IN DEFENSE OF SATIRICAL VERITE
Nominally a documentary about Serbian satirical aphorisms, “Goodbye, How Are You?” is neither a film about Serbia nor about literature – it is rather a universal journey into a specific, soothing state of mind which we can enter through the power of words, and in this case, through a special kind of images.
The world has long turned upside-down, so the only way to understand it is to use descriptions and commentary which are also downside-up. Subversive aphorisms, introspective one-or-two-liners so commonly practiced in satire-friendly Serbia, are excellent examples of such tactical mindtwists: those “half-truths which reveal the truth and a half” offer offbeat yet serious explanations for every possible life situation.
They show everyone’s vices and virtues more accurately than any positivistic or moralistic approach and weave together a tragi-comical and potentially healing x-ray of our times. Besides, their short form matches the fragmented attention span of today’s audience, while their sharp, poignant irony denotes the perfect, perhaps ultimate contemporary discourse.
After two ‘accidental’ documentaries filmed in 2003 and 2004, I consciously searched for a new, original, local topic which would be both intellectually inspiring and cinematographically challenging, and thus started this four-year adventure in aphoristic wonderland.
The film’s structure appears to be very simple, but getting there was a tedious process.
After reading over 400 Serbian aphoristic books – practically everything that was ever published — I selected several hundred of the most effective, most universal and most translatable aphorisms.
At the same time, an extensive comparative research showed, to my great and pleasant surprise, that Serbian aphorisms do have an unique edge on the international stage, as confirmed by featured articles in the New York Times, Playboy, Anthologiеs of world aphorisms and British academic circles.
Along the way, I’ve spent much time befriending the best Serbian aphorists, filming interviews in many strange ways in many unusual locations, but that footage, however interesting or creative, couldn’t pay tribute to the spirit and impact of their written satire. So one day, I decided to bypass the aphorists altogether, to make a film about the aphorists – without the aphorists.
Similarly, I’ve always thought I would need a narration in the film, at least for background purposes, but couldn’t decide as to who would be the narrator – some expert, an omniscient voice, one of the aphorists, myself… But again, every option sounded too pretentious, too explicit, too explanatory, too anti-cinematographic. So another day, I decided to remove the background information as well, to make a film on aphorisms – without providing any background on aphorisms.
I thus trashed two years of work and resorted to more radical, lateral attempts to try illustrate with film language what these people were doing with words. After months of re-versioning, I came up with the idea of a fictional narrator – the saturated XXI century man archetype – whom everybody could identify with and who would show how aphorisms function in real life. Throughout his confession, he would use satirical aphorisms as punch lines — to introduce, develop and especially to conclude various chapters or themes of his life story.
Conversely, the exclusive “satirical documentary images” which would illustrate the narration would visually match this specific satirical mindset. Just like the aphorisms themselves, each image in the film is surprising, paradoxical, funny and multilayered. They capture and emphasize the alwayspresent but never-filmed satirical details of our lives, loading them with new meaning.
The connotations that arise are further multiplied by subjective audience reading, by the sequential juxtaposition of images and by their teasing connection to the narration.
Consequently, not only do you get a “different point of view” from the text, you also get it from the pictures and from the combined effect of narration & images as well. Altogether, this corresponds to that special feeling of intellectual excitement, of reaching a special layer of truth which I like to call satirical vérité, which is the raison d’être of satirical aphorisms in the first place, and which was the ultimate cinema target of this film project from the very start.
The result is a unique, ambitiously authentic, demanding yet crowdpleasing feature documentary,combining plot references of Zelig, Apocalypse Now, Leaving Las Vegas, Fight Club, In Praise of Folly, Cyrano de Bergerac, Don Quixote, Notes from the Underground, A Hero of our Time… and most importantly – of our own lives.