Charismatic young Serbian actor Slaven Došlo is rapidly becoming a darling of the European festival circuit for his daring stand-out role in writer-director Stevan Filipović‘s acclaimed high school drama Pored Mene (Next to Me).
Slaven has attracted special praise, including from The Hollywood Reporter, for his role as a sharp-witted gay college boy who enjoys Serbian cinema’s first teenage gay kiss.
The film, which was named Best Film at the Pula International Film Festival and won the Young Audience Award at the Sarajevo Film Festival, had its premiere in Belgrade, this week.
Audiences have been vocal in their support for Pored Mene (Next to Me), including rapturous applause at the Belgrade premiere (23 Sept), which was attended by HRH Crown Prince, the Crown Princess, plus HRH Prince Petar.
“I have been thrilled with our success, of course,’ said Slaven after the premiere at the Sava Centre. “But, to be honest, it has been quite overwhelming, especially the response in Belgrade. It was then that I knew we had good reason to celebrate.
“It can be quite nerve-wracking to be sat in the audience as people watch the film, but everyone has been so supportive that the cast couldn’t help but be excited by the response.
“I hope that London audiences enjoy the film as much as those from our region as it is a universal story of recognisable characters that should translate well for all audiences.”
The impact of acclaim from critics and festival judges is taking a while to sink in, Slaven said in advance of two high-profile screenings at London’s Raindance Film Festival (2/3 October).
“Winning at Pula was a really big thing for this movie, but I didn’t fully realise how important it was until I thought about it some time later,’ he told Marcus Agar.
“When it did sink in and I understood the status of the award, when I saw the movies that we were being compared with and what this prize means for film sales, I knew that we had won something important.”
This is not even Sombor-born Slaven’s only work to be lauded at this season’s leading film festivals. His other film, Panama, also received acclaim when screened at Cannes in the spring.
Slaven sets pulses racing with Serbia’s first teen screen kiss
The story of Pored Mene is a deceptively simply one. Set in a high school classroom, the real action starts when a history teacher is mugged and discovers that the attack was carried out by someone from her class.
When the students refuse to confess, she locks them into school without internet or mobile phones, forcing the various cliques to interact and get to know each other – and themselves – for the first time.
Slaven Došlo, aged 24, has set pulses racing as Lazar, a brave role that places him at the bleeding edge of Serbian cinema.
When Slaven’s character makes a move on a closeted school sports star and shares what is said to be Serbian cinema’s first teenage gay kiss, the actor is making film history in the Balkans.
“Lazar hides behind the stereotype of a loud, strong, sporty, party-maniac tough-guy, while inside he’s a vulnerable guy that is having a bad experience with his true colours,’ said Slaven.
Slaven Doslo overcomes prejudice to play Pored Mene’s gay role
Taking on the role of a gay character and, in particular, sharing a kiss with a man, forced Slaven to confront issues and prejudices that had not even occurred to him before then.
“When I realised the role that I was supposed to play and what I was expected to do a whole bunch of prejudices that I thought I didn’t have appeared from nowhere in my head,’ said Slaven.
“I had a lot of doubts about taking responsibility for the role, which quite surprised me. But that’s what happens when you are surrounded by prejudices your whole life.”
It was partly his co-star Mirjana Karanovic who helped Slaven see value in accepting the role of street-wise charmer Lazar.
“I talked about that with Stevan and Mira and sometimes it was like they were thinking that I am a complete moron. But then Mira asked me one question and everything became clear.
“Honey, who are you?” she asked. I said “an actor”, and it was then I realised that I had to play this role.”
Death threats and security concerns of Next to Me’s Slaven Doslo
“After accepting the role I tried to stop thinking about those topics. We tried to represent reality in this film and if someone can’t accept it then that’s their problem. “My only concern would be if my personal security was compromised but I don’t believe that will happen.”
“Stevan said to me that he received death threats after Šišanje and that it can’t get much worse,’ said Slaven. “After hearing that, I took a deep breath and said, ‘OK. Let’s do this’.”
Slaven is also appreciative of the power of influence that this film and his role could have on encouraging greater acceptance among younger people, as well as supporting people who feel different in any way.
“Although we could expect good reactions from festival audiences at the last two screenings, I was quite skeptical beyond that,’ said Slaven.
“But I believe that every actor shouldn’t do anything if he doesn’t believe in an idea of a project.
See yourself in somebody else’s shoes
“I take full responsibility for my role. All the good and the bad that could come from taking such a role will pay of if we get somebody to think about any of the topics posed in this film.
“I think that movies can just give a chance to see yourself in somebody else and help people to not feel that they are alone or weird. That’s the best thing you can do as an actor or as any person.
“Everybody has his own path but if I can fasten or ease that struggle I’ll be glad to take the responsibility and praise. If people don’t feel cut off then their fears don’t overcome them and immediately the world gets a better place.”
Slaven learns from director Stevan Filipovic
As a director, Stevan’s name was carved out as a wunderkind of Serbian cinema when Šišanje (Skinning), his political drama about neo-Nazi skinheads and right wing football hooligans in Belgrade, became Serbia’s biggest domestic box office hit of 2010.
As well as scooping numerous festival awards, the film also brought death threats and a need for tight security for Stevan.
Stevan’s experience and insight was key to helping Slaven bring out his best for the role. “Stevan knew what he wanted from us on this film and was really open-minded and willing to talk with us about eventual problems that we might have,’ said Slaven.
“He gave as a chance to adapt and change things if we had a good reason, which is quite unusual in a writer or director. Also, his sense of humour helps a lot when dealing with such a young cast. After all we went through together during the making of this film I think that we became friends too.”
* Pored Mene / Next to Me is on release across Serbia, now.
* Director Stevan Filipovic will host a screening at VUE Piccadilly on Friday, 2 October, as part of the Raindance Film Festival.