A film by Christiana Botic

Documentary // Video

RT: 12 min.

Serbian with English Subtitles

My grandmother leads an insular life. The objects on her walls from Israel, Spain, and Brazil would suggest otherwise, but they hang as artifacts of a strictly secondhand life she lived many years ago.

Her name is Vinka, and she has lived in the center of Belgrade—in Apartment 19—for forty odd years. She has lived alone for over a decade now, since my grandfather passed away. At 92 years old her activities have slowed, but remain relatively unchanged. Her everyday life relies greatly on ritual. Making early morning coffee in the microwave, squeezing orange juice at her doctor’s recommendation, reacting audibly to the newspaper as she reads at the kitchen table, and watching her favorite imported television series with Serbian subtitles.

It’s equal parts inspiring and devastating to see her surviving in this way. The beginning and end of this documentary short will focus on her solitary life. With long takes observing, in real time, the monotony of the rituals that comprise her entire existence at this point in her life, the camera sits still in the heavy repetition of her routine, under the claustrophobic grip of her apartment. Floors layered with fading Turkish rugs and 70s wallpaper gladly peeling away from dusty corners.

Through this plain observational style, best exemplified by Belgium film Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), we fully feel the physical limitations of the domestic world that Vinka has curated for herself. In the middle of this busy capitol, she has carved out a small space for her life, and exists only in this space. However, like many Serbian people I know, her pride and discernible toughness exist paradoxically alongside her deep longing to engage with a world beyond her own.

Perhaps the most repetitive of all her rituals are her phone calls. Vinka is constantly calling friends and family to chat about nothing. Every day, she leafs through drawers for disintegrating slips of paper with numbers under Cyrillic lettering, and dials.

Finally, there are her visitors:

Mira, her neighbor turned caretaker.

Neima, her Turkish housekeeper who has never once cleaned.

Milan, her money exchange guy.

Sasha, her devoted nephew who spends his time chain smoking in her kitchen.

Cikapaja, Gruica, Vesna, and countless others who come with chocolate, and leave with her trash.

Through her visitors, Vinka is able to bring pieces of the outside world into her own, and still keep the deadbolts locked. She is not an entertainer for these guests, but rather a captor, spinning the same web day in and day out. In many ways, she is her own captor. Her story, with bits of hilarity and sometimes crushing melancholy, is about the routines we choose to preserve and how they, in turn, preserve us.