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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Hot Docs: Dragan Wende – West Berlin

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Dragan Wende – West Berlin follows the documentary’s cinematographer and writer, Vuk Maksimovic, as he travels to West Berlin to meet his legendary uncle, Dragan Wende, and get to know the man behind his father’s tales of the nightlife at the heart of the Allied-occupied city in the 70s and 80s. What Vuk finds is a fiery, albeit dispirited, relic of that time who now works as a bordello security guard. Deeply committed to the days before the fall of the wall, Dragan still dresses the part, decorates his apartment like an 80s disco, and absolutely never sets foot in East Berlin.

Dragan Wende’s aesthetic mimics the eclectic, gritty, sweat- and alcohol-drenched scene its protagonist yearns for. Feverishly cut archival footage is juxtaposed with dance music from Dragan’s glory days, and then quickly followed by long, simply shot sequences of Vuk and his uncle sitting around the apartment trying to decide who will go to work that day. These elements combine to evoke a powerful sense of nostalgia, although it is often not clear who feels it more, Dragan or Vuk.

The documentary’s focus is at once extremely specific and sprawling. The main storyline it follows is that of the many months Vuk spends living with his Uncle, and for the most part nothing happens. Along with Dragan’s daily exploits and the disco era throwback, the story is interspersed with semi-ironically narrated, graphically illustrated history lessons that gesture at an analysis that is never made explicit of Communist-era nightlife and the Yugoslav community of West Berlin.

Dragan Wende’s real strength is its ability to capture the intense and often humorous relationships between its vast array of characters. The dynamic between Vuk, Dragan and Dragan’s occasionally visiting father, Mile, is especially engaging, and offers a glimpse into a closely-knit family still as ideologically divided as East and West Berlin.

Dragan Wende – West Berlin screens this Saturday (April 28) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and this Sunday (April 29) at the Cumberland.