Writing about one’s own experiences can be therapeutic, potentially a cathartic endeavor that’s part of the healing process.  For Croatian writer, director, and actor Juraj Lerotić, he found the process of making his film “Safe Place” to be the opposite… a “re-traumatization,” in the director’s words.

Lerotić, whose fingerprints are on every frame of “Safe Place,” started writing the story with the aim to direct it and cast actors. However, Lerotić ultimately felt that he was the only person to play his role in this story, which is based on the trauma that he experienced when he lost his brother to suicide.

With the help of producer Miljenka Čogelja, Lerotić crafted a powerful film that examines the pain of suicide through its strain on family members and their inability to navigate a condition that is so poorly understood.  The film also highlights the severely limited resources available to citizens fighting mental health crises with cringeworthy doctor conversations (the doctor barely cares enough to be reachable). 

Lerotić’s character, with the help of his mother, tries to help his brother (played brilliantly by Goran Marković) through a mental crisis that evolved rather quickly over a short period of time.

When his brother runs from the hospital, Lerotić’s character gives them a picture of his brother at the beach… it was the most recent picture of him and, conversely the last time he was really himself that Lerotić could remember. 

Actor Goran Marković in Croatia’s ‘Safe Place’

Throughout the film, Lerotić delivers an incredible performance that complements Marković’s masterful, emotional work. However, it’s Lerotić’s vision as a director that elevates the film to a stunning piece of art.  

Lerotić, not wanting to mask the reality of experience, chose to exclude score from the film… relying on the ambient noise and emotional conversations.

The film closes with the footage of the lost brother on the beach, the last time he was truly himself… closing with a powerful overlap for the unknowingly man as he is mere months from taking his own life in a spiral of tragic melancholy. 

It’s one of the year’s most powerful films and a great surprise for those looking for something of “Meat and merit” this awards season. 

Letter Grade: A-