Growing up in a harsh, desperately poor Macedonian village, 13-year-old Marko (Kovacevic) has little to look forward to at school, where he's targeted by vicious bullies; or at home, where he's all but invisible to his drunken father, beaten-down mother, and cruel, self-serving teenage sister. When a kindly teacher (Nadarevic) takes an interest in Marko's creative-writing ability, and encourages him to enter a poetry contest that could sweep him off to Paris, hope blossoms. But is it just a pipe dream?
Ritovski's devastating study of a downtrodden youth in contemporary Macedonia offers no comfort for those seeking tidy endings and late-arriving omens of joy. Still, "Mirage" is powerful and riveting on its own terms, bitterly reflecting the realities of life for thousands in a war-torn, impoverished place, as the films of Rossellini and De Sica did half a century earlier. Kovacevic's transformation from a sullen, helpless, sensitive boy into a veritable one-teen island of rage and reprisal is terrifying and authentic. This "Mirage" will definitely leave a lasting impression.