Victor Zimet’s documentary feature Everything Is Forever takes a look at musician and activist Nenad Bach. Referred to by at least one person as the “Croatian John Lennon,” Bach’s success in Croatia, and his profile internationally, never seems to match up with his musical prospects in the States, where he continually seems to be on the outs with radio play. Still, his political activism and compositions over the years has him alongside famous politicians, musicians and celebrities, offering an odd juxtaposition to his more low key, sometimes financially hindered, reality.
As his story progresses, the film focuses on Bach’s return to Croatia to record with local folk singers, which reinvigorates the music he’s making. It’s reminiscent of Paul Simon’s choices when creating Graceland, only here it is a native Croatian spreading the music of his home, and arguably less politically divisive. Eventually, as we watch Bach age throughout the production, we learn of some potentially devastating health concerns that he nevertheless powers through.
It’s an expansive view of Nenad Bach and his music, but that doesn’t always mean it is a complete one. Often I felt like I was lacking in history or context to fully appreciate what was going on, especially early in the film. The final third of the piece is particularly strong, but it can feel muddled getting there.
I’ll be the first to decry the Behind the Music-style of documentary filmmaking to be more than a little tiresome, but there are positives contained in that structure. Most of all is the natural progression of context and history for the profiled performer. Frankly, for every second we spend watching Bach and his fellow performers practice, or prepare for this or that, I would’ve much rather have had more time learning about Bach’s life, or the history of Croatia, in a more traditional sense.
Because we get the pictures and video of him with celebrities and politicians, we know that he has established a certain international notoriety based on his activism and he had success in Croatia before leaving for the States, but we don’t get that natural progression. We’re thrown into his story, and certain elements are more interesting than others. In the end, though, it is the music that carries the most weight in keeping our interest, and there could certainly be more of that and, again, less preparation or discussion about it.
Honestly, I think there’s an incredible, probably inspirational, documentary short film within this feature. I think there’s a way to focus on Nenad Bach as a performer, and focus on his accomplishments with context and history, and have it be a tight edit with a never-wavering momentum from start to finish. As a feature film, however, it feels like it’s trying to share so much that it doesn’t focus on its own best aspects.
A lack of fame in the States isn’t an interesting storyline for me, when you’ve got someone creating music that makes a true political statement while also spreading a message of peace otherwise. I don’t need to see musicians prepare for a concert, let me see the transcendent moments of their performances. Here a focused “less” can be so much more powerful than an overly broad “more.”
So, I’m torn with Everything Is Forever. I think Nenad Bach’s story is an important one to tell, but I don’t know that this particular production is best way to tell it. I appreciated the music throughout, but I wanted more. I appreciated the political motivations and activism, but I wanted even more history and context about his life than what I got, or perhaps at least structured in a way that felt naturally woven into the piece. Overall, I think there’s strong elements to this documentary, but I think they’re burdened by the padding surrounding them.
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