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How I Learned To Fly (Leto kada sam naucila da letim)

A lightweight comedy tackling serious themes in Balkan history, this is a film perfect for introducing children to the 90s conflict - live from Transylvania


A pre-teen comedy in the vein of Diary of a Wimpy Teenager (Thor Freudenthal, 2010) or Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (Gurinder Chadha, 2008) that also manages to talk about the Balkan conflict in the 90s, How I Learned To Fly is a perfectly enjoyable film from Serbian director Radivoje Andric that tackles both serious and lightweight themes with ease.

Apart from the rocky beaches (I prefer sand) and the annoying British (myself included) and American tourists, there are hardly any better places to spend a summer holiday than the Croatian island of Hvar. For Serb Sofia (Klara Hrvanovic) however, she’s devastated that she’s not able to go camping with her best friend and her brother, who she has an immense crush on. Instead, she is saddled with her grandmother Marija (Olga Odanovic), who is returning to the island for the first time in 25 years. Odanovic plays the part well, constantly nagging the poor child to put on sun cream and wear appropriate clothing.

Sofia’s dreams and desires — kissing a boy for the first time, finding a crew to hang out with and avoiding her pestering “hitman” grandmother — are represented in an extremely broad style, with endless selfies, wipe cuts and whip pans, dream sequences, dodgy CGI insects and animated text overlays. It’s the kind of hyperactive style that seems in vogue today, with little separating it from the recent Ms Marvel (Bisha K. Ali, 2022) series. It’s fine for kids, and funny at times, but I found it mostly overwhelming.

Hrvanovic plays the part well, mixing voiceover and physical reaction comedy to convey the well-spring of emotions that pre-teen girls can feel, slowly coming to terms with both the world around her and her own intense maelstrom of feelings. Yet she remains more or less oblivious to the real reasons her grandmother moved to Belgrade all those years ago — or why she still refuses to talk to her brother, who remains on the island. From the perspective of a child, the conflict seems absurd; for her grandmother, these are old wounds she finds it intensely painful to re-open. For all the silliness, Andric manages to find a subtle way of navigating the pain of war without making it seem trite in the process. Playing here as part of the EducaTIFF programme, its the perfect introduction to this topic for young children.

Given how broad the comedy was, I’m easily the wrong demographic for the film, which is highly unlikely to play over in the UK. But judging from all the laughs from the children around me, this definitely has the potential to be a breakout hit in the Balkans (it’s already topped the Serbian box office) and other regions of Eastern and Southern Europe.

How I Learned to Fly plays as part of the EducaTIFF programme at TIFF, running from 17th to 26th June.

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