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News 05 Jan 18

Macedonian Comedy Film Finds Secret to Success

A black comedy debut, Gjorce Stavreski’s 'Secret Ingredient', is on the way to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed films from Macedonia in years.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Vele, (Blagoj Veselinov), resorts to illegal pain relief for his terminally ill father Sazdo (Anastas Tanovski). Photo: Dragica Nikolovska

After catching audiences’ attention at film festivals last year, an “unassuming tragicomic gem” from Macedonia, as The Hollywood Reporter calls it, had its TV premier on New Year’s Eve in 14 European countries, aired at prime time on HBOs popular Cinemax 2 channel.

The plot, shot against the visual backdrop of the Macedonian capital Skopje’s run-down outskirts, revolves around the tribulations of 30-something, down-on-his-luck, train yard mechanic Vele, played by Blagoj Veselinov, who resorts to illegal pain relief for his terminally ill father Sazdo, played by Anastas Tanovski.

Unable to pay medication for Sazdo’s painful late-stage lung cancer that has also triggered suicidal depression, Vele decides to use the hefty contraband stash of drugs he found in one of the train carriages at work and start baking a pot-infused cake for his father.

With Sazdo being a traditionalist and starkly anti-marijuana, Vele has to white-lie his father that he got the cake from an unnamed healer.

But when a real miracle happens and Sazdo’s cancer actually regresses, apart from his drastically improved mood, the secret becomes practically impossible to conceal.

Nosy neighbours, who have heard about the miracle cure from the unsuspecting father, swarm the apartment, demanding a slice of the cake, to treat everything from bad breath to their nephew’s homosexuality.

This attracts the goons who have been on Vele’s trail in search of their lost stash, turning this image of cold social realism into a richly plotted crime adventure.

Screened in the first-film competition at the 2017 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, and winning the audience award at the 2017 Thessaloniki Film Festival, Stavreski’s tight-budget debut is on the way to becoming one of the most critically acclaimed Macedonian films of the past decade.

“Dire economic straits, infrastructural decay, attempted suicide, family tragedy, illegal drugs, violent thugs, social malaise and aggressively painful, late-stage, metastasized lung cancer: Macedonian director Gjorce Stavreski’s 'Secret Ingredient' should by rights be one of the most depressing films of the year. But instead, appropriately for a movie that deals, in its way, with miracles, it’s one of the funniest, smartest and most endearing,” Variety reported in November.

The Hollywood Reporter even proposed an English-language remake, “perhaps with Woody Harrelson or Matthew McConaughey in the lead?”

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