Golebama Voda (The Great Water) (2004)
Director: Ivo Trajkov.
Starring: Saso Kekenovski (Lem Nikodinoski), Maja Stankovska (Isak Keyten), Mitko Apostolovski (Ariton), Verica Nedeska (Olivera Srezoska), Risto Gogovski (The Bellman), Nikolina Kujaca (Ariton's Wife), Meto Jovanovski (Old Lem Nikodinoski), Aleksandar Ribak (Metodija Griskoski), Vladimir Svetiev (Sekule , the geography teacher), Petar Mircevski (Dervutoski, gym teacher), Goce Deskoski (Klimovski), Marina Cakalova (Lence), Zoran Popovski (Nikolce), Oliver Trifunov (Spasko).
elderly Macedonian politician has heart attack & has flashbacks of his youth: orphaned by WWII, in the orphanage he went through "reprogramming" to be pro-communist; rebellious, he breaks a statue of Stalin & is punished
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
An man is brought into the hospital emergency room.
As a young boy he breathes very hard running through the tall reeds of a marsh. He is being chased by some soldiers. He falls down from exhaustion and the nearest soldier is almost immediately upon him.
The man in the emergency room now is in a suit and tie and walks through the waters. He looks at a building which has pictures of the man that say: "Elect Lem Nikodinoski for a Safe Future". He goes inside the building and walks down a path. Memories come running through his head. He says: "Damn, damn me. It seems like a thousand years have passed since then." The old man walks over to himself as a young boy. The soldier who caught him has brought him to this orphanage. The old man mans says it was the first summer after WWII, the summer of 1945.
The orphanage yard is filled with orphaned children. A shout goes up: "Ariton is coming!" The children run to get into their formations. When they are in formation and at attention it is very quiet in the yard. A female guard goes and gets Lem. She introduces Lem to the Comrade Warden as the new child in the orphanage. The Warden knocks the cap off of Lem's head. Then he turns Lem's head upwards a bit to see his face. He tells one of the older boys to take Lem to be registered.
The orphanage was converted from an abandoned factory. This particular orphanage held the children of fallen enemies, of the traitors, the wealthy and the collaborators. As an old man Lem says that "this was a dungeon". Lem gets roughed up a bit by the mean older boy. He is thrown into a cold, wet storage area. A man comes along and puts Lem in a bed. The treatment of the boys is worse than at basic training in the army of the United States. They are roughed-up, pushed around and slapped.
There are huge red stars all around the area. As narrator, Lem says that he was a scared little mouse in that terrible place surrounded on all sides as if he were in a prison. A boy with a happy smile on his face, named Klimoski, is given three laps around the as a punishment for "disturbing the harmony" of the exercising routines. Klimoski completes his three laps alongside Lem. Klimovski gets to leave, but Lem has to do seven more laps.
As in prison, guards shine search lights on the yard to prevent any escape.
The next morning it starts raining. Two new boys are brought into the prison. The pretty Deputy Warden meets them and says her name is Comrade Olivera Strezovska. Lem stares at the new boys. The rain stops. A girl named Lenche comes over to one of the boys and Olivera tells her to get back in formation. The man with the older newcomer tells the Warden that this child is a "devil's seed". His name is Isaac Keyten. Narrator Lem says that the newcomer "radiated with some strange light".
In class the Warden asks if anyone still believes in the Lord? Only one boy dares to stand up: Isaac. After some hesitation, Lem raises his hand and says he at one time believed in the Lord. Isaac is looking at Lencha, who in turn is looking at Isaac. The boys are asked to provide the answers to anti-religious questions. One boy says: "Priests are traitors who suck the blood of the working class!"
As punishment Isaac and Lem are told to stand out in the yard at night without any sleeping. Isaac says nothing all night long.
Lem tries to get close to Isaac, but the older boy doesn't seem to even notice Lem. But one day, Lem says something to Isaac that interests the older boy. Lem says that he will take Isaac to a secret place.
At night Lem takes a circuitous route to a place from which one can see through a window into the room of a beautiful young woman. Lem now asks Isaac if they could be friends, but again Isaac doesn't say anything to Lem.
Lenche cuts off a lock of her hair and gives it to Isaac. He puts the lock of hair in a little case that once held a cross (or as the Warden says: a plus sign). The two kiss each other as Lem watches them from his place of seclusion. Narrator Lem says this Lenche Petkova was his nightmare. He acted like a jealous bride. Isaac tells him that friendship has to be earned.
One morning there is a minor crisis. Someone has stolen Comarade Olivera's exercising shorts. Olivera has all the girls strip naked in search of the red shorts. She locks the girls in a room and says they won't come out until they tell her who took the red shorts.
The warden also makes a big deal out of the missing shorts. Narrator Lem says: "They didn't find the sacred shorts." Many of the girls locked in the cold room became ill. Lenche was one of those who became ill and was taken to the hospital. That day Isaac ran out of the class room trying to get to Lenche to tell her goodbye, but he didn't quite reach the wagon in time. Isaac stands there for quite a while. Many of the officials of the orphanage watch Isaac out in the courtyard, but do nothing to punish him.
One day the shorts are found. The cleaning ladies had been using them as a washing rag. They are returned to Olivera who cries over her torn shorts in front of a bust of Comrade Stalin. She hugs the statue and kisses it on the lips.
When spring came around, the children were told that Lenche Petkova had died in the hospital. Narrator Lem says: "Damn me. We were already dead. Just shadows." The boy that likes to torture Lem tells him that Lenche is not dead. He says he knows that Lem started this damnable rumor. Olviera comes to the defense of Lem. She slaps the fellow in the back of the head and tells him he is supposed to be in control of these children.
One day Isaac reminds Lem that he told Lem that friendship has to be earned. So he wants Lem to ask about what happened to Lenche in Olivera's class. "Damn me. I was scared."
In class there is praise of Tito, the ruler of Yugoslavia. Lem raises his hand and Olivera calls on him, but he asks a stupid question: Is Tito an important man? Olivera tells the class that question was just nonsense. She goes back to Lem for not appearing as if he is listening to her and Lem finally asks the question: "Is it true that our comrade Lenche Petkova has died?" Olivera gets angry and says that Lem is provoking her and the class. He is a saboteur! (While her back is turned, Isaac slips a note to Lem.)
The note was an oath to be taken by Lem dealing with high standards for living the good life and committing oneself to always fight for the truth. At night Isaac puts Lem through an oath ceremony complete with lighted candles. He stabs himself in the hand and then stabs Lem in the hand. Blood drops into a small container of blood, from which Isaac drinks and then Lem drinks. Isaac announces: "Now we're brothers!" Then Isaac gives the cross box to Lem.
Lem has to go see the Warden because he has been accused of provocation and sabotage. The Warden asks the students to suggest what the punishment should be for Lem? They really go crazy exaggerating the punishments. One girl says he should be castrated, a boy says he should be beaten black and blue until he confesses and another suggests Lem should spend the rest of his life down in the cellar. Then a fellow says he should have this throat slit by Isaac. The Warden has to caution his students: "Come on, comrades, let's not go too far." Isaac stands up in protest against the far out punishments. The Warden says that Lem will stay in the cellar on bread and water until he is ready "to state his comradely self-criticism". Narrator Lem says: "Damn me, it seemed whatever I'd do, I do wrong."
Isaac comes to see Lem and tells him that the oath Lem took said that running away is not a solution. So he wants Lem to say what the communist teachers want him to say. He prepares a special lotion to put on Lem's lips so that it will be like the words of Lem cannot be heard. So Lem confesses. He gets a warm reception for this.
Now Olivera gives an assignment to Lem to write criticisms of his fellow comrades. Lem reads some examples of the criticisms and he notices that the authors lied a lot. Lem doesn't want to do it, so he is placed inside a revolving drum that forces him to keep walking all the time or he will fall from the drum ceiling as it revolves around.
Klimovski almost succeeds in taking his own life. Perhaps because of this, Issac decides to start a war: "Our world against theirs." Isaac and Lem bring a kitty to the sadistic guard who then keeps giving the kitten electric shocks. The sadist keeps saying: "Yes, kitty, sing. Sing, kitty." The kitten finally dies and the sadist actually seems shocked. Lem is horrified by this, but Isaac has no expression on his face whatsoever.
Isaac and Lem take the kitten and lay it on a table. The kitten recovers.
The whole orphanage is waiting for the arrival of some big communist official. They stand at attention for a long while. One of the young women collapses. The sadist suddenly breaks the peace by shouting that the kitty came back to life. He runs through the formations knocking down one kid after another. The Warden tells his men to catch Comrade Bellman. It takes a lot of people, but they finally subdue Bellman. They tie him up and put a scarf over his mouth. Later they have to come back and push more scarves into Bellman's mouth and even put one over his nose.
For some strange reason, they have Lem read the welcome to the visiting soldier war hero. The hero tells the orphans that their mother is the communist party and their father is Stalin. The occasion is that today all the orphans are becoming Pioneers. After the ceremony, they have a big party. The war hero dances with Oliviera.
Bellman dies from a lack of oxygen.
The war hero has sex with Oliviera in a corner of the orphanage. Isaac and Lem watch the action.
The orphanage is now beset with drought. Isaac puts Lem under the slight shade of a small tree. It starts raining, finally. Everyone goes out into the rain to enjoy the rain drops.
Lem as an old man is hooked up to all these medical machines as he lays in his hospital bed.
The Warden and the spied-on woman are about to have sex and Isaac and Lem are looking through the window at the two of them. The woman has the Warden kiss a religious icon. Isaac is caught by the window. He could have gotten away, but for some reason he just stayed there. The Warden is told about this, but the Warden does not want to punish the boy. He doesn't want the boy talking about what happened in the room. Oliviera, however, wants to know what Isaac saw.
She starts stroking Isaac's face. This makes Oliviera (like Lenche before her) Lem's greatest enemy. He was jealous once again. To get even with her, Lem disfigures the statue bust of Stalin. During a ceremony when the covering of the bust is taken off the statue, Oliviera actually faints at what she sees.
A man is beaten in an attempt to get him to tell who disfigured the bust of Stalin. Then others are brought in for interrogation. Narrator Lem says: "Everyone was feverish. Every single soul in the orphanage was sick with fear."
Now it is Lem's turn to be interrogated and the boy still has some of the paint on his hands from his marking up the face of Stalin with crosses. Fortunately, his little speech before the interrogators praising Stalin pleases the officials and they let Lem go.
Now it's Isaac's turn to be interrogated. Isaac almost has a smile on his face and Oliviera quietly tells him to stop that. She then takes a fountain pen and stabs Isaac in the face repeatedly, while the Stalin bust falls down and breaks on the floor. Oliviera screams that she knew that Isaac did it. Isaac is taken from the room. He holds his hand over his right eye. He has a cut that nearly hit his left eye also. Lem sheds tears for his friend.
Narrator Lem says that the officials charged Isaac with numerous crimes. He remembers how he wrote out his confession and tried to give it to the Warden. But the Warden doesn't take the confession. He just tells Lem that he is going to an all-federal competition in Belgrade, Serbia. He also tells Lem that this is a chance in a lifetime situation for him. "Don't miss it." Lem tries again to tell the Warden and offers him the note again. The Warden is just not interested in anything but the competition. He wants Lem to promise him he will do his utmost to win the competition. Lem promises. Now the Warden gives Lem back his fancy cross.
A siren goes off. Guards take the Warden outside somewhere in a truck. When he returns, he has obviously been badly beaten. A message over the loud speaker says that Isaac's crimes prove that the Warden did not have control over the orphanage.
The new warden is none other than Oliviera. And under her rule, the kids will have to get up an hour earlier for extended calisthenics.
The former Warden stays in the room with the spied-on young woman. He gets dressed in his military uniform and polishes his boots. The woman has his revolver in her hands.
Narrator Lem says: "Damn me. Someone had to suffer."
The woman pleads with the former Warden not to shoot himself for her sake. The man wants to die and he wants the woman to shoot him dead. The woman points the gun at the back of the ex-Warden's head, asks God to forgive her and fires the weapon. Everyone hears the shot and everyone wants to know what happened. All the boys, except Lem, rush out of the barracks to find out what happened.
Narrator Lem says of the woman: "She made the greatest sacrifice of all to save his soul from a sin that's unforgivable. And I, damn me, what did I do?" Old man Lem now takes the cross from young Lem.
At the hospital old Lem dies, dropping the cross on the hospital floor.
The next Sunday the orphanage sends Lem off to the federal competition in Belgrade. The officials declare Isaac dead.
Old Lem says: "I never returned to the orphanage. . . . Isaac, I hope you will never forgive me. Damn me."
The film was great at portraying life under Stalin, and in this case, Tito. The orphanage in Macedonia is somewhat of a prison camp where communist ideology is forced down the throats of the orphans. Many of the children become talking parrots repeating the communist line like one would repeat the Catholic catechism: standard answers for standard questions. The communists are a bit crazed in their attempts to make sure that all the children follow the Stalin/Tito line. And in this insistence, they use very brutal methods making this orphanage harder than life in most American prisons. The communist officials are so strict that they use methods that end up in the death of some of the orphans. And the guilty ones are not even reprimanded. Other orphans are subjected to long periods in solitary confinement, which can drive a person crazy. And they have various torture devices for wayward staff and orphans, including beatings and placing the children in cages that keep revolving and those being tortured have to keep constantly moving over long periods of time.
Communism really sucked big-time and especially so under Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin.
Poor Lem lived a guilt-ridden life because of what happened in the orphanage. He is constantly damning himself for what he did as a very young boy. The film tells Lem's story that caused him this life time of guilt. It would have been better if Lem had put the blame solidly on the orphanage and its communist masters. But no, Lem shoulders all the blame, all the time. After all, Lem was just a little boy and certainly could never be punished in a just society for committing some offense as a young child. Mature Lem would have made an overly strict court judge.
The character of Isaac is more puzzling. Lem made Isaac his role model, but I don't think he should have. Isaac was walled off from most everyone and at times was very morose. He was an extreme rebel in a terribly punitive system. Lem was looking for love and approval from Isaac, but Isaac was too far gone to give love to Isaac. Poor Lem had to jump through hoops to try to make Isaac even talk to him. Isaac hid behind his mantra: friendship must be earned. Certainly Lem gave his friendship gladly and willingly. Isaac's inability to show even friendship to Lem made Lem extremely jealous, which in turn made Lem commit some inadvisable moves.
Prison is hard enough for adults. For children without parents, children who have been dealt a heavy emotional blow by this loss, the orphanage was indeed a house of torture. Man's inhumanity to man. Will it ever end?
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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