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‘Looking for horses’ documents a friendship of the filmmaker

“Looking for Horses” is a feature film in competition at the 60th Ann Arbor Film Festival. Contrary to its title, the documentary is not actually about horses. (If you’re looking for an arty animal movie, check this out.) “Looking for Horses” documents the friendship between filmmaker Stefan Pavlovíc (“When the Dragon Came”) and a veteran of the Bosnian War named Zdravko, who lives in an out-of-the-way place. he lives on a lake bordering Bosnia and Montenegro. The film won the Burning Lights competition at Visions du Réel and was also nominated at the Beldocs and Sarajevo film festivals.

From its opening close-up, an undisturbed lake shrouded in a soft purple sky and light mist, with a dog sniffing the rocks curiously before quietly slipping out of frame, “Looking for Horses” boasts magnificent cinematography. The quiet scene soon becomes a background for minimalist text that appears to be typed in real time, complete with a blinking insertion point, audible keystroke sounds and all.

Thus begins the unique combination of written text, spoken words and visual imagery that is a hallmark of this film. The words written in the film’s close-ups convey background information about the filmmaker and his relationship to the lake and surrounding lands. Throughout the film, Pavlovíc includes subtitles to communicate the dialogue (originally spoken in Serbo-Croatian) to an English-speaking audience. But these subtitles are distinctive in that they are written by Pavlovíc himself, who has a somewhat limited understanding of the Serbo-Croatian language. It’s not uncommon for subtitles to read something like: “(Not sure what he’s saying here)”. Through this personal translation, Pavlovíc’s film is very much told from his own perspective. He also interweaves footage of himself and Zdravko with personal anecdotes from his own childhood, consisting of seemingly random shots overlaid with Pavlovíc’s voice, subtitled even though he speaks English. These audio recordings appear unedited as they include stutters from him, which the video editing is often synchronized with. When Pavlovíc stutters, the screen goes black.

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