Alma (Sara Luna Zoric) is a Bosnian teenager living with her divorced mother in the Netherlands. She’s not crazy about adopted home—too cold, she complains—but some of her disaffection may simply be due to her current stage of life. Alma is in some ways almost an adult, most notably in her awareness of her sexuality and its appeal to men. But in other ways she’s still a child, expecting to be protected from the world’s dangers (when she displays any awareness of them at all) and living her life as a series of disconnected moments rather than imposing any kind of plan on her life. She’s enjoying a very Western and privileged version of her teenage years, in other words, and it’s one that will be familiar to many Americans, from real life as well as the movies.
The plot of Ena Sendijarevic’s Take Me Somewhere Nice is set in motion when Alma receives word that her father, whom she barely knows, has been hospitalized in Bosnia. Alma is as unfamiliar with her home country as she is with her father, as demonstrated by scenes in which she practices guidebook phrases with her mother, but she dutifully shops and packs and heads off to Bosnia without betraying any real enthusiasm about the project.
Few things go as planned on this road trip, but Alma simply accepts each fork in the road as the new normal. When she can’t open the lock on her suitcase, she wears the same dress every day. When the suitcase is lost, but another one turns up, she simply begins to wear the clothing from the new suitcase as if it were her own. And, of course, her mishaps lead to interesting encounters with a series of quirky characters and memorable locations, beautifully shot in Academy ratio by cinematographer Emo Weemhoff, which is one of the great appeals of the road movie as a genre.
Three characters are central to Take Me Somewhere Nice. Besides Alma, there’s her cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac), a black market dealer and a bit of a jerk who’s not that helpful to her, and Emir’s friend Denis (Lazar Dragojevic), who’s very helpful indeed. Denis is clearly attracted to Alma, and appears to be a nice guy, but Emir tells Alma “You’re just a walking passport to him” and that could well be the truth. Denis, like Alma, knows how to pose, and it’s not entirely clear when he’s being sincere and when he’s just having her on. Emir’s comment makes another point as well: For all that Alma doesn’t appreciate her life in the Netherlands, there are plenty of people who would jump at the chance she has been granted, a thought that has apparently not penetrated her teenage obliviousness.
Zoric, in her feature debut, delivers a remarkable performance which holds Take Me Somewhere Nice together. Her character’s aimlessness and disconnection is echoed both in the meandering plot and in the many distancing devices employed by Sendijarevic (example: when we first see Alma and her mother, they’re reflected in the divided mirrors of a fitting room, and mirror shots will return throughout the film).
Take Me Somewhere Nice, Sendijarevic’s feature debut, was well-received on the festival circuit, winning, among other honors, the Tiger Award at the 2019 Rotterdam International Film Festival. If it feels derivative at times, that’s no great sin for a first feature as consistently watchable as this one. It’s absolutely beautiful to look at, offers a refreshingly distinctive sensibility that mirrors the mental and emotional states of its protagonist, and delivers everything you could want from a cinematic road trip. | Sarah Boslaugh