The Son (2019): review – The life of hard judgements on self and others

Originally published by:

An eager teenager Arman – starring Dino Bajrović- is sitting in the back seat of a taxi, ready to embark on a life-changing journey. He said his goodbyes to a younger brother Dado – actor Hamza Ajdinović – and an adoptive parents Jasna -actress Snežana Bogdanović – and Sead – actor Uliks Fehmiu. As the car leaves the driveway, emotions start stirring in his eyes and his excitement to finally meet his biological mother is clear. But, when the woman who gave birth to him doesn’t show up at the meeting point, the seventeen years old’s pursuit to find his life’s true meaning just begins. This opening scene of The Son, by Ines Tanović, manages to be fertile ground, for an unusual story about South-east European society on the verge of its disintegration.

The film had its premiere at this years, 25th edition of Sarajevo Film Festival, and is actually, the final piece of Tanović’s triptych. In her previous works, 20 minutes short that was part of omnibus Some Other Stories and her first feature Our Everyday Life Story, director depicted the true nature of deviation of a family/societal values in a post-war Bosnia and Herzegovina. What started with a story about the guy in his 20’s being the migrant in his hometown, evolved trough a depiction of a man desperately seeking for his future in a county that offers him nothing. Now it all comes to an end with a tale of an adoptive son, trying to find the acceptance in the surroundings blinded by the conservative social norms and common prejudice.

The background tale of emerging young talents from Bosnia

The first thing that sticks out in The Son is the acting of a newcomers Bajrović and Ajdinović, as well as their colleague Lidija Kodrić. The trio, with their impressive body language and specific Sarajevo slang, manage to build up the hype and encapsulate the central conflict in the film. In the role of Arman, young Bajrović manages to showcase both the physical aspects of his acting talent, as well as the truly hard emotional state his character is going through. Ajdinović and Kodrić, on the other hand, for the small number of scenes they are in, easily take the spotlight with their performances, even when fed with cold or average lines of dialogue.

Another noticeable and respectably well-done aspect of the film is the work of DOP and camera crew, that manage to squeeze out the maximum of equipment as well as the locations, and even add some deeper meaning with double framing the most of intense family conflict scenes. Confrontations between Arman and his foster parents Sead and Jasna are made more intense and meaningful by dividing the characters in different spatial positions (mostly by depth) on the screen, placing us, viewers, often as an uninvited observer of the toxic family dynamic.

Unconventional script and the overall status of the local film industry

What could be seen as the weakest point of The Son is actually the script? That is mostly because realistic ‘slice of life’ representation for moments might look messy or repetitive. Truth to be told, director Tanović bravely embraced the boring reality of adopted child conflict and the grey everyday life in one of the Balkan countries. It might not suit many of the viewers, but those who are patient enough and open to this uncommon approach, in the end, will know how to appreciate the true intentions behind some of more blend scenes of the film.

With smaller flaws, related to the budget and overall current status of the Bosnian film industry pushed aside, The Son presents a much-needed shift in the local ‘war trauma film’ surroundings. Tanović’s choice to summarise and present nowadays issues from her home country, by also being able to showcase the traditional societal norms that are slowly but securely getting erased from minds of people is something refreshing with a huge potential of improvement in her future films. The Son will also hopefully encourage more young directors from Bosnia and Herzegovina to try something new and untested in their own films.

NB: The Son has been this year’s Bosnian candidate for Academy Awards nominee.