A Three Storey Comedy | SLIFF 2023

He wasn’t even supposed to be here today. Milenko (Slobodan “Boda” Ninkovic) has lived in his rundown, three-storey apartment building in Belgrade for 30 years, but he was kicked out so that his live-in landlady, the comically gruff Mrs. Živka (Jelisaveta ‘Seka’ Sablic), can move in a family member. He’s been delaying actually moving out as long as possible, though, and even though today is supposed to be “the day,” the handyman can’t help but chase after a mysterious plumbing leak rather than pack his things and go. He can’t help it: he’s grown attached, both to the building and to the other people who live there. “It may not be the prettiest,” he tells us in the introductory voiceover, “but it’s the people that make the building.”

And what a cast of characters those people are. Mrs. Živka is baking mountains of food for the anticipated return of her son Srle (Ljubomir Bandovic), who’s been away on a five-year “business trip” (translation: “prison stint for armed robbery”). Miljan (Dragan Jovanovic) is an affable goofball who has returned to Serbia after squandering his money in America. His wife Natalija (Vesna Trivalic) thinks there’s something off about their dog since their return—maybe he’s gay? Their son Nenad (Pavle Mensur) is desperate to get back to America, and plans to get into Harvard if he can peel his eyes away from Sara (Vanja Nenadic), their downstairs neighbor, a sexpot flight attendant who’s lucky-at-lust but can’t find true love. And Marija (Natasa Tapuskovic) is a TV news reporter, calm and collected on TV but harried at home as she cares for her aging father, her sulky teenaged daughter, and her nervous tween son.

And it truly is the people who make the building in the case of A Three Storey Comedy (Komedija na tri sprata): these are the kind of broad yet relatable characters whose misadventures you’d love to follow week-to-week on a sitcom. Jovanovic’s Miljan is my personal favorite—he just oozes hippy-dippy charm from his The Dude-esque dress-for-comfort fashion sense to his sparkling eyes, from his smile so broad even his mustache and beard are grinning to the whoa-cool-far-out-man attitude with which he greets everything life throws his way. But really, there’s not a weak member in the whole main ensemble; this is a cast with charm to spare.

Much like the apartment building it centers around, the narrative of A Three Storey Comedy can sometimes be a bit rickety. Writer/director Sandra Mitrovic (in her feature-length debut) and co-writer Noé Dodson go for an anthology feel, with each character going through their own tribulations that then collide into each other from time to time. This can make the throughline feel disjointed, especially when it comes to the plots around Marija and her family, which feel completely disconnected from the rest of the narratives for most of the film’s runtime, until it all careens together as the film approaches the finish line. It’s not impossible to pull off the trick of dovetailing so many disparate plot threads together, but this film doesn’t quite stick the landing.

Not that it’s way off the mark—A Three Storey Comedy is not the kind of movie that offers a single, satisfying story that takes you from A to B to C. Though it does meander, the characters are so much fun that only sticklers would grouse about spending time with them. | Jason Green

A Three Storey Comedy will screen in Serbian with English subtitles at the Hi-Pointe Theatre Backlot (1002 Hi-Pointe Place) on Saturday, November 11 at 1:15 pm as part of the St. Louis International Film Festival 2023. Single film tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid current photo IDs. Further information is available here.

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