There used to be a country in southeastern Europe named Yugoslavia. It was part of the communist eastern bloc, and when that bloc fell, so too did Yugoslavia. Armed conflicts raged across those lands for the decade following. Six states now exist where once was only one, and their history has not been quiet.
The Waiting Room doesn’t need to show us footage of the civil war waged in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992 to 1995 to make us understand the shadow it casts over its protagonist. Jasmin (Jasmin Geljo) was a successful actor in Sarajevo when the war broke out, and he and his first wife fled to Toronto. He makes plain his dissatisfaction with his life in Canada. He appears on stage in a Bosnian comedy revue, but his career as a mainstream actor, relegated largely to bit parts as criminals, has stalled, and he works construction to pick up the slack. His first wife lies dying; he has a distant relationship with his second wife; he’s not entirely sure how to relate to his son and daughter.
With The Waiting Room, director Igor Drljača paints a distinctly ambiguous portrait of the immigrant experience. Jasmin’s latest role–in an art installation set during the Bosnian War, as the patriarch of a vacationing family–causes him to consider his place in both his native and adopted cultures. Jasmin has no love for the West, seeing it as weak and lacking in discipline. He expresses no interest in communism, but admires Josip Broz Tito’s leadership qualities. He sees his life in Sarajevo before the war as something of a golden age, and longs to return; he has no capacity to comprehend why his children have no wish to visit Bosnia.
While the film often meanders–it certainly doesn’t seem to have much of a plot–it allows Drljača to paint a distinct, detailed portrait of its subject, a story told in long takes with starkly beautiful cinematography and set to a hypnotic, ambient score. Jasmin is the proverbial “man out of time,” unable to fully settle in his current surroundings, but equally unable to return to an idealized past. His past successes and present regrets often seem more real than his actual life. Actor Jasmin Geljo, who also co-wrote, brings a frank realism and pathos to the lead role that brings the character to life in the viewer’s mind.
With The Waiting Room, Igor Drljača provides a window into the upheaval of the early ’90s and its ongoing cultural hangover. Part of the purpose of art is to allow us to make better sense of our world by allowing us into the worlds of others, and on that count, The Waiting Room is a success.
Tuesday, September 15, 9:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
Thursday, September 17, 4:30 PM, AGO Jackman Hall
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.