Two men sit by a well, peering into the milky darkness below. They are separated by a language barrier — one man Bosnian, the other Italian, both speaking in stilted English — but bound by a common sense of loneliness.
Somewhere in the murky water of the well lives in an eel, explains the Italian.
“L’anguila,” he says. “She lives the whole life alone, in the dark. Always waiting for something that falls from up.” As are both men, simply waiting.
So goes Nasumice (Adrift), the first feature film by director and South Eugene High School graduate Caleb Burdeau, a slow moving portrait of displacement and separation, set against the beautiful rocky backdrop of southern Italy. The film took Best Feature Film at the 2019 Tripoli Film Festival and is now available streaming on Amazon Prime.
The story follows displaced Bosnian photographer Elvis (Moamer Kasumovic), who meets the charming Rodolfo (Marcello Prayer) while taking his picture in the streets of Venice. Rodolfo gushes about the beauty of his seaside Italian hometown, Puglia, and insists that Elvis come visit.
Elvis, on the other hand, has no home. He has been set adrift by the Yugoslav Wars in his home country. We see memories, or perhaps visions, of the conflict in black-and-white clips: men holding guns at their hip, ducking between walls of bullet-speckled concrete. With nothing to lose, he decides to follow Rodolfo’s loose instructions and pay him a visit.
However, when the photographer travels by train to surprise his new friend, he is taken aback to find someone more like a teenager than the self-assured, jovial adult he met in Venice. Rodolfo is rudely awakened by his mother and greets Elvis at his doorstep with a disheveled bed-head, wearing tighty-whities. How embarrassing. All is not well, it seems, in Puglia.
What Nasumice lacks in a thrilling plot line, it makes up for in stunning cinematography. Wide, sweeping views of the countryside make the characters appear small, almost no more important than the rocks and sheep that surround them. Even the city scenes feel isolated — typical postcard visions of Europe are soured with melancholy when a floating shot of the Venice canals reveals a casket being loaded into a gondola.
The film relies on little dialogue, which is often halted by the characters’ lack of common language or understanding. Kasumovic, a well known Bosnian actor, plays the role of Elvis with quiet brilliance. He may not understand Rodolfo’s awkward family dynamic, watching in confusion as silent dinners dissolve into shouting matches, but he knows isolation when he sees it.
While Nasumice (Adrift) is a slow burn, the artistic direction and understated performances make for a worthwhile watch. As Rodolfo and Elvis eventually untangle and go their separate ways, it is the absence of a real goodbye that succinctly summarizes their time together. Maybe loneliness is the only true lingua franca.
Nasumice (Adrift) is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.