How does a boy with cerebral palsy who requires regular physical therapy and crutches to awkwardly walk make friends at school? Or anywhere?
Not easily, as depicted eloquently in understated fashion by director Rasko Miljkovic in “The Witch Hunters,” which screened at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.
Ten-year-old Jovan (Mihajlo Milavic) has the good fortune of having caring and involved parents (Jelena Dokic and Bojan Zirovic). But what he doesn’t have is friends.
And he compensates for that and his mobility challenges by creating an imaginary fantasy world where he’s a superhero named Shade. But is that the rest of his future? Living in a fantasy world?
Fortune steps into the equation when an effervescent girl named Milica (Silma Mahmuti) becomes his deskmate at school. She's fearless, outgoing and friendly. And unafraid to take charge. Everything that Jovan is not.
Unexpectedly, she takes a shine to Jovan. Perhaps because they have more in common than he realizes. Or even she realizes as the film peels back the layers of this seemingly fearless character’s own challenges, which opposite to Jovan, involve her parents.
Her father is no longer with his mother and has a girlfriend who Milica believes, or desperately wants to believe, is a witch who cast a spell on her dad. And that’s how she broke up her parents. But Milica fiercely says it’s not natural to love more than one person. She wants her parents back together.
So Milica devises a plan with Jovan to — not seriously alert — kill the girlfriend with a nail to the back of the head. Seemingly ruthless, but it also focuses attention to the movie's point: Can Milica ultimately bring herself to make an early crossing of the chasm that we all face eventually and extend an empathy that's beyond her years to her dad’s girlfriend? Or not? And coincidentally at the same time bring Jovan along with her?
So Milica and Jovan march into the “witch’s” home. And what happens next will resonate with everyone who still can remember the moment they left childhood behind to find those answers for themselves.