a series of shots along the Venitian canals (a woman pushing a pram up and down a pedestrian bridge, she signs herself at the sight of a coffin being loaded on a mortuary gondola), we meet a bearded guy in jeans and black leather coat who takes portraits with an old Black & White Polaroid. One of his subject is a distinguished man with a beige coat and a black hat (who we saw helping the woman with the pram a moment earlier).

The two women posing on the picture with him run away, leaving him alone to pay 5000 liras for the picture. Of course, the Italian man, named Rodolfo (Marcello Prayer), begins to haggle for a bargain price. Elvis (Moamer Kasumović), the photographer from Sarajevo (former Yugoslavia, newly Bosnia-Herzegovina), who learnt English in a one year exchange program in the USA, resists. Rodolfo learnt English in London for ten years. He worked as a projectionist in La Scala cinema, before it shut down.

This stationary two-shot – lasting a little over 4 minutes – ends with Rodolfo inviting Elvis to visit him in Puglia, his home country. The two protagonists meet here on a chance encounter. The two protagonists part ways… Rodolfo, the dandy, back home, and Elvis, the photographer, on his way to Rome. They are like the eternal cinema alter-ego : actor and director, mirroring eachother, distinct yet similar. Rodolfo is to Elvis, what Moamer is to Caleb, a doppleganger who incarnates a story of a younger past. Just like Robert Carter (co-writer) told his story to Caleb Burdeau who, in turn, made it into a film.


The film is interspersed with a collection of impressionisitic montages, as dreamwork flashbacks, repressed memories of the war, or reminiscent visions of recent events… These are Elvis’s, four in total, triggered by sleep, wait, TV news, or a train ride. Inspired by cinema Impressionism, they feature dissolves, overlapping images and sounds, close ups, in a greyscale tone.

Elvis, as we gather, bits by bits, is a Bosniac refugee from the Yugoslavian war who fled, alone, Sarajevo under siege, leaving everything behind. He’s uprooted, alienated from the people he knows. Here in Italy, he’s adrift, in a country where everything is unfamiliar, and everyone is a stranger. Yet he stands strong and lives the days one by one, walking the streets of Venice and Rome like a tourist (who takes pictures of other tourists). He speaks little Italian with the natives and uses English as a lingua franca. Mostly silent, he communicates through summary gestures and gets by. Everywhere he goes, a TV screen is blasting the images of his war-torn country, but he tries to ignore them. They come back to haunt him in his sleep though.

The alienation of a war refugee is obvious, yet distilled on screen with discreet details about Elvis’s everyday life. He’s torn inside, but not enraged. He’s lost, but still navigates. He’s wounded, but keeps a straight face. Another form of alienation, also invisible, is Rodolfo’s own depressive state. A nerveous breakdown he keeps bubbling under cover. Nobody understands his trauma – foremost his family – but everyone knows something’s wrong with him.


After an incident in Rome, Elvis decides to pay a visit to his new and only friend, in Puglia. From the train station, he tracks down Rodolfo, with the taciturn assistance from the locals. Having reached his parents’s farm, in one of the region’s typical Trulli, he waits nearly two minutes and a half, in real time, outside of Rodolfo’s bedroom, before the latter emerges to take him to the nearest village. Puglia is a green countryside full of white rocks, a hilly barren landscape with walls made of pilled stones.

In the train, Rodolfo says : « This town is full of people who talk too much. Too much about their lives and too much about everybody else’s lives. »


Sitting at the dead center of the film, at the 38 minute mark, one long plan-sequence lasts six entire minutes. It patiently shows Rodolfo and Elvis walking along a stone wall from afar, shouting atop one trullo at Tonino – the neighbour farmer – for a lift back home, walking toward a stone well in the ground, and telling there the story of « L’anguilla ». A story which sounds like regional folklore, but is probably invented by Rodolfo. In a single shot from one vantage point of view, on a pivot, to embrace the whole stroll towards and away from the camera.

Rodolfo is using the metaphor of the eel (l’anguilla in Italian) to expose in disguise his own psycho-drama. An eel is thrown into the well, he explains, to clear the drinking water of any bugs falling from above. The eel spends its all life alone in the dark… Alone like the people around here. Even some people throw themsleves in the well to keep company to the eel. « People who are not so well jump into the well » notes Rodolfo with irony. When the wine is fermenting in this underground tank, death is quick. This is the very personal story of a lonely man. An existentialist tale of many layers.


Even though the sky is mostly overcast, flattening the perspectives, this debut feature film offers a ravishing cinematography. The pastoral landscape is truly a character of its own, vast and immobile. The scenery which was most obvious in Venice or Rome, is in the Southern countryside, quiet and almost deserted. Testimony of a dying rural life, away from the cities, away from everything. This homage to ancestral peasant existence is reminiscent of Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte (2011), set in Calabria, South of Puglia. 

In the region of Alberobello, at the heart of Puglia, you will find lined up along the roads like mushrooms, trulli, which are dry stone huts topped with a conical roof also made of dry stones. The Murge area where Rodolfo and Elvis travel, is scaterred with a myriad of trulli, up and down hills. They provide a delightful backdrop for this aimless wander of a road movie. Roads lead nowhere, train stations see no train, houses seem uninhabited...


Rodolfo promised Elvis to show him the most gorgeous sea there is, and takes him on a Vespa ride to the shore ; the Adriatic Sea, right across from the border of the ex-Yugoslavia.

This second plan-sequence, from a fixed point of view, lasts four minutes and a half. First tracking down a murmuration of starlings across the sky, the camera pans to a Roman-old stone watchtower, in front of which Rodolfo and Elvis converse quietly. The watchtower stands tall facing the immense sea, and crumbles down in the back. Rodolfo recounts this new comparison : « We all stand silent like this tower, broken on one side and strong on the other. And there is noone to put the stones back again. Sometimes we break when we were young, sometimes it takes longer. The sea is our only friend. »

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