Oct 16, 2023
David M. Lorenz
Nika Rozman, Milica Vuksanovic, Elizabeta Djorevska
In case you only focused on strange blonde wannabe strongmen who briefly controlled the Anglosphere and now devote their time to their own egos and stoking the flames of division, you may be horrified to know that the battle for truth is still ongoing, and is a worldwide one. Troubling governments and movements have sprung up all over Europe, with the far-right on the rise in the West the brink of turmoil worryingly close in the Balkans. Istina is the story of a journalist with ties to both, and how populism poses a serious threat to those who shine a light on injustice.
Jelena (Nika Rozman) is a Serbian photojournalist who has fled Belgrade for her daughter Lara (Millica Vuksanovic) after reporting on the rise of far-right movements. Residing in Germany, she continues to report on her old home from afar. But when a similar movement arises in her new one, she faces a difficult decision to return to covering dangerous and hostile forces in-person, and what this could mean for both her own safety – and her daughters’.
Istina is a brilliantly contemporary short drama film about the fight for truth in dangerous circumstances. Concerns around the rise of the far-right are sadly Europe-wide at present, and the film’s focus on the most aggressive and intimidating brands of neo-Nazi-like organisations makes for uncomfortable-yet-important viewing with a disturbingly relevant context. The fears that Jelena experiences and her inability to live a normal life are at the film’s heart, and the relationship between her and her daughter is brilliantly portrayed to make clear to viewers her real focus in life. Torn between her instinctive love and need to protect, and sense of duty to make the world a better place for her child gives Jelena a central dilemma – and the filmmakers explore the various tenets of this impressively.
The story does feel too light on detail however which impacts on the audience’s investment and the rationality of Jelena’s actions. Whilst it is evident the movement Jelena is reporting on is an extreme right-wing group, viewers are only given hints at what they actually stand for and what specific views they hold. Similarly, Jelena is shown to be a determined and fearless photographer with contacts at news groups – but the consequences of her reports and the impact she has had in diminishing the groups she opposes is left vague. Given that she is willing to risk her life for her cause, a little more specificity would have been welcome – although this choice does allow the story to be applicable to differing organisations.
Nika Rozman gives an effective performance as Jelena – hardened and authoritative with enough vulnerability to convince viewers of the danger she faces. Millica Vuksanovic is brilliant as her daughter Lara and outperforms her younger years with surprising depth, presenting a childlike fear for her mother. The parental chemistry they share gives the movie unexpected heart.
Istina is not without its flaws, but its impressive representation of the importance, the validity and the dangers of journalism in the face of intimidation makes this an accomplished piece of filmmaking.