Marko Grba Singh, Serbia 2021
In his debut feature documentary, director Marko Grba Singh revisits the Belgrade apartment of his youth. Sold in 2019, the apartment had a particular and peculiar meaning for Singh as it was where his childhood ended. His camera and sound equipment record its uninhabited, silent nooks and corners; he stares through gloomy windows, and reflects on his years-long dream. Poking about, Singh finds an overlooked, left-behind box of VHS tapes that contain footage of the once lively household in happier days, and also, during the bombing terrors in springtime 1999.
The early family footage was videoed mostly by his grandfather whose unique style added personality by him asking questions and getting responses, joking, as well as his carefully phrased commentary. Mostly of ordinary family comings and goings, like playing basketball outside and video games inside, a little girl kneeling before a computer, or them working on constructing a hut, young Marko is energetic and plays with his pet hamster and dog, Meki. Some footage is obviously pre-bombing, other during, and then in Timisoara where he and his mother took refuge in May 1999.
The initial blast is particularly distressing; the stark fear on Marko’s face running for cover, yet a certainty watching this drill had been practiced. Another time, angst fills his mother’s eyes rushing past the camera; granddad films distant explosions from the window—recording family history. Marko wakes Meki to take to the basement; commentary includes, “really horrible tonight,” and “it’s the 58-59th day of bombing.” At the refugee apartment in Timisoara, Romania, he watches television, tries to remember Belgrade; grandfather comes to bring them home.
The two-tiered documentary comprised the past—bright, noisy, and cheerful in family videos, and the present—cool, bereft inside with dusky tones walking around outside. Editor Mina Petrović aptly assembles the somewhat mismatched footage; Luka Barajević´s sound is good. The title refers to the recurring nightmare Singh introduced early in the film. The apartment is where the then 11-year-old first learned of mankind’s cruelties. Subsequently, Meki was terrified of the dark. From March to June 1999, NATO bombed Serbia (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) during the Kosovo War; its reasons are disputed. The truth, most likely, is in the middle.