Funny, endearing, and incredibly pertinent, director Rajko Grlić and screenwriter Ante Tomić have created a modern masterpiece in slice-of-life film.
A homophobic Serbian man and his charming, homely wife live in the same apartment building as a homosexual Croatian academic and his invalid Nazi-sympathising father. You’d think this was the premise of a bad joke, and I wouldn’t blame you. But The Constitution is not a joke. It is, as its tagline says, a love story about hate. It may be laugh-out-loud funny, but behind its rib-tickling façade is a film that pulls no punches in its exploration of human nature and its idiosyncrasies, and possibly one of the shrewdest pieces of European cinema to hit screens in the past decade.
[it] encourages audiences to be more understanding of why certain people develop their views
The Croatian professor is Vjekoslav Kralj (played stoically and proudly by Nebojša Glogovac), a gay crossdresser who experiences hostility and derision for his sexuality on a daily basis, and is eventually beaten to a pulp on the streets of Zagreb by homophobic thugs. He is cared for in the hospital by Maja (Ksenija Marinković, in one of the most heartwarming character roles I have ever seen), a friendly nurse who turns out to be his neighbour, and takes on the duties of caring for both Vjekoslav and his invalid father even in spite of protestations. In return, Maja does not expect money, but assistance – her husband Ante (an equally charming Dejan Aćimović), a Serbian in the police force, is dyslexic but needs to memorise the entire Croatian Constitution for an exam in ten days. But when Vjeko and Ante finally meet to help each other, their conflicting world views clash, and the result is a bumbling, heartfelt almost comedic spectacle about learning to come together.
Being populated by a main cast of only three, The Constitution uses its sparse number of characters to fully flesh them out, and to devote its script to emphasising the brilliance of its actors’ performances. Vjeko, Ante, and Maja will undoubtedly win the hearts of audiences as the movie progresses, revealing what drives each of them in turn. In spite of the nescient views of both the men, they are neither despicable nor insufferable in their bigotry. Their ignorance is not presented as the all-suffocating, fervent beliefs of hard-line racists or homophobes, but illustrates the soil in which even worldly people may ground their skewed hatred – through past experiences and unjust generalisations. The film obviously does not support hatred, but neither does it vilify bigots as uneducated cretins. Instead, it allows a certain extent of empathy for them, and therefore encourages audiences to be more understanding of why certain people develop their views. This in turn allows for greater debate and sensitive solutions by which racists and homophobes can be educated, as opposed to simply flaming them in the comments sections of online publications, as some far-left liberals are wont to do today.
The Constitution is, without a doubt, one of the most mesmerisingly human films out there today
When asked why he wrote such hard-hitting issues such as racism and homophobia into The Constitution, Ante Tomić stated, “Whenever someone claims that a certain type of person is not fit to walk our streets, I feel that it is my duty to walk with them.” And The Constitution certainly does handle its chosen debate points very well. At no point is Vjeko denigrated in the eyes of the audience for his sexual preferences or his feminine manner of dressing – instead, he is clearly a proud man, and his dignity is never in question at any point. While his racism would undoubtedly chafe against audiences’s sensibilities, it is never truly a defining trait of who he is, in the same way that Ante’s innate homophobia is countered by his otherwise friendly disposition and truly caring nature. The Constitution is not under the illusion that racism and homophobia are binary affairs where one is either bigoted or not. It is a prime example of how everyone can be a little ignorant sometimes, and cluelessness about the real world and how it works hardly equals inciting hatred.
The film does, admittedly, suffer greatly from a lack of proper sound editing, and the first fifteen minutes of speech are almost inaudible. But such a small error, relative to the sheer brilliance of the film itself, will not stop me from giving it a discretionary five-star rating nonetheless. The Constitution is, without a doubt, one of the most mesmerisingly human films out there today. It truly captures the essence of what it means to be human, to have unique personal struggles, and to find the strength to seek solace in others. The Constitution does not proceed under the delusion that no man is an island. Instead, it makes an utterly convincing case that no man needs to be an island – and the film’s compelling gravity will undoubtedly ensure that its audiences are inclined to listen; to find the humanity within themselves.
‘The Constitution’ is now playing at the Raindance Film Festival 2017, taking place from 20th September to 1st October. Information and tickets here.
Image: Raindance Film Festival 2017