Review by Victoria Large
Posted on 01 May 2011
Source DVD screener
Categories The 2011 Independent Film Festival Boston
Somerville-based filmmaker Jeff Silva first met the eponymous subjects of his new documentary in 1999 while working on Balkan Rhapsodies, an episodic chronicle of life in the former Yugoslavia; his longstanding friendship with the title couple makes for a disarmingly intimate viewing experience. Silva’s history with Ivan and Ivana quickly becomes apparent: they address him by name, casually share their dreams and doubts with him, and playfully mug for his camera. But that sense of intimacy comes with an edge: Silva captures his friends facing financial burdens, marital strain, chemical dependency, and grief, all the while acting as a mostly-silent observer in the midst of altered plans and crumbling dreams.
Silva’s film catches up with Ivan and Ivana in 2006 after they have moved from the Balkans to the sun-drenched shores of California and become deeply involved in the then-booming real estate business. They seem to be living a version of the American Dream. Worlds away from the violence in their shared past, the couple live on a tranquil street in a handsome house. Ivana recalls starting out in her life with Ivan with “a sofa and a couple chairs” in an apartment building in Kosovo that was repeatedly bombed. Moments later, Silva cuts to footage of Ivan singing to himself as he washes down a glittering red sports car in his driveway.
But if the couple is living a dream, it is certainly a precarious one. Both admit that they are in debt “up to their eyeballs” (about $1.5 million according Ivana, who pointedly quips that amassing so much debt has made them “true Americans”). While strolling along a picturesque beach, Ivan voices his new fantasy: selling everything and starting over for a third time. The couple’s frustrated quest for the good life - one marred neither by the wartime horrors of Kosovo nor the unease that comes from mounting stacks of bills in California - is poignant, and, at times, haunting.
Silva skillfully conveys seismic shifts in Ivan and Ivana’s relationship through the subtlest of touches. In one striking instance, Ivana lengthily discusses her attachment to a dress that she bought after winning the lottery, and then quietly decides that her simple wedding dress isn’t a keeper. Moments like that, or the sad, pregnant silence toward the end of the film after Silva asks Ivan what he’s thinking about, may actually say more because they are offered without additional comment from the filmmaker. Silva does not whitewash his subjects, who are human and flawed and often hurting, but he does not pass judgment on them either, allowing the audience to connect with, and interpret, the couple’s experiences themselves.
Ivan & Ivana is admittedly a film of jagged edges and unresolved issues, but real life rarely wraps up cleanly, and this is a picture worth seeing simply because of the engaging way that it brings stormy, intersecting lives to the screen in a way that resonates with pointed questions about what it means to chase after life, liberty, and happiness in our times.
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