Refugee children of the Balkan wars living in camps on the outskirts of Belgrade are cursed by the burden of their parents’ troubled past blackening any hopes for a better life said prominent award-winning Serbian actor Nikola Rakocevic.
“It is a really strange experience in the camps,’ said Nikola,’ who spent time with people in these long-term encampments outside of Belgrade during filming for his latest film Travelator.
“These people have lost all hope, lost everything.
“Their kids were not born in Croatia or Bosnia, they were born in Serbia. But in these camps, these six-year-old children, born in Serbia, are still refugees. It is like they are cursed. There is no way out for them.
“They try to be happy, try to be children, but they can’t even manage that because everything is so hopeless.
‘Everything is hopeless amid dark energy of refugee camps’
“You can’t be untouched by the dark energy in those camps. You feel it for real. You can’t miss that.”
The film, written and directed by Dusan Milic, was shot three years ago in Belgrade and Las Vegas, but only recently released in cinemas.
Nikola plays Slav, a refugee living in a camp outside of Belgrade. An impressive online gamer, Slav is targeted by the Serbian mob, who commission him to fly to Las Vegas to carry out a hit on a snitch under witness protection.
The bleak grey palate of the camps is used in the film Travelator to strike cold contrast with the big neon glitter of Las Vegas, where the English-language part of the film is set.
Nikola, who was named one of Europe’s most talented young actors at the Berlin International Film Festival, picked up on some unexpected and often disturbing similarities between the two locations.
“Las Vegas is a town with so much energy,’ said Nikola. “You feel that you can touch the end of the world. Everything is shiny and grabs at you, so you go with the flow. I didn’t have any idea what we were doing at any moment.
“But when you arrive in these camps, there are all these hopeless people who have been there for around 20 years. That is a long time to be on one spot as a refugee.
“Like Las Vegas, there is huge energy in the camps outside Belgrade. Only here it is dark energy. Dusan and I both felt that energy”
Representing these people on screening without patronising or belittling their lives, and dramatising situations affecting people today, is not something that is taken lightly by Nikola.
“I feel great responsibility for the movies I make, especially when I am playing roles of people that really existed or events that actually happened,’ said Nikola, who is also a member of the Yugoslavian Drama Theatre.
“It is then even more important not to mess up. I feel a responsibility and one of the things that makes me think about that really seriously, when choosing my movies or theatre roles.
The broader impact of representing these people can be so great adds to the responsibility on an actor, the star of Serbian film Skinning/Sisanje explained.
“I believe movies are something that helps raise a new generation. People can learn something from them. Maybe not all of them, but two or three is enough. Movies need to have a really strong point and idea. When I see that in a script or hear it when I am talking with a director, I believe that I do more than just acting and performing a role.
“When I was young I watched a lot of movies and picked up a lot of things from them, including some bad things. But you can tell a story one way or another, show the good side or the bad side. That is an actor’s responsibility, too.”
Nikola was so deeply affected by his exposure to the lives of the refugees that he was able to channel the intensity into his performance that is almost entirely free of dialogue.
Gambling, gaming and the Rubik’s cube
But, thankfully, Nikola also found time in Las Vegas to let of some steam. “The crew were together all day and we had a great time,’ he said. “Dusan and I grew together on this film. It was like we had been in the army together, as we used to say. For that month in Las Vegas we became really good friends.”
Being Las Vegas, he also tried his hand at a spot of gambling. “I was one of those guys who didn’t win but still went on with gambling more,’ said Nikola. “I was like; I must win something at one moment. But when I turned around, I had lost all my money.”
Thankfully for his bank balance, Nikola prefers a far less costly pastime, but it is definitely not computer gaming, like his screen character in Travelator.
“The Rubik’s cube: that is my biggest occupation at the moment,’ he said. “I used that like a mantra, for meditation.” And has he completed the iconic eighties challenge? “Of course. Many times.”