I’ve been working as a volunteer at the Festival of Slovenian Film for the past week and Sailing to Paradise (with original title Pot v raj) was sadly just one of two films that I managed to see there. But since it won the Audience Award and because a lot of people asked me what I thought about it during the festival when I was too tired to adequately form my thoughts, I decided to write a short review now that I’m rested and able to think properly.
Sailing to Paradise was directed by Blaž Završnik, who was also one of film’s co-writers, together with its main stars, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar. Janežič plays physics student Žak who suddenly loses both of his parents in a car crash and embarks on a sailing trip in search of peace and solitude. But his trip is interrupted by Lučka who desperately wants a travel companion and manages to convince him to take her sailing.
The first part of the film, where Žak’s travelling on foot from his home to Slovenian seaside, is very similar to Sean Penn’s Into the Wild, while later, when Lučka comes by and disturbs his trip to nowhere, film starts to look like a Slovenian remake of Linklater’s Before Sunrise – although none of the characters is even remotely as well written as Celeste and Jesse in Linklater’s masterpiece. On the contrary, the screenplay is probably the film’s weakest point and the characters are somehow hard to connect to. For the first half of the film, Lučka is nothing but annoying – she seems more like a caricature of some spoiled girl from the city than a real person. Everything about her is exaggerated to the point that her dialogues seem unbelievable and disruptive. But in the second half her character suddenly turns out to be a complex person, full of unexpected depth. Her monologue towards the end is definitely the highlight of the film – it is one of it’s most real, raw and emotional moments, since probably everyone of us knows a person (or two) with the same controlling parents who suffocate their children with high expectations and with making life decisions in their name long into their adult life. And then there’s Žak who doesn’t really speak for the first half of the film. But when he finally starts opening up, when he confides in Lučka about his recent tragic loss, there is no emotional connection with the character whatsoever – he leaves us cold and indifferent.
I already mentioned the similarities with Into the Wild and Before Sunrise – but there is also this one scene (just look at the picture above) that was almost identical to Polanski’s Knife in the Water. I usually don’t mind if the film uses references to other, older films (like Frances Ha did with it’s dancing sequence that was a reference to Denise Lavant’s dancing in Carax’s Mauvais sang) – but I am sure that this particular scene was not meant as a reference. There was also a lot of forced “comic” moments that seemed unnecessary and out of place, as if a film didn’t want to end up being “too serious” and threw a few jokes in to lighten up the mood.
While I have quite a few reservations about the film, there are still some things that stood out. The cinematography was beautiful – there was quite a lot of breathtaking shots of Croatian seaside and Lev Predan Kowarski really did a wonderful job as a director of photography. The soundtrack is also outstanding. But film as a whole lacks something – it has almost no depth and the characters, at least for the most part of the film, seem shallow. This film had every chance to be a deep character study, but ended up being a light drama/romantic comedy, probably because they wanted to please the widest audience possible. As a result, this ended up being a film that will probably have a great commercial success, but it (justifiably) didn’t impress this year’s Jury at the Festival of Slovenian Film. They completely overlooked this crowd-pleaser and chose to give the Film of the Year award to a (political) documentary Boj za by Siniša Gačić for which I loudly applaud them.
Directed by: Blaž Završnik
Written by: Blaž Završnik, Klemen Janežič and Ajda Smrekar
Starring: Klemen Janežič, Ajda Smrekar
Running Time: 80 minutes