The Great Water 2004
This was the official website for the the 2004 film, Golemata voda -The Great Water (Eng) about an ailing communist reflecting on his childhood in Stalinist Yugoslavia.
Content is from the site's 2004 archived pages as well as other outside sources.
Directed By: Ivo Trajkov
Written By: Vladimir Blazevski, Ivo Trajkov
In Theaters: Jun 17, 2005 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Nov 22, 2005
Runtime: 94 minutes
The Great Water (2004) Golemata Voda - Trailer
Based on a children's book written by Zivko Cingo in the 1970s, the movie is about the difficult transition in Macedonia after World War II. The film begins in the present as old Lem (Meto Jovanovski), Macedonian politician who is experiencing a heart attack and while he is being wheeled into a hospital and examined and wired, he has memory flashbacks to his childhood in 1945. He is brought to the 'orphanage' where orphans are children of the enemies of the new regime. There he learns how to adjust to the role of obedient brainwashing. He becomes mesmerized by a new kid, Isak, a beautiful and charismatic boy. The struggles quietly underplaying all of the camp surface activity are many: the dichotomy of a Communist ideology removing the Church from existence with a people dependent upon the spiritual values of religion, the Stalin/Tito issue, the adjustments to the policies of Communist regime in a country where fierce national pride had ruled, and the depersonalization of children into political pawns despite the need for role models and the luxury of growing up with friends and confidants.
Synopsis / Plot
The great fuss and commotion around Lem Nikodinoski, as he is rushed to the emergency room, is suggesting to us that he is a person of great importance. In this critical moment, while the doctors are fighting for his life, during his near death experience, he goes back to his childhood, at the age of twelve. He re-lives his troubled childhood filled with surreal, magical moments, a time of an eternal battle of the individual against the system.
His is the story about the greatest friendship and greatest betrayal, a story about a conflict between religion and the communist dogma, material and the spiritual world. World War II had just ended. Young Lem, like so many war orphans, wanders aimlessly through the countryside until he is caught like a wild animal by communist soldiers. He is taken to the children's orphanage, a medieval fortress with the biggest walls imaginable, adjacent to an abandoned factory near a big lake. This “dungeon” is where his true hardships begin.
The orphanage is in fact an “ideological” labor camp where the children of the “enemies of the Revolution” are brought to be ideologically "reprogrammed". Here, in the spirit of the great Revolution, the deeds of the Communist Party and The Great God Stalin are glorified.
Order and discipline are the rule of the day in the orphanage. The Headmaster, comrade Ariton, is an ambitious, rigid man, but deep inside he is also an honest man. The warden’s assistant, Comrade Olivera, is a young girl indoctrinated with the new Communist ideology. She is a worshipper of The Great Stalin, determined to mold the children in the orphanage, as well as the rest of the world, after the ways of the Revolution.
However even this brutal and strict “dungeon” has its secrets. Late at night, while everybody is asleep, a beautiful, fairy-like woman graciously walks by the walls of the fortress, careful to avoid the searchlights from the watch tower. The warden, deep in his thoughts and unable to sleep, smokes a cigarette in the dark, under the dead tree in the miple of the huge courtyard. Little Lem is sleepless himself, with a premonition that something unusual is about to happen.
The next day a mysterious and charismatic, aristocratic looking 13-year old boy, Isaac, arrives at the orphanage. From the very beginning it is clear that Isaac is somebody special, somebody who will be the first one with the courage to question authority and stoically endure the brutal consequences of such actions.
Lem is intrigued by the mystique that surrounds Isaac and feels that this new boy might be the solution for his desperation. He sets out to slowly create a bond of friendship with Isaac as his only chance for survival. From this moment on, nothing in the orphanage will be as before.
2005: Valencia Festival of Mediterranean Cinema: Golden Palm, Best Cinematograph
The Great Water Trailer
Suki Medencevic | Photographer's Biography
Suki Medencevic was born in Derventa, Bosnia. While in high-school Suki became interested in the field of still photography, but his involvement in film really started when he was accepted at The National Film School for Dramatic Arts, FDU Belgrade, Yugoslavia.
Suki continued his education at The National Film School,
While in Prague, he received the Chancellor’s Award, for outstanding results in Cinematography, and he was a first recipient of “Jaroslav Kucera’s Award,” given by the Czech Cinematographers’ Society for cinematography on his Thesis film “Truth is Like Pure Water.”
In 1991 Suki came to Los Angeles, as a guest of the UCLA Film School where he was involved in lecturing and conducting workshops with students.
Since his first feature film shoot in 1994, Suki has been steadily working in film industry making over 15 feature length feature films, numerous commercials and documentaries.
During his career, Suki has worked with Hollywood legends such as Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, Burt Reynolds, and Pat Hingle, as well as Alyssa Milano, Tom Hanks, Billy Crystal, Keith Carradine, and many others.
In his work Suki is always exploring cutting edge technology ranging from 3D, 70mm and High Definition on a large variety of locations including China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Guatemala, and Southeast and Central Europe.
Still photography has always had a special place for Suki. In the summer of 2001, he had his first solo exhibit in Los Angeles, titled "From The Old World ”. It represented a return to the images of Prague, where Suki spent 5 years as a student.
Suki is currently living and working in Los Angeles.
Ivo Trajkov | Director's Biography
Ivo Trajkov, (director, producer, screenwriter) was born in Skopje, Macedonia.
He graduated from the Czech National Film School, FAMU in Prague, where he received his MFA degree.
For his work he has received numerous awards including:
- THE CZECH CAMERAMEN´S ASSOCIATION AWARD – 1998, Czech Republic;
- FESTIVAL "FINÁLE PLZEŇ” - FICC Special Jury Prize, 1999, Czech Republic;
- TAORMINA FILM FEST - The Audience award, "Silver Charibdys", 1999, Italy;
- FESTIVAL INTERNACIONAL DE CINEMA DA FIGUEIRA DA FOZ -Special Jury Prize, Portugal;
- IFF CINEMA TOUT ECRAN GENEVA - Award of the Young Jury, Switzerland;
- THE FLAGSTAFF INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - Theatrical Feature Film Award in section „Low Budget“ (under 1 million), USA;
- CANADIAN INTERNATIONAL ANNUAL FILM & VIDEO FESTIVAL, Campbell River - Special Commendation with judges rating TWO STARS, Canada.
Ivo Trajkov is currently living and working in Prague and also lecturing at FAMU, the school he graduated from.
Upon graduation he decided to stay in Prague and start his career in the Czech Republic.
His filmography as a director/ screenwriter includes 5 feature films:
“The Great Water”, The Movie”, “The Past”, “The Canary Connection” and “Jan”.
“The Great Water” is a feature film based on the famous Macedonian novel written by Zivko Cingo and published in the early 70’s, at the peak of the Communist regime in the former Yugoslavia.
For the first time light has been shed on the Stalinist period in Yugoslavia (1945-48) and the cruelty of the Communist leadership towards the children of the “enemies of the revolution” in ideological labor camps established after WWII.
This powerful and emotionally moving story was finally transferred to film as an epic saga of friendship and betrayal between two boys, and conflicts between religion, spirituality and political blindness.
After completing the final version of the script with his writing partner, Vladimir Blazevski, the film’s director, Ivo Trajkov has reunited (after 12 years) with cinematographer Suki Medencevic, his classmate from the film school in Prague who now lives and works in Los Angeles, and started to pre-visualize the film.
At the same time casting was under way, led by Mykola Heyko, one of the leading European experts in working with children actors (as evidenced in “Kolya”, the Academy Award winning foreign language film from Czech Republic). His final selection was made after having seen thousands of children.
Regarding the roles played by adult actors the lead was given to renowned Macedonian actor, Meto Jovanovski. Other members of the cast included: Nikolina Kujaca, Olivera Nedeska and Mitko Apostoloski.
In summer of 2002 Macedonia was at the brink of a civil war. Despite the obvious risk, production got under way filming on locations in Skopje and Bitola.
The crew was comprised of film professionals from Macedonia and the entire region of the former Yugoslavia.
Production was facing many logistical challenges: unpredictable weather with extreme heat and cold, and over 250 children on the set, ages 8-15. Thanks to an unprecedented dedication of the entire cast and crew, and after more than 50 days of filming, the production was finally completed in early fall of 2002.
The editing of the film was done in Prague, Czech Republic, Digital Intermediate in Denmark, Dolby Digital mix in Prague at the Barandov Studios, and music mix and final release print in London.
The first cast and crew screening took place in Skopje on April 30, 2004. Over 500 guests including cast, crew, media and members of the Macedonian Ministry of Culture attended the screening. The audience loved the film and the closing credits played to standing ovations.
That same day Macedonia held its presidential elections and it is interesting to note that the cover story in daily newspapers was the screening of “The Great Water”, while the presidential election got a second tier placement
Reviewed by Ken Fox TV Guide | June 17, 2005| Rating: 3/5
No doubt serving a niche audience unrecognized by other distributors, the always daring folks at Picture This! Entertainment have begun curating an international series films that all happen to deal with orphans in peril. They call the collection "Tales from the Orphanage," and this bleak political parable from the Macedonian director Ivo Trajkov is one of the more unusual films on the company's roster. The film opens in contemporary Macedonia, where the esteemed politician Lem Nikodinoski (Meto Jovanovski) has just suffered a serious heart attack. As he's rushed to a city hospital, his mind takes a Bergmanesque journey back to the austere orphanage where he spent his adolescence — an abandoned factory that had been converted into a state institution for the children of "fallen enemies."
It's now 1945, and 12-year-old Lem (Saso Kekenovski) has just a passed through the front gates. World War II has ended, Marshall Tito is now premier of the newly created socialist republics that include Macedonia, and Josef Stalin is still revered as a god. The children who have been placed under the stern care of Headmaster Ariton (Mitko Apostolovski) and his pretty but fanatical assistant, Comrade Olivera (Verica Nedeska), are there to be reprogrammed and hopefully initiated into the Soviet youth movement known as the Young Pioneers.
Not long after young Lem is brutally awakened to the reality of his new life — sexual abuse, sadistic morning exercises, a virulently anti-Clerical education — a mysterious 13-year-old boy named Isak Keyten (Maja Stankovska) arrives at the orphanage. Though he hardly speaks a word, Isak seems to radiate with a strange power that cows even the harshest disciplinarians. Infatuated, Lem is passionately determined to befriend this mesmerist, but Isak barely notices the younger boy, not even after Lem takes him to his "special place" where they spy on Comrade Ariton's beautiful wife, Verna (Nikolina Kujaca).
"Friendship must be earned," Isak tells his adorer. It's not until Lem agrees to stand up in class and ask whether it's true that Isak's friend, Lenche Petkova, who'd been among a group of girls subjected to an terribly severe punishment, has died that Lem earns Isak's friendship. Lem's audacity, however, also earns him a reputation as a dangerous subversive in the eyes of Comrade Olivera and her goons.
Shot in gorgeous widescreen, Trajkov's moody film takes on a increasingly mystical edge as the brutality of the totalitarian orphanage — a obvious microcosm of the Stalinist state — is juxtaposed with various manifestations of Isak's seemingly supernatural power. His arrival at the orphanage is heralded by a sudden cloudburst, and more than once he's seen performing arcane rituals that have little to do with Christianity as we know it.
Trajkov's conceit of periodically positioning the elderly Lem as a witness to his misbegotten youth, however, is a distraction, simply because it belongs entirely to Bergman. Rather than drawing us deeper into Trajkov's own film, and only pulls us further out, and into WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957).
"The Great Water" (aka, "Golemata voda")
Jules Brenner | Cinema Signals | June 21, 2005 | Rating: 2.5/5
At times super-realistic, at times suggestive to the point of supernatural, this story has an odd way of concentrating on gloom. One can only hope that Yugoslavia-born director Ivo Trajkov's intensely dark aesthetic isn't all there is to be offered by Macedonian cinema and its storytellers.
Lem Nikodinoski, a man of some years (Meto Jovanovski), is rushed to the emergency room with a heart attack. As he faces the possibility of death, his fevered mind submerges him (and us) into his early years as a teenage prisoner of a state institution.
Young Lem (Saso Kekenovski) is a war orphan, which, when he's caught wandering after the war, qualifies him for "care" at the communist children's orphanage. That care is a hardnose effort to reprogram the impressionable young with the credos and ideologies of their masters and the threat of isolation and punishment for wrong thoughts.
To an extent, the effort pays off with a propaganda-spouting cadre of little communists. But, Lem is resistant. And, when Isak Keyten (Maja Stankovska) an older boy of flawless skin, handsome visage and a silent charisma that even affects the staff, Lem finds his role model.
As wardens go, this bear (Mitko Apostolovski) seems almost human. Not an especially brutal man, he can be philosophical, endearing, tough. What compels him seems, at times, inconsistent and confusing. His assistant, Komrade Olivera (Verica Nedeska), a beauty of a woman who lives in a world of idealogy with Stalin as the god she worships, is less complex. The thing that seems to mediate her harshness is an almost primal naivete'.
No one seems a mortal threat to Lem's existence, as he and Isak pursue the liberties that are available to them. Lem is periodically visited by the image of himself as the older man, to remind us that this is the flashback of his life.
It's the sort of existence in which a mistake, such as an insult upon the masters of the government, could become grounds for extreme treatment, banishment, even death. Escape isn't an option, as one futile case demonstrates. Even if you were able to get through the main gate, you'd have a lake to cross, a barrier we presume to be the "Great Water" of the title. One irony of the piece is in showing how, to these communist authorities, the mere semblance of ideological belief wipes out all sins.
The writing is repetitive and the political context that motivates much of it less than clear to a non-Yugoslavian. But, the atmosphere of doom and dark destiny is superbly rendered by cinematographer Suki Medencevic ("The Inner Circle"), whose imagery can only be described as brilliant. He turns a torpid, relentlessly dispiriting scenario into a visual masterpiece that should be witnessed. Rarely has a film of such confused structure and unrelieved depression been so masterfully photographed.
Rotten Tomato Audience Reviews
TOMATOMETER Critics 71% | Audienece 76%
**** David V March 22, 2009
***Jonathon C December 25, 2008
This is a film that is guaranteed to absolutely mystify 99.9% of viewers of a non-Eastern European (communist) back-ground. I could be mistaken in my own understanding of this film, but having read much literature by Solzhenitsyn in recent years, I saw in this film a magnificent allegory of the spiritual condition of communist eastern Europe generally. Every scene in a supposed "orphanage" signifying the dramatic "re-education" of the masses ensuring the absolutes of communist ideology were sacrosanct to the state. The perverse morphing of the Cult of Stalin (Tito) with the mythology of the Great Patriotic War (WW2 for the rest of us), symbolized by a disgusting sex scene between a disfigured Red Army (or Partisan) veteran and a teenage girl of the "Stalin (Tito) Youth", was very off-putting, but it was not to be taken at face value- it was a symbolic union.
The mysterious presence of a beautiful woman with a bible and the "voyeurism" of the two young boys of the orphanage that challenge the communist orthodoxies taught in the orphanage with their orthodox spirituality appears to symbolize the undercurrent of the free thinking minority that sought to reclaim their nation's hitherto cut off spiritual heritage. A very pregnant film this was indeed.
**** O’uzhan December 3, 2008
good and interesting. there's a war between religion and communism.
***½ Andrew K September 5, 2008
very interesting and poignant film - an insight into communist yugoslavia, filmed entirely on location in macedonia, and two extraordinary young characters.
**** Anna W May 8, 2008
really great watch. i love seeing the world from the perspectve of teenagers, esp when told by them when they are adults. everything is washed through their memories, no one knoes what is true, what isn't... it's hard not to get involved in the story and get mesmerized....
****½ Amjad S March 14, 2008
yes i want 2 watch it
**** Tatjana V February 17, 2008
This film? WOW! Gorgeous, haunting amazing. This is a Macedonian film based on a book about the extremely difficult transition many countries had to brave after WWII.
The wikipedia description hardly does it justice: The film begins in the present as old Lem (Meto Jovanovski), Macedonian politician who is experiencing a heart attack and while he is being wheeled into a hospital and examined and wired, he has memory flashbacks to his childhood in 1945. He is brought to the 'orphanage' where orphans are children of the enemies of the new regime. There he learns how to adjust to the role of obedient brainwashing. He becomes mesmerized by a new kid, Isak, a beautiful and charismatic boy. The struggles quietly underplaying all of the camp surface activity are many: the dichotomy of a Communist ideology removing the Church from existence with a people dependent upon the spiritual values of religion, the Stalin/Tito issue, the adjustments to the policies of Communist regime in a country where fierce national pride had ruled, and the depersonalization of children into political pawns despite the need for role models and the luxury of growing up with friends and confidants.
I found it mesmerizing.
**** Tisa S December 11, 2007
Well crafted, uniquely accounted, but harsh and depressing. If you're just stumbling upon this then check out the official site.
****½ Private U November 3, 2007
Communist terror very well revisited. Czech-Macedonian production. Children actors outstanding.
***** Tony B May 29, 2006
truly one of the most touching foreign films ive seen, slow, though very rewarding
****½ Rich B January 5, 2006
The Great Water (2005) - "Friendship must be earned. I didn't understand what that meant then, but I remembered those words for the rest of my life." - Lem Nikodinoski
Based on Zhivko Chingo's novel and set in 1945, "The Great Water" is the harrowing story of twelve year old Lem, whose parents were "removed" for their opposition to Tito-Stalin. The story takes place in an camp designed to recondition the kids for their eventual absorption into the collective. An unflinching recollection of the madness that was Stalin, of the human vermin that rose in its (his) shadow, their victims, and the terrible courage of the youngsters who resisted, "Great Water" is a punishing film.
The story is much more than a confession, or a stark reminder of a page in the history of a land that has had it's share of violence. There was a greater evil in Europe in the years leading up to 1945 and strange bedfellows combined to crush him. In the wake of Germany's destruction, Tito rose to join Stalin and Democracy stood across the borders and glared at him until Tito's death in 1980. The land that was Yugoslavia began to unravel shortly afterward, accelerating in the 1990s, eventually leading to brutal ethnic violence and the ultimate intervention by NATO in early 2000. A beautiful people, their capacity for violence has always mystified me. Perhaps now I have a greater appreciation of the passions, and a greater kinship.