IFFR 2024 review: 78 Days (Emilija Gašić)

“A visually compelling, deft fragmentation of personal narrative amidst greater conflict.”

There’s a point, a few years removed from a particular event, where the ephemera of its time and place take on the degradation of age. Colours pale, materials coarsen. That moment is indefinite and the line between now and then imprecise, drawn without warning in the passage of time. It feels like yesterday until it doesn’t. While the distance between a Victorian daguerreotype and the present is vast, for example, the space between late-Twentieth Century camcorder footage and today is less so. The photograph is dated and fragile but somehow lasting and real, a tangible relic that exists within the permanence of an archive or framed handsomely upon a wall. It can be seen, sometimes touched, even if safely tucked away. Something like Hi8 footage, however, is more abstract and even invisible, trapped on magnetic tape until transferred via playback and flashed upon a screen.

Serbian filmmaker Emilija Gašić highlights the precariousness of historic account and authentic memory in 78 Days, a coming-of-age snapshot of three sisters against the backdrop of the Kosovo War. It’s 1999 and NATO airplanes have taken to the skies over Yugoslavia, but siblings Sonja, Dragana and Tijana are grounded in the relative normalcy of adolescence. The tightknit trio take turns behind the family camcorder to capture the silliness, excitement and eventual heartbreak of growing up; their scrappy video observations become ours. Gašić launches directly into 78 Days with a whirlwind of apparent found footage, ambiguous but genuine, so precisely realized that it feels almost documentarian. As the girls antagonize and tease each other, ignoring before playing to the ubiquitous camera, the reality of the approaching military campaign swiftly intervenes.

Early in the film, a card game between feisty youngest daughter Tijana (Viktorija Vasiljević) – lovingly called Tića – and Dragana (Tamara Gajović) cuts to a newscast highlighting bombing in the capital. Playing a game of ‘War’ during fresh military action is quite on-the-nose, but in director Gašić’s analog vision assured; homemade videos are seldom nuanced, especially when children are at the helm. That’s not to say Gašić is heavy-handed, either. When Mladen (Pavle Čemerikić) and his sibling Lela (Maša Ćirović), temporary refugees from Belgrade, arrive at a neighbouring home, their introduction charges the dynamics between the three sisters with empathy and truth. Sonja (Milica Gicić) and Dragana soon find themselves at odds over Mladen while Ticá genially sways impressionable Lela. All the while, their father is conscripted, air raids penetrate silence, and bombs eventually fall with terrifying consequences.

On this button here, you rewind to see what you filmed,” explains Dragana to Tića, sharing camcorder functionality but unwittingly demonstrating the power of a recording device. Later she adds, “I can always overwrite something,” a statement that accents the delicate relationship between reality lived and that captured in media. If a memory can be taped over and replaced, how reliable is its omnipresent time stamp anyway? In Emilija Gašić’s debut feature, the chronicle of three Serbian sisters across a few tumultuous, war-torn weeks is finely captured in reminiscences as magnetic as videocassette tape, but as tenuous, too. The souvenirs of recent past recorded, erased and re-recorded become the testament of 78 Days, a visually compelling, deft fragmentation of personal narrative amidst greater conflict.