The Auteur Factory

Papagajka is the strange product of Béla Tarr's Sarajevo film school

Great films usually skew one of two directions: They make the ordinary seem alien, or the alien seem ordinary. The middle ground is where the "auteur" hangs out, aiming their lens with an uncompromising confidence and sometimes unwatchable outcome.

Auteur is obviously a loaded term, but it's unavoidable when referring to Papagajka. Premiering at SXSW, the movie is the result of writer/director Emma Rozanski's studies at the experimental Sarajevo Film Factory, a school founded by Hungarian black-and-white hero Béla Tarr when he retired from filmmaking in 2011 after the release of The Turin Horse.

The plot of Papagajka revolves around an awkward parking garage attendant and his amnesiac house guest, but the real star of the film is a strange futurist building that Bosnian locals find to be ugly, but has become Instagram-famous with travelers for its bright colors and resemblance to a Soviet-era Lego set.

"You could see the building from the house I lived in and I walked past it on my way to school. It's a strange, complex building full of mystery and surprises. It existed as part of the story and characters from the beginning, so without it there would be no film," says Rozanski.

If Béla Tarr's film school actually was a real factory, Papagajka is just the type of product it would assemble. With a faculty that includes Gus Van Sant and Tilda Swinton, it isn't the right fit for a budding filmmaker looking to become employable, but rather a way to amass a DIY toolkit of practical and theoretical skills.

"If you want to make formulaic films, it's probably not for you," says Rozanski.

The air of arthouse pretense is undeniable, but so are the results. Papagajka is downright gorgeous, full of long tracking shots that make the fantastic setting feel more like a personal exploration than a masterwork of location scouting. The plot progresses with as many obtuse conversations and dramatic pauses as one might expect, but it's grounded by a sense of humanity that's often lost in more indulgent artistic experiments.

"We have to educate filmmakers who think responsibly and in a humanistic manner," says Tarr in a mission statement on the SFF website, "artists who have an individual look, their own form of expression." Not ordinary, not alien, but somewhere in the middle.

SXGlobal, World Premiere

Sunday, March 13, 1pm, Alamo Ritz
Monday, March 14, 9:45pm, Alamo South Lamar
Thursday, March 17, 10:30pm, Alamo Ritz

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