Popular documentaries are usually concerned with power: arming the viewer with knowledge, revealing a subject in a new light, pointing the way forward—a promised power to change.
But there is a fairly strict limit on the actual reach of that genre, which perhaps leads to a work like The Stone Speakers: what does a documentary look like when it comes from a position of powerlessness? Following the dissolution of Yugoslavia and the Bosnian War, when Igor Drljača looks at his country, he sees a continued fall with no end in sight.
Photographed from an unvaried distant vantage point, The Stone Speakers is a paralyzed look back at a land transformed: emptied factories, dammed rivers, and bizzaro tourist sites that pitch modern Bosnia as something like the European equivalent of Reverand Toller’s First Reformed church—a place almost tragicomically emptied of meaning.
The camera never moves—except when it’s attached to a raft—and Drljača doesn’t make things easy to parse, letting dissonance and contradiction and long silences in. This is a film with both two minutes of honking water traffic and, as if it wasn’t bad enough at normal volume, an echoing, full-valley rendition of “Hosanna in the Highest” on its soundtrack—randomness and fanaticism together in one portrait.