Easy Land, the first feature from Serbian-Canadian filmmaker Sanja Zivkovic, is a balanced, reserved, but emotionally resonant look at the modern immigrant experience, mental illness, and mother-daughter bonds. There’s not much story to speak of, with Easy Land seeming more like a snapshot of a specific, formative moment in time for the characters involved, but there’s a lot of truth to be found in Zivkovic’s confident family drama.
Young adult and Serbian immigrant Nina (Nina Kiri) has few friends in school, where she’s taking her second crack at grade twelve. She’s frequently ridiculed and bullied for having a mentally unstable mother, Jansa (veteran actress Mirjana Jokovic), who had a noticeable and regrettable meltdown. Jansa is striving for some stability in their lives by barely holding down a job at a kitchen showroom, but signs of her unchecked mental illness are still apparent in her unwavering desire to design and build and elaborate community centre for fellow immigrants. Jansa’s increasingly flighty nature and a lack of opportunities and friends (save for a kind hearted, misunderstood drug dealer) makes Nina think about moving back to Bosnia and leaving mom behind.
The interactions between Nina and Jansa are the biggest highlights here, and the chemistry between Kiri and Jokovic is outstanding. Zivkovic’s material and laissez-faire approach to drama gives her performers plenty of space to flesh out a lived-in dynamic built on love and frustration in equal amounts. Whenever Easy Land ventures outside of the internal and shared struggles of Nina and Jansa, the results are moderately less successful. Everything that speaks to the struggles of recent immigrants to Canada rings true, as does the Zivkovic’s empathetic handling of a character with an untreated mental illness. But subplots about Jansa trying to date one of her customers, and Kiri’s work-study placement with a theatre troupe putting on a production of Beckett’s Endgame aren’t as easily integrated and feel underdeveloped.
But Easy Land has a big beating heart, a lot to say, and plenty to like about it. For a first feature effort, it’s pretty strong, and offers lots of promise for the future.