There’s no shouting and very little pleading in “Safe Place,” Croatian writer, director and star Juraj Lerotić’s debut feature.
That can be misleading, as the film is about a brother and his mother’s frantic efforts to keep a sibling and son, who has just tried to kill himself, from finishing the job. It’s a fraught 24 hours for all involved, with a depressed and perhaps schizophrenic patient who won’t stay in his hospital room and is compelled to make more sad-eyed confessions about hospital staff who “are going to kill me,” and the like, and family struggling to understand it and fighting indifference at every turn.
Lerotić casts a spell and serves up life lessons in a sort of parable about those who are ready to go and want to go, and the loved ones determined to stop them.
A long, static opening shot sees Bruno (Leroti) dash through a street scene of placid quiet, desperate to break the door open in a weathered high rise, more desperate to break down the door to brother Damir’s apartment after he does.
Damir (Goran Markovic) is bleeding from the wrist, and calm enough to be in a stupor. Bruno plunges into manic efforts to get an ambulance and impatient annoyance with the police who show up at the hospital, demanding that Bruno come back to the apartment — immediately — and explain why he busted doors and ask “Who cleaned up the blood?” as if they have any doubts that the glowering man on the gurney did this to himself. And then there’s the shockingly rude, unprofessional and disinterested psychotherapist who resents any questions about treatment or the medications he’s prescribing.
“You don’t trust us,” he smirks, in Croatian with English subtitles. And to Bruno and Damir’s mother (Snjezana Sinovcic Siskov) “You’re a strange woman.”
A couple of things we pick up almost in passing. Bruno is a screenwriter. And telling your brother, in a hospital bed with his wrist bandaged, that “You can only state lines I write for you to say,” is not something you’d expect to hear, not in the real world or the reality Lerotić presents here.
His film is partly autobiographical, and we can take it as an experiment in narrative or as an exercise in self-help, a way of letting himself and his mother off the hook for what they didn’t pick up on in Damir’s state of mind and a way of getting back at unconcerned, unhurried officials, healers and administrators who cannot see or make themselves care about what this event has done to everyone close to the person who attempted it.
Either way, “Safe Place” makes for a beautifully subtle portrayal of guilt, fear and grief, the stress a loved one’s actions bring to those who love them and the acknowledgement that whatever they could have done, odds are it probably wouldn’t have changed the course of history.
Rating: unrated, suicide as subject matter, smoking
Cast: Juraj Lerotić, Goran Markovic and Snjezana Sinovcic Siskov
Credits: Scripted and directed by Juraj Lerotić. A Pipser release.
Running time: 1:43