Certain things are common to and unite all cultures. In director Devin Scott and writer Suzana Norberg’s short film Libertyville, that thing is the overbearing grandmother.
Rather than spend the day with her friends, 11-year-old Suzana is forced to accompany her family on their weekly trip to her grandfather’s grave for a traditional Serbian picnic. Unfortunately, what should be a simple outing for the family becomes a weekly exercise in soul-crushing agony. The agony happens because these excursions involve Suzana (Keziah Wall), her brother Tommy (Conor Kowalski), Mother (Boyana Balta), and Grandmother (Suzana Norberg). Grandmother rules over the family with an iron fist and keeps everyone on eggshells by shifting effortlessly from dictator to oppressed as a way to control and frustrate.
“What should be a simple outing for the family becomes a weekly exercise in soul-crushing agony.”
For example, while driving to the cemetery, choosing an off-ramp becomes a needless argument and a source of great shame for Mother. Unloading the car, Grandmother is insistent on finding something Mother forgot to bring. In flashbacks, we see that Grandfather (Dragan Sutalo) was a kind soul, especially toward Suzana. Though equally terrorized by Grandmother, he was the calming balance in the family. As such, Grandmother does have her softer moments of affection as she offers her condolences to a nearby widow sitting alone.
When it comes to family, it’s easy to focus on the negative traits, which is a big part of Libertyville. However, Scott and Norberg tell the story of a dysfunctional family for laughs while at the same time finding the perfect moments for levity and heart. Sometimes, love finds itself buried deep within one’s soul, but it’s there and takes time and patience to show its head for even the briefest of moments. Norberg’s performance as Grandmother is perfect and nuanced, almost as if she has personal experience with just such a grandparent. You don’t have to be Serbian to know you’re not alone.
"…finds the perfect moments for levity and heart."