Cambridge Film Festival – The Sky Above Us – Review **

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Director Marinus Groothof’s first feature couldn’t have a better timing: when Europe is learning how to deal with the consequences of an external war, it is good to remember that, less than 20 years ago, the war was inside and raging.

The Sky Above Us happens in Belgrade, 1999, when the NATO bombings happen every single night, putting the Serbians in a strange existential limbo. We follow three characters, somehow connected by the Belgrade RTS TV building – Ana, the actress (Nada Sargin); Bojan, the teenager (Nikola Rakocevic) and Sloba, the TV worker (Boris Isakovic). Their attitudes towards the war that goes on above their heads may come from the same source – denial – but have different outcomes. Ana proceeds with her rehearsals as if nothing is happening, though the constant power cuts keep reminding her of the imminent danger she’s living in; Bojan gets lost in parties and drugs, making fun of his girlfriend’s decision to be a war correspondent (“Why do you have to be so serious all the time?”); and Sloba… Sloba refuses to believe that the TV building he works in is the next obvious target of the bombings, and keeps living his simple life for as long as he can.

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A portrait of the banality of existence against the backdrop of war, The Sky Above Us had the potential to make a serious point about the common people’s reality when they are caught up in the middle of a political battle, but Groothof fails somehow on his minimalist multi-narrative efforts – though every character is given a “redemption” moment when the audience roots for her/him, for most of the film we’re left to the part of mere, cold, distanced observers. It doesn’t matter if the cinematography is good, and the actors competent – the lack of narrative tension leaves the soundtrack alone to the herculean mission of making the audience feel empathy, and alas, it fails.

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Despite its opportune theme and political views, The Sky Above Us feels like a mere visual exercise, where much of its details get lost on a story that doesn’t present a satisfactory ending (or beginning, for that matter), where its half-whispered topics are lost to anyone that does not know the details of the historical event, and though it manages to raise above the ordinary during the night taxi scene with Ana, the rest of the film is too scattered around to make a real impression.

The Sky Above Us is part of the Cambridge Film Festival (http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/), and does not have an UK general release date yet.

Sara is originally from Coimbra, Portugal, where she studied Film Studies before moving to London to enrol in film school. Having made her first short film about her neighbour's chickens when she was 9 (a dystopian sci-fi, still her favourite genre), she is now a London-based film director and editor, and also a writer for the Portuguese Take Magazine. She is a huge fan of Lars Von Trier, Krysztof Kiéslowski, and David Lean.