A Cinematic metamorphosis from death to life

November 2023 Living

By Alenka Žvikart

Following its premiere in Locarno and Sarajevo, last week Dragan Bjelogrlic's historical drama Guardians of the Formula,  has opened LIFFe film festival in Ljubljana. It has won first place at the Sarajevo film festival and received both Pardo Verde Ricola and Variety Piazza Grande at the prestigious Locarno film festival.

The Serbian acting and directing maestro has starred in 92 films, many of which he masterfully guided behind the camera. But this project was one of the hardest, he said.

“This was the most challenging film, by far the most challenging one I’ve undertaken; it took seven years to make,” said Bjelogrlić.

In this latest endeavor, he artfully delves into poignant themes of mortality, malady, the Cold War, and the intricacies of human nature itself.  In the absorbing drama Guardians of the Formula«, Bjelogrlic transports audiences to 1958 France and Yugoslavia, unfolding a narrative around a Belgrade nuclear reactor leak. The film’s core explores the relationships among four nuclear researchers treated by Professor Georges Mathe, played by Alexis Manenti of “Les Miserables” fame, the winner of the Cannes Film Festival in 2019 and a French nominee for an Oscar.

As the narrative alternates between events leading to the Belgrade contamination and subsequent treatments in Paris, the film delves into the friendships and romances blossoming amidst adversity.

The ensemble cast, led by Manenti and Radivoje ’Raša’ Bukvić, skillfully portrays the ideological divide bridged by respectful common ground. Despite attempts to infuse Hollywood drama, moments of heavy-handedness are balanced by Manenti’s restrained yet powerful performance. His portrayal of Professor Mathe, a morally-minded figure of the Resistance, serves as a prism illuminating the intricate ideological currents of the Cold War.

Alongside theirs are also performances by the Slovenian actor Jurij Drevenšek in the role of UDBA agent, Dragan Bjelogrlić (portraying UDBA chief Aleksandar Ranković), Predrag Miki Manojlović, Lionel Abelanski, Ognjen Mićović, Anne Serra, Jérémie Laheurte, and others.

A regional collaboration in the truest sense, the film is a co-production between Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia. Slovenia is prominently present in this film, both through the Drevenšek’s significant role and as a key film location: parts of the movie were filmed in the reactor of the Jožef Stefan Institute and other locations in Ljubljana and Škofja Loka.

LIFFe film festival is on until 19 November 2023.