Life, Novels

Incessant magic of realism
It is easy to be a genius, it’s difficult to be normal. The ego makes us irrevocably stupid and steals all our talents. Contemporary man is a devourer. He first devoured God, then his own spiritual substance, while now he’s devouring the nature around him. Our big problem is the lack of knowledge of our own culture and valuable answers it offers us. Thus we are unable to offer our distinctiveness to the world; we are not interesting because we’re not surprising. Orthodox Christianity teaches us to raise children with our own example, our entire life, not lecturing. From the spiritual vertical aspect, Kosovo is too big to be skipped or squeezed into an excel table of Brussels’ politics. From the realistic social horizontal, Kosovo is an aggrieved territory, where everyone except the colonial masters and their servants are underprivileged

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Guest’s Archive

He united the economic rationality of Šumadija and the vertiginous fantastic of the Serbian south. Clarity and multilayeredness. The key and the hand of the locksmith. His movie The Healing (2014) returned Byzantium and Tarkovsky outright into Serbian film. From 2012 to 2016, he worked on the project Oral History of the Suffering of Serbs in Croatia from 1941 to 1945, made the first Serbian sound archive about that evil and crime of horrible proportions. He collected 94 testimonies of witnesses, over 450 hours of recorded material. He later used it for his feature documentary Legacy (2016), made exclusively of voices of living witnesses, without archive material, narrator or historians-interpreters. If he hadn’t done it, he says, he would be ashamed to stand before his children. So would we before ours.
Ivan Jović (Aranđelovac, 1971), outstanding Serbian writer and film director, in National Review.

Unity of Opposites. It is an interesting mixture. My mother’s family is from Šumadija, the vicinity of Lazarevac. Centered, balanced, good and prudent family people, with a healthy absence of fantasy. I remember my mother’s father, Radiša, who insisted on order and balance. He had his small daily rituals and stuck to them until the end of his life. Coffee, jam, a shot of rakia in the morning. Freshly shaved, with a scent of the old-fashioned cologne, he reads Politika daily and watches over the entire household from the porch. He knows if a cow mooed in a bad time, he knows when my brother and I are doing something we shouldn’t, although he cannot see us… My father’s family is completely different. It’s the south of Serbia, a place of great fantasy, ultimate impracticality and a certain degree of madness. I believe that my artistic side comes from there. It’s an epically beautiful area, with soil rich in mica, so forest paths glitter magically while you are walking. I remember, before all, my grandfather Ilija, who loved me and saved me from scolding, took me to the forest or the meadow. My grandmother was the village sorceress, she saved from evil eyes. I remember her words: ”Let grandma kiss your soul.”
I guess my present character, a pretty rare mixture of ability to fantasize on one side and volitional organization on the other, originates from this merge. I’ve been fighting myself my entire life, keeping some kind of self-discipline – that’s my grandpa Radiša in me, the spirit of self-control harnessing the southern madness… At the same time, I’m able to research one idea for days, to deal with entirely impractical things – that’s the nature my grandpa Ilija used to take me to. Hamvas, whom I like to read, once said that it’s easy to be a genius, it’s difficult to be normal. That self-restricting normality is something I’ve been trying to achieve my whole life. With changeable success, of course.

With a View of the Road. Aranđelovac is a slow town, a spa where you learn to drink your coffee from a small cup, slowly. That is actually what took me away from Aranđelovac. It became too slow and too narrow very early. On the other hand, I was nostalgic, especially at the beginning. I came to Belgrade during high school and longed for home… Even today I have that trauma, whenever I prepare to travel to Belgrade from Aranđelovac. I spent most of my life in Belgrade, but the anxiety from the trip remained. For me, Aranđelovac is first my mother, the house that vividly reminds me of her, and her grave in Risovača, in a place with a view of the road to Belgrade. As if she continues watching over the road she used to see us off to. She departed too early, but she remained present within me, and, in some strange way, perhaps even more now that she’s not alive any longer… My gravesite is also in Aranđelovac. Monja and I bought two gravesites when my mother died. It may sound bizarre to someone, but seemed logical to us at the time. Perhaps once I will also be lying there watching the road to Belgrade. For the time being, I go there for an encounter with myself, to settle accounts with myself, confront my transience and reconcile with the fact that I’m little, that I’ve never grown, that I’m vulnerable and confused, to encounter my small defeats, which I learned to live with.

Shadows of Belgrade. I’m a longtime newcomer in Belgrade, and that has never changed. Belgrade likes to think that it’s an open city, but it isn’t. First of all, Serbia is not an open society, so Belgrade cannot be an open city either. We have an arranged, pretty impenetrable caste system, where positions and places in the society are inherited. Those who want to bypass it can perhaps become members of the party, if they’re not squeamish. My stance about Belgrade is therefore not romanticized at all. I’m a newcomer and my talents, brains, education, have never been and never will be sufficient for Belgrade. Belgrade is a city with a strong provincial feature, pretty closed. To make my impression even stronger, I am related to a refugee family by marriage. I live in the refugee settlement, with people from Krajina, Herzegovina, Bosnia. I learned a lot from them. A refugee, basically, keeps the stance of an unwilling tourist towards the place he came to, as my wife says, an outsider, observer stance, which actually sharpens your thoughts. You can see things clearer.
On the other hand, Belgrade is a city my children are growing up in, and a city where personal memories greet me in every corner: I used to work here, I took my oldest daughter to ballet here, my grandmother died in this hospital, this is where I kissed my wife for the first time and we both wondered what happens when a mouse crosses your path (because that happened to us then). This is where I spent my life. It could’ve been worse. Such ambivalence is visible in my books as well, especially in the Prisoner, where the hero comes back home at the end of the novel, into a light and timeless vision of Belgrade. Such Belgrade, of course, exists only in novels. And anyone with a talent for art can write, paint or record such a Belgrade. That’s the advantage of art.

Devoured Authors. I was saved by books. Reading built me. Writers, philosophers, theologians I read were my spiritual guardians, my psychotherapists and consultants. And there are many of them. I mentioned Hamvas, but my writers are also Proust, Thomas Mann, Czechov, Shmeman, Frankl. I devoured them all. My wife and I are different readers. She falls in love with books, I fall in love with writers. I have to read the entire opus of an author, every single letter available. Because the most exciting part is meeting his or her personality… The latest such incredibly deep encounter was Boba Blagojević, supreme material…
Then movies… I watched movies in the same manner. The entire author’s opus. Tarkovsky is the most important. It was also important to read directors. I read everything I could find. It’s a fantastic possibility to meet a spiritual relative and realize that you’re not alone. It’s perhaps the most important thing, the feeling that you’re not alone, that someone else already experienced what you are going through now.
As for the music of my generation, I loved Džoni Štulić. I still play it loud in my car, and our children, whether they like it or not, have to listen. I also loved ”Zabranjeno pušenje”. I remember standing in line in front of the department store in Aranđelovac to buy their album. I believe that rock music is before all a question of courage and integrity. That is what it represented to my generation, the taste of freedom. When you grow up, you realize that freedom comes only in circumstances of great responsibility. We are not a free society, chiefly because we’re not a responsible society.

Unlocking Serbia. We have serious work of many generations behind us, yet we behave like arrogant illiterate heirs, incapable of at least conserving and preserving what we have, let alone some creative upgrade. The biggest problem is the benightedness and lack of knowledge of our own culture. The first-Serbians and second-Serbians are related with a basically same feature: they have no idea what they are talking about, they don’t know Serbia, its culture, its potentials, its connections with others. But they are terribly loud. Provinciality is our fate, but the biggest provincials are most often those who swear in the Provincial Philosophy. I take foreigners, who come to visit, to meet great people, because people are like landscapes. I take them to my best man to Altina, to cook them his specialty made of the Danube spawn and serve wine from Fruška Gora. Because I believe that he, for example, is more interesting than any museum I could take them to. They can find museums themselves. But when I want to speak about Serbia, I can only point out its multilayeredness, its complexity, both spiritual and cultural. Nothing here is simple, but it’s all worth interpreting and unlocking.

The Kosovo Truth. From the spiritual vertical aspect, Kosovo is too big to be skipped, bypassed and placed into an excel table of Brussels’ politics. From the social horizontal aspect, Kosovo is an aggrieved territory, where everyone except colonial masters and their servants are underprivileged, and I mean both Serbs and Albanians. It is a territory designed for plundering and abuse. Perhaps that is the spiritual logics: a great spiritual benefit doesn’t go without great evil trying to cancel it. In that sense, Kosovo is the battle of spirit under heavens. This is not a practical political statement, but I believe in it and feel it when I go there.

In the World of Devourers. We are becoming globally more stupid, that’s for certain. If supreme value is placed in a materialistic register, dumbing-down is an entirely expected dimension, because a man that thinks and contemplates the world and life is not a good consumer. His thought has to be blocked, he must be dazzled by the shiny, colorful images, and disabled to go further from those images, from the wish to possess. Contemporary man is a devourer. He devoured God, then his own spiritual substance, and now he’s devouring the nature around him.

Our Children. Raising and teaching are an encounter of two personalities. A child needs to be encountered with a conscious personality and feel that its personality is respected. Everything else is mastered along the way, everything can be learnt and is not so important. The key thing is freedom. Give freedom to a child, but teach it that it comes with the price of responsibility for oneself and others. Raising children is not training. As for our scholar system, it is empty. It offers empty and useless knowledge. Very often, children in it don’t meet persons. They meet the system. That’s why we remember good professors so long: we remember their courage to be persons. I think that our education is unsupportive and that any system such a state is managing is unsupportive for the development of personalities. That is why the private sector is the healthiest here, in all segments, and the less the state influences it, the better it is.
Monja and I teach our daughters that they are worthy of unconditional love, that we will always love them more than anything in the world and that we will be proudest of them if they build such relations with others: relations of love and support, understanding of others’ diversity and freedom. Orthodox Christianity teaches us that children are not our possession, that they are only left to our care, and that we mustn’t violate their freedom, even in matters of faith. It also teaches us to raise our children with our own example, our entire life, not by holding lectures.

Like in the Movies. Art is, I repeat, in the domain of a person. Thus, fortunately, its path is unpredictable. A single author is sufficient for a breakthrough. I’m not worried about film. In its greatest achievements, it will always, as any other art, manage to deeply express thought, spirit, antagonisms of its époque. And it will do it in a manner relevant for a viewer belonging to the époque. I don’t see any reason not to express greatest truths in any media, whether it is a cave drawing or a film created under the influence of a video game. It’s only necessary that someone talented deals with it, because the spirit breathes where it wants to. That’s the secret of creative work.
Our film is in the same condition our entire culture is, limited with negative factors I’ve already mentioned: caste system, insufficient education and lack of knowledge about our own culture, followed by the incapability to bring something relevant to the world. The relevant originates from your cultural authenticity, and if you don’t know what it is, you cannot present it. Furthermore, there is a limitation of our film school. Film is a young form of art and sometimes rules are placed before it. Older arts overcame the limitations of normative poetics. Our cinematography is mostly moving within the domain of normative poetics and most people engaged in Serbian film seem to really believe that films should be made as they were taught in school. That cannot bring any steps forward. A programmer of a big foreign festival once told me the same thing: based on the first frames, he already knows he’s watching a Serbian movie and that we are not competitive because we don’t bring surprises.

Legacy. I always tell my associates that one of the objectives when working on any project is to be changed by the project. Legacy deeply changed us all. What did I actually want? In the artistic sense, I probably wanted to place the film characters in an eschatological dimension, to make a fresco of their faces, a timeless film testimony, which will be relevant in all times. They taught me that man cannot lead a quality life with hatred. Forgiveness is something else, it is a very complex issue, but life without hatred is a necessity, the basic minimum for dignified existence. In a way, this film was Monja’s and my debt not only to members of Monja’s family who died in Jasenovac and other victims, but a debt to our children, because we felt that working on such a project is a measure of decency. I can peacefully stand before all three of my children and say that I’ve given my best. I recorded 94 witnesses, collected 450 hours of material, which other people can study, and made a movie. I exhausted myself on that project, both financially and psychologically. I’ve given my best. If I hadn’t done so, I would feel ashamed before my children.

Healing. The making of Healing was a genuine creative adventure in which I learnt a lot. What we have realized is a movie that achieves a maximum effect with a minimum of expressive means, which is calm, contemplative and suggestive, like prayer chants from the East. I think it is one of the rare movies that positions us, in a cultural sense, in the Christian east, in Byzantine heritage. I began researching such esthetics in the short feature film Winegrower, a movie with almost no words, which also had its own unusual and unexpected festival life.

Literature and Film. Writing is a gloomy, solitary job, during which you fight with yourself and various spirits. Film, on the other hand, is a wonderful game, into which you invite different people to join with their gifts. Despite all challenges, film is thereby an incomparably easier discipline. For me, it is mainly an act of love. The love begins with my wife, who writes stories for my films, and ends with all others participating in it.
Yes, writing and film are different frequencies, originating from the same need, from the same view of the world. I still haven’t written everything. In writing, the feeling that only a few people really know how to read is depressing. Good readers are rare, just as good writers are. I cannot make a value judgment about my writing, but I know that it’s dense, complex, multilayered, with many references that should be recognized in order to understand the narrative, and I know it requests a particularly patient and dedicated reader. My last novel, Hagiography of the Village, although written in the form of a parabola, with a hint of the medieval milieu, deals with studying the phenomenon of commercialization of spirituality, and mechanisms of authority and violence. I don’t want to discourage readers, but it’s not easy at all.

Nonnomadic. I don’t like to travel. Not at all. It’s probably some archetypical, continental Šumadija anxiety from leaving home and the fields, who knows. When I do travel, I go on purpose, because I need to be inspired for something I am about to create. Journeys without such a dimension are useless and boring. I’m not a curious tourist at all. Traveling for me is just a material and I’m just interested whether I can embed it in something or not.

The Path towards Church. It began with my grandmother, who gave me communion in the village church. The turning point was in the army, where I met Radivoj Nađalin, now head priest of the Cathedral Church in Zrenjanin. They called me Teacher and him Priest. I tortured him throughout the army period asking indecent and impossible questions about faith. He put up with me and loved me as I am, although I was unbearable. So I became a Christian.


Ivan Jović (Aranđelovac, 1971). He completed elementary school in his hometown, high school and Teacher Education Faculty in Belgrade. He got his master’s degree at the Faculty for Special Education and Rehabilitation. He worked in education several years, managed humanitarian projects for children and young people in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as children without parents in entire Serbia.
He published collections of stories ”I Constantly Think of Eduard” (2002), ”Joyful Life of a Man in a Coffin” (2003), novels ”Prisoner” (2011) and ”Hagiography of a Village” (2013), collections of literary and visual art works of children from Kosovo and Metohija ”I’m Dreaming and What’s Happening to Me” and ”Letters from Enclaves: Greetings from Kosovo and Metohija”. He directed a short feature film ”Ordinary Day” (2011), short documentary ”Winegrower” (2012), long feature film ”Healing” (2014), long documentary ”Legacy” (2016).
He says that he is a writer for whom ”film is a form of artistic expression”.
He lives and works in Belgrade.


Normality and Ingeniousness
Being normal means being calm and humble, and always smaller than what you do. The ego makes us irrevocably stupid and becomes a robber of all our talents. If you wish to keep your gifts, just become smaller and you’re safe.


She is me. When I think about myself, I think about her at the same time. And I know that when she thinks about herself, she thinks of me at the same time. It is rare, but possible and I’m privileged that life enabled me to have it.


Human beings haven’t invented communication deeper than poetry. Layers of experience are collected in those language images. Film came closest to it in the works of Andrei Tarkovsky. One should be careful there, because it happened once. You can learn from him, but you cannot copy him, because we create art from our own material. That material can be another art, it can also be Tarkovsky, but we mustn’t be getting ideas that our material and Tarkovsky’s material are the same thing.


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