EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (JUNE 18-27, 2009)

Tagline: Jokes as a weapon of resistance: how satire sustains a beleaguered culture.

This unique documentary draws on dark-humored aphorisms from the last 40 years of Serbian history for its narrative voiceover: a nation’s new oral tradition of sardonic response to conflict and corruption. The beautifully selected and wittily juxtaposed images, meanwhile, form an insightful, compelling portrait of daily existence in all its banalities, extremes and ironies. With shades of Patrick Keiller and Chris Marker, this collage of ideas is both thought-provoking and darkly comic.

Piercingly poignant, yet tinged with an acid sense of humour, Goodbye, How Are You? combines a portrait of a splintered society with a voiceover drawn from cynical Serbian adages addressing political corruption and the ravages of war. The film’s visual imagery – comprising evocative landscape shots, witty juxtapositions and scraps of news footage – forms an incisive, thoughtful portrait of an environment altered by conflict. Exquisite homes stand empty, relics of antebellum affluence. Police beat back a wave of demonstrators, in an image so massed with moving bodies that it resembles a close-up of a microscope slide. A tiny girl walks casually between two soldiers, bearing a bag of bread: nothing strange to her about big guns cropping up on the grocery route. The voiceover, meanwhile, deploys the Serbian convention of dry aphorisms to pass indirect comment upon the images. “They are applying a sticks and carrots policy with us,” notes the unseen narrator. “First they beat us with sticks, then with carrots.” It’s a sad, clever new take on the impact of war upon culture, at once terribly sorrowful and slenderly optimistic. The people might be beaten down, but resistance sustains through language: not rabble-rousing slogans, but self-deprecating asides acknowledging both the abuse of power and passivity of an intellectual elite taking refuge in irony. Our witty tour guide – a Balkan cousin to the nameless protagonist of Patrick Keiller’s classic essay films London (1994) and Robinson in Space (1997) – declares himself nostalgic for the simpler days when one could settle a grievance with a duel; but with old-fashioned matters like honor and dignity besmirched by protracted bloodshed, he opts instead to fight his battles on the level of language. Whether waxing subversive or simply misanthropic, his is an important voice: it speaks up for the freedom conferred by a healthy skepticism and a resilient sense of humor.

ABU DHABI INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (OCT 8-17, 2009)

The wittiest, blackest political aphorisms of the modern era are saluted in this entertaining Serbian travelogue detailing how citizens use language to critique – and resist – the madness of politics. A fascinating essay-film in the tradition of Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard, and a primer on Balkan intellectual thought, resistance, and history.

“The best government is the one that has yet to come, provided it never comes,” according to an old Serbian saying, one of many featured in this entertaining, intellectually engaging essay-film about how citizens use language to critique – and resist – the politics, governments, and utter madness that surrounds them. Filmmaker Boris Mitić gathers the best political aphorisms from Serbian and Yugoslavian life (which features no shortage of war and insanity), with “their killer dose of black humour, satire and merciless sarcasm.” As one citizen says, “The longer the war, the closer the peace.” Another counters, “We are all in the same shit, but we arrived first.” The film’s unseen “host,” a jaded descendent of Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, narrates Mitić’s astonishing visuals, drawn from odd archives and a personal road trip through modern-day Serbia. Continuing the essay-film tradition of Chris Marker, Harun Farocki, and Jean-Luc Godard, Goodbye is a primer on Balkan resistance and history yet universal in its homage to language and subversion.

DOK.FEST MUNICH (MAY 6-13, 2009)

Soaked in satire, both visually and intellectually, this offbeat introduction to Serbian aphorisms is a rallying cry for us to refresh our jaded perspective….

Had enough of fortune cookies and tired proverbs? Let us introduce you to the world of Serbian aphorisms, sharp, witty observations which provide the perfect antidote to everyday life. Our unseen Narrator is a jaded hero for our times, prepared to die for his beliefs if only he could find something to believe in… His last motivation is to choose how to die, so he challenges various opponents, as diverse as society is flawed, to absurd duels; honest politician, redeemed war criminal, hypocritical moralist, irresponsible parent, ungrateful child… However, after each duel aphoristic punch lines, possibly spoken by his own alter ego, deconstruct his opponents until they become obsolete, leaving the narrator himself as his only worthy opponent.

The best Serbian aphorisms of the last 50 years are complemented by “satirical documentary footage” shot over a 3-year Balkan road trip, with references from everything from “Fight Club” to “Don Quixote”, by way of our own lives.

DOK LEIPZIG (OCT 26-NOV 1, 2009)

Serbian filmmaker Boris Mitic’s satirical documentary fairytale is a masterful representation of the fine arts of misanthropy and black humour. The first person narrator stays off screen all through the film. His voice is a sonorous basso. Post-war images, violent police officers and scenes of a baptism, romantic piano tunes and, floating above all that, the narrator who introduces himself as a hero of our time in the style of Mikhail Lermontov’s autobiographical novel. Like the other hero, he is a young man whose talents are bound to whither in the dull social atmosphere surrounding him. He wants to challenge the self-styled leaders of his epoch – the humane executive, the honest politician, the reformed war criminal – to duels. But he fails in the run-up every time, because his friend, alter ego and second has always just shot down the desired opponent with a denigrating aphorism: “We know what we want at every moment. But we don’t know when this moment comes.” At the end, there is only one worthy opponent left for this hero of our time: himself. Filmed and collected on countless journeys across the Balkans over a period of three years, this is subversive everyday philosophy posing as reliable self-help: “Everyone is on our side, except us.”

RENCONTRES INTERNATIONALES DU DOCUMENTAIRE DE MONTREAL (NOV 11-21, 2009)

A 3-year adventure. 50,000 klicks in the Balkans. 400 clichés. 1 narrator who doesn’t believe any of it. 100s of images and stories reminiscent of a Chris Marker collage. 1 incisive portrait of a world in transition. 60 minutes of laughter and thought. 1 brave hero with no one to fight. Oh, and aphorisms—too many to count. An absurd, irreverent fairy tale about love, life, politics and war, Goodbye, How are You? stakes out a brilliant return to the field of avant-garde documentary film by Serbian writer and director Boris Mitic.

CORK FF (NOV 2-8, 2009)

Goodbye, How Are You? is a superb satirical documentary detailing a fractured society with a narration taken from the Serbian convention of dry aphorisms to address the effects of war and widespread political corruption. Aided and abetted by a witty tour guide opting to choose his battles on the field of language instead of war, his monologues are the voice of freedom heard through the prism of a healthy skepticism and a never-failing sense of self-deprecating humour. A fascinating essay-film in the style of Chris Marker and Jean-Luc Godard, director Boris Mitic has created an unforgettable visual aphorism detailing resistance to the madness of modern-day politics.


TUE STEEN MILLER, Filmkommentaren.dk

It is one of those films where you are attracted by the visual and the tone of the film and the words, in other words by the film, and still feel like you want to watch and listen again. Because you did not get it all. Being a chaptered film essay of highest originality, with funny playful captions, you can actually do your re-view by clicking your remote control. To pick the chapters. And you can visit the (also) rich website to get on your screen the aphorisms. Simply to read what you heard.

I say so because it is a difficult film for someone from outside of Serbia and ex-Yugoslavia to fully recognize and sense the constant dialogue between image and words. Much is archive from places and demonstrations, and conflict and war situations. Also from today, also from Kosovo, but also here you have to give up sometimes as you don’t have the references in your visual memory. At the same time as the images and the tone and the words keep your attention the whole way through.

Nevertheless, let me skip the eternal (Nordic?) rational wish to understand everything… there is so much to discover in this ambitious journey in absurdity and subtlety where you are taken by the hand by a ”me”, the voice of an old man, who is summarizing his life and talks about his friend and about the duels he would love to have. With other people and with himself. My Serbian language knowledge does not exist but the voice of the old man sets me in the mood of laughing of what is being said and what I watch. But not only laughing. There is also a sadness, a sad wisdom I would call it, from the writers and philosophers, who have inspired director Boris Mitic for making this clever satirical catalogue of image & words. It took him ”4 years of travelling 50.000 km along Balkan side roads to make 400 shots” for a story and a visualization to which there is but one thing to say: Good Day, I am fine. I saw your film. I feel it like I do when I have seen a play of Samuel Beckett. Provoked and entertained in a creative way. Want to see it again. Bravo!

The film is supported by arte, MDR and YLE and Serbian public sources. And you will meet it at international festivals.

“The best Christmas present… ever!” – quintuple DVD buyer, Bratislava FF

“So sobering. So optimistic!” – Majda Gandar, TV Slovenia “The most objective documentary I have ever seen.” – Gena Teodosievska, MKTV Macedonia

“A fucking critique… of fucking everything!” – anonymous teenager, Sarajevo FF