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Logbook Serbistan

[…] In this way, Žilnik makes an important political gesture: he gives a face, a personality to what journalism insists upon portraying as an indistinct mass of victims.

[…] In the face of such a dramatic situation, one would like to understand, instead of gathering local information. Yes, one should go there, in Western Africa, in Somalia, in Syria, in Afghanistan, to start to better understand the complex dynamics of migration.

Thanks to Želimir Žilnik’s last work, we find ourselves at the heart of the road of refugees. Serbia is now the last waiting room to access Europe: it is a place where the migrants already have a long path behind them, where the illusions are already unmasked, but also where the myth of Europe still nourishes their hopes for a better life. Logbook Serbistan collects many stories, and functions as a collage of snap-shots, mainly taken in Serbian camps for refugees. As is usual in Žilnik’s docu-dramas, the objective camera often leaves space in staged scenes, among which the journey of a Ghanaian and a Cameroonian has a special relevance. In this way, Žilnik makes an important political gesture: he gives a face, a personality to what journalism insists upon portraying as an indistinct mass of victims. Even if Logbook Serbistan is mainly focused upon telling us what happens in Serbia, we sometimes have the possibility to discover something more about the origins of the refugees and the reasons behind their decision to go to Europe. Actually, we get only few hints and, as is usually the case with documentaries on the phenomenon of migration, I have the impression of having been told only half of the story. In the face of such a dramatic situation, one would like to understand, instead of gathering local information. Yes, one should go there, in Western Africa, in Somalia, in Syria, in Afghanistan, to start to better understand the complex dynamics of migration.

In Logbook Serbistan we seem to learn that it is not only a question of war or extreme poverty, but also of security, of corruption, of hopelessness, or just of trying to get a better chance. It is probably also a question of Western models, which are well sold, and become just dreams. And we seem to discover that Serbians are friendly and almost happy to be occupied with the refugee crisis. It is probably an occasion for them to show their trustworthiness to Europe, or it is simply a job opportunity. Yes, because one thing seems to emerge: in many cases, the migrants come with money, and not necessarily a small amount of money: they make loans and they see the migration as an investment – that is often an important reason why their return is considered an unacceptable thing… They bring with them a little new economy, which somehow helps the poorest regions of Europe.

I have to acknowledge that all those reflections remain just suppositions. Logbook Serbistan is faithful to a classical neutral conception of a documentary by not wanting to say anything in particular but showing the reality as it appears. With the hunger of understanding we all have concerning this hot topic of migration, the film finally appears too shy, more occupied in informing than improving an understanding. Let’s say that it is useful to come out of the cinema with many open questions…

Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore

First published: May 19, 2016

Logbook Serbistan | Film | Želimir Žilnik | SRB 2015 | 94’

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