Written and directed by lead actor Juraj Lerotic, set over the course of one day, Bruno, alongside his mother, sets out to help his brother, Damir, who has been exhibiting suicidal tendencies. As the day unfolds, the family are faced with several obstacles as they try to save Damir and keep their family unit whole. Also starring: Goran Markovic and Snjezana Sinovcic.
While the synopsis of Safe Place might give you the impression of something highly dramatic and chaotic, the style that Juraj Lerotic employs is surprisingly understated. Lerotic attempts to portray the everyday experience of mental health crises and suicide, and does it very well. It hands you the story from the perspective of Bruno (Lerotic), bringing together the different elements of fear, worry, frustration and the difficulty in dealing with medical professionals when it comes to illnesses of the mind. It capitalises on how the experience both as patient and loved one can be an unhelpful cycle without resolution, sometimes because there isn’t one and others because you don’t find the right kind of help. There are no quick or easy answers and Safe Place has a superb understanding of that.
The directorial style is matched to the thematic one perfectly, it plays things with a slow and pensive atmosphere. It gets a strong grasp on the confusion, fear and feeling of being lost, that helplessness in not being able to give a loved one what they need, or even truly know what that is. The colouring is subdued and on the dark side, occasionally slightly too dark but it does still reflect the tone well. Choosing to play with simplicity visually allows the story room to build its emotions, meaning that not everything needs to be said to be communicated.
Each of the performances then echo those emotions, despite that modest style to the film, the performances bring a strong, poignant intensity. Particularly from writer, director Juraj Lerotic. His portrayal is where you find that expected chaos, he’s got an admirably capable and responsible persona but at the same time you can feel his struggle as they lose their grip on Damir (Goran Markovic). It’s a similar case from Snjezana Sinovcic, it’s less intense but again does reflect that attempt to go step by step to get Damir the help he needs. She’s a classic maternal figure, she has plenty to add but the focus does feel more strongly on the brothers. Markovic’s performance taps into the high level of vulnerability and erratic behaviour. He does a great job of exploring how Damir’s mind is slipping away from reality and his outlook is being warped, creating a lot of anger and sadness. He’s also fantastic at showing how that struggle reverts him to an almost childlike state at times.
Safe Place is a thoughtful and moving portrayal of mental health illnesses. It explores the love of a family and their desperation to help, as well as the many ways that healthcare systems can fail people suffering with mental health. Juraj Lerotic’s writing and direction both take a cleverly understated and realistic feel, while his performance is captivating from start to finish. It’s the type of film which slowly gets under your skin, only realising how much it has by how hard the ending hits. An ending which is perfectly paced and hits a resounding, unexpected note to close things out.