Igor Drljaca’s tale of corruption and coming of age in Sarajevo sees an orphaned teenage hustler fall for the daughter of a wealthy politician.
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Igor Drljaca has been selected by TIFF for Canada’s Top Ten two years in a row — first with his brilliant short The Archivists in 2020, and again in 2021 with this, his most recent feature. The White Fortress finds the Bosnian Canadian director returning to the country of his birth, a subject previously explored in his features Krivina, The Waiting Room, and The Stone Speakers (all of which played the Festival).
Faruk (Pavle Čemerikić) is an orphaned teen living with his grandmother in contemporary Sarajevo. During the day he works hauling scrap for his uncle, who only hangs around to ingratiate himself with Faruk’s grandmother (he wants her apartment). At night Faruk does odd jobs for local gangsters, though he’s so low in the pecking order that he isn’t even fully aware they’re up to anything criminal — at first.
As the film proceeds, the scope of corruption in the city is expanded via Mona (Sumeja Dardagan), a girl Faruk connects with. Her father is a prominent, deeply corrupt politician who may be more dangerous than the gangsters Faruk works for. Drljaca juxtaposes this exposé of political rot with the poignancy of first love, directing the film with extraordinary nuance and restraint that, perhaps paradoxically, imbues the film with intense emotional power.
Content advisory: violence, coarse language