Croatian filmmaker Filip Herakovic’s Pelican (Pelikan, 2022) forges a unique association between the bleak and the comic. It raises intriguingly profound questions about identity and the nature of existence. The primarily static composition scrutinizes a naked soul seeking an escape. Most importantly, it is the clear distance between us and the protagonist that allows us to pick up the dry comedy within this desperate situation. In the end, Pelican is all about hope as the bird itself symbolizes renewal and healing.
The plot of Pelican revolves around Josip (Edi Celic), a well-known goalkeeper in major league soccer. Josip recovers in a spa resort after suffering a knee injury in a skiing accident. His professional life might be jeopardized due to the injury. But, Josip’s affliction is probably much deeper. Obviously, his glazed looks tell us it’s existential. Now that the limits of his body have become painfully evident, Josip focuses on the more elusive aspect, i.e., the soul. The soccer player is compelled to stay for weeks in order to recuperate. At the same time, the majority of the resort’s guests are elderly people. Many old people get too relaxed that they meet their maker there. Perhaps, Josip has come to the right place, since he seeks rebirth.
Life at the health spa is a tedious affair. Josip has daily sessions with a lonely physical therapist, who we learn is very much into motorbikes, and whose ex is very much into India. He overhears darkly humorous conversations between two old ladies during lunch. Besides, an elderly man recognizes the goalie by his notorious nickname, Condor (vulture). Tall Josip with his wide hands guarding the goalpost – yeah, he kind of looks like a Condor. But Josip wonders later to his best pal, ‘why not a Pelican?’ because they also have large wings, and look more humble.
Josip’s girlfriend comes over to spend the day with him. She is most likely a social media personality. She requests that Josip photograph her jumping in the air against a natural backdrop. Josip couldn’t get it right even after multiple attempts. Apparently, that says a lot about the future of their relationship. Josip’s conversation with his soccer teammate also fizzles out because they don’t have much to talk about aside from the team and the game. At one moment, Josip inquires about bus timings in order to visit the nearby town. Why? He feels so thirsty that he yearns for a coke. The thirst, a reference to St. Stephen and the talks of enlightenment informs us about Josip’s formless quest.
Later, Josip gets acquainted with an older woman working in the resort who offers him a coke. Their exchange sound less awkward than Josip’s prior encounter with humanity. Interestingly, everyone pauses in the interaction don’t seem to withhold any tension. The soon-to-be ex-girlfriend and the friend are all repeatedly engaging themselves with the constructed identity of Josip. Considering that his career is in jeopardy, Josip feels like shedding that identity and finding something new. Subsequently, the goalie gets the chance to assume a fresh identity.
The ironic humor of Filip Herakovic in Pelican is really captivating. Can vacuum cleaners alleviate the vacuum created by a career-ending knee injury? For Josip it does. He stumbles upon a robotic vacuum cleaner sales seminar held at the spa. He is mistakenly identified as Branimir, a sales representative. The other sales reps are also misfits like Josip. The guy who conducts the conference used to run theater workshops for children.
The ice-breaking games and mirroring exercise he conducts perhaps have nothing to do with the sales seminar. Is the man simply attempting to thrust his one identity upon the other? Or perhaps his experience working with children allows him to enter this new identity (as a sales manager) with new perspectives? Whatever it is, the question of identity looms over everyone in Pelican.
Josip wears his new identity with a gleeful smile. The conversations become more free-flowing and he senses his own self and body. At times, Josip feels as if he is floating away from the confines of flesh like a broad-winged Pelican. Sometimes simple changes, new routines, and new faces can add a lot of meaningful flavor to life. It’s what happens to Josip in the sterile, quiet environment of the spa. Nevertheless, Josip’s internal journey isn’t about attaining enlightenment; it’s more about embracing uncertainty. Pelican concludes with lovely visual and thematic flourishes that invite an interesting interpretation of the narrative. The touch of surrealism in the final frames only adds to Filip’s understated drama.
Filip Herakovic and Nikolina Bogdanovic have written the script for Pelican. Occasionally, I felt that the narrative overemphasizes the metaphors through visual flourishes and dialogues. But it doesn’t get heavy-handed and the drama never lacks in nuance. Furthermore, Pelican is a remarkable accomplishment for a first-time filmmaker working with a limited set-up and a micro-budget. Edi Celic is absolutely great as the central character. There’s a chiseled sadness to Josip that the character doesn’t need to communicate his inner feelings. Celic mines his character’s emotional chaos with the right mix of deadpan humor and vulnerability.
Pelican Premiered at 2022 Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival
Pelican (2022) Trailer
Pelican (2022) Link: IMDb
Pelican (2022) movie cast: Edi Celic, Lucija Barisic, Tena Nemet Brankov, Marko Petric, Gordan Marijanovic