Director: Miroslav Terzic
Stars: Snezana Bogdanovic, Marko Bacovic, Igor Bencina
Released: Berlin Film Festival 2019
Six years ago, the European Court of Human Rights found Serbia guilty of decades of human rights violations after thousands of parents reported their infants stolen just hours after birth. Informed that their children had died, these parents believed (and still believe, as the cases remain unresolved) that their newborns were sold to illegal adoption rings. This terrifying true story is the fictionalised subject of ‘Stitches’, a melodrama which follows the emotional turmoil of one mother who cannot let go of the possibility that her son may still be alive, and seeks the truth of her child’s fate at all costs.
Ana (Snezana Bogdanovic) lives an average life in Belgrade; at first glance, her biggest concern appears to be a fraught relationship with her daughter Ivana (Jovana Stojiljković), a bratty teenager who would rather stare at a screen than communicate with her parents. As we witness a series of segmented glimpses into Ana’s life, however, the truth of her situation becomes apparent – she lives in eternal mourning for a son she was told died at birth, but who she believes is still very much alive. This belief influences Ana’s every move, leading to frequent clashes with the local authorities, and the eventual alienation of what family she has left.
Superb performances from Bogdanovic and Stojiljković ground a film that could otherwise come off as false, creating a quietly heartbreaking dynamic that feels personal, but never intrusive. The grief that Ivana feels for a brother who she has never met is compounded by a natural jealousy of his hold over Ana, eventually coming to the fore in a sudden outburst of anger. Neither woman can quite comprehend the trauma of the other, and director Miroslav Terzić mediates on this element of their relationship through frustrated silences. The perfect compromise never comes – perhaps the past is too great to ever allow them this – but Ana learns that her search for happiness cannot be achieved without Ivana’s input, giving a level of closure that remains realistic.
A film that deals with such a delicate issue holds a responsibility to its subjects, and Terzić is careful to incorporate the corruption of the Serbian state into his film. The dismissive treatment of Ana by police and hospital staff highlights the plight of thousands of families who simply want their claims to be given a proper investigation. From Ana’s perspective, we view the unfairness of a system that views these families as “trouble-makers”, demonising those who query administrative practices in a manner which encourages societal isolation for the victims. As the truth begins to unfurl, it is impossible not to root for this desperate mother in her quest to find out exactly what happened to her newborn baby all those years ago. Bleak but never exploitative, intimate but never colloquial, ‘Stitches’ contemplates the true meaning of family, and the pain caused when these conventions are disrupted.
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