Spain’s Bendita Films (“The Clash”) has scooped international sales rights to twisted and suspenseful production “The Uncle” (“Stric”) ahead of its market screening at the Toronto Festival.
“We’re thrilled to represent the brilliant debut feature from David Kapac and Andrija Mardešić, a captivating, oppressive thriller with humorous notes that will surely surprise international audiences with its unsettling atmosphere and inventive narrative structure,” stated Luis Renart, CEO-sales & acquisitions at Bendita Films.
Written and directed in tandem by Kapac and Mardešić, the project garnered a special jury mention in July at the Proxima strand which has replaced East of the West at the Karlovy Vary Festival. It marks the first feature effort for the Croatian duo who’ve previously paired to create several festival-showcased short films, including post-war noir comedy “Iris.”
“The Uncle” is a near-claustrophobic depiction of a Yugoslavian family in the late ‘80s as they hastily prepare to gather for Christmas Eve dinner. All in its place, awaiting their beloved uncle from Germany, who’ll be arriving any minute in his Mercedes. On the surface, a mundane enough task, but are things truly as they seem?
The film, “is a deconstruction of a typical family situation during the holidays. Since childhood, we’ve been trained that the holidays are a time when the family has to be happy and together. Perhaps, for that very reason, most of our festive gatherings look like superficially staged, well-rehearsed plays,” the directors revealed in a statement.
Feigned merriment at the fore, as the mother works tirelessly on a turkey that will be consumed in mere minutes, and the son fidgets begrudgingly with the home’s festive decor while the father supervises. The hum of an engine in the distance, and all stand in line turning frowns to smiles, awaiting that familiar greeting.
As the narrative advances, the home feels smaller, the acts more sinister, with each breath taken in. An uncle who adores a captive audience anchors the family as the camera inches closer to the action and then pulls back to reveal the nostalgic and dated furnishings of the quaint abode, housing secrets in the fabric, likely tearing at the seams.
“In their conformity, people perceive negative events more intensely if they occur during the holidays, when the imperative is for everything to be warm and carefree,” the directors relayed.
“The Uncle” is produced by Zagreb-based Eclectica (“1001 Nights”) with co-production credit to Belgrade’s Sense Production, who produced Ivan Ikic’s award-winning films “Oasis” and “Barbarians.” Further support comes from the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, Film Centre Serbian and Croatian National Television.
An intimate ensemble cast is tethered by beloved Serbian actor Predrag ‘Miki’ Manojlović, known for his role in Emir Kusturica’s Cannes Palme d’Or winning film “Underground.” Rounding out the scenes are film and theater talent Ivana Roščić (“Tereza 37”), Roko Sikavica (“Quit Staring At My Plate”), and Goran Bogdan (“Fargo”).
“When the producers asked us who we’d imagine as the uncle in an ideal world, we told them without any hesitation, Miki Manojlović,” the directors relayed.
They went on: “At that moment, it seemed like an impossible fantasy. However, the producers had his email address so they sent him the script, hoping against hope. Miki replied soon after, saying he was completely impressed with the script written by two young, novice writers whose other work he’d never seen before. The rest is history.”
Divinely contorted, turning tradition on its head, “The Uncle” gracefully exhibits a family under pressure in the most personal of their daily routines. A winding and cyclical journey unfolds as each character attempts to deliver the performance of a lifetime, lest they’re destined to repeat it ad nauseam.
“It didn’t take a big leap from reality to use something universally recognizable, such as a family celebrating the holidays, and then to tell a very dark (and sometimes funny) story within those confines,” the directors said.
“We focused on all the absurd, grotesque and bizarre elements of our own family gatherings, and it wasn’t hard to imagine how things could go very badly, very fast.”