“Ivan and Ivana” – Living the American Dream “A colourful and bittersweet tale”

Trish Thalman reviews “Ivan and Ivana” and says; ” this was a really interesting film with no romantic illusions about how a couple escaped from Kosovo in 1999, then moved to the U.S and wound up living the American Dream”.

The film directed by Jeff Silva was shown on Friday and Saturday at the film festival.

“The American Dream is where you can ‘get-it-all’, very fast”. But, “I’m not sure it’s worth it”, declares Ivan while walking along the Southern California beach in 2006. “We are slaves to buying things, paying loans, working seven days a week, and we are $1.5million in debt”.  

Ah, the days of ‘easy money’ for Ivan and Ivana, a young, enthusiastic, “in-love-forever” couple from Serbia, who immigrated to the US in 2000. The new millennium had just begun. Everything is possible in the US. Rather than stay in bombed-out Belgrade, they chose the warmest place with the best beaches in the US. California, here we come! 

It’s all working a charm, for the most part. They own a house in an older, well-kept, middle class suburb of San Diego, have other mortgages on rental properties (based on ‘free’ mortgages!), a Porsche, a classic MG convertible, and a 3rd ‘practical’ car. The kitchen is new, fancy and top-quality. Ivana is working as a real estate agent and Ivan works as a mechanic, when he can find jobs, even if his real dream is to be a blues guitarist. They cannot believe their ‘luck’….regarding all the material things.

 On the social side, Ivan behaves in a rather ‘crazy manner’ (“that’s how I am”), so people are afraid of him, and they don’t have any friends. They are ‘chain-smokers’. 

With Ivan’s creeping disillusion about ‘ the American dream’, he dreams of selling everything and packing off to South America “where we can be free and nobody tells you how to live your life”. Otherwise, things are good right now. 

Now it is 2008, and the US property crash and credit crunch is a full-blown disaster for real estate agents and people with $1.5million in debt.  Ivan and Ivana have separated. Ivana moves out of the house, Ivan stays. The rental properties are gone.  Ivan is doing drugs and  “plans to survive, make lots of money”, but doesn’t have any specifics about how that will happen.  Ivana has a new American boyfriend, also in real estate, who drives a Mercedes. 

The following year 2009, Ivan has returned to Belgrade and is living off US unemployment, but intends to make a lot of money ‘very fast’. He plays blues guitar in a band, is doing lines of cocaine and dealing drugs.  Divorced Ivana, closes a few house sales as business starts to ‘pick up’, and becomes a US citizen. She celebrates the occasion with new friends who insist that she not make a toast in Serbian, “because you are an American now”. 

2010 – it is ten years since filmmaker Jeff Silva first met Ivan in Kosovo.  Ivan played blues guitar at that initial meeting. Ivan’s comment was “the Balkans are a sick place. It’s time to find a better life”. He’s still in Belgrade dealing drugs.   Ivana is on the beach in Stoj, Montenegro with her American boyfriend, visiting family and friends. They take great delight watching the orange, red sun set on the Adriatic Sea while holding smoking cigarettes in their hands. 

Jeff Silva presents an extraordinary, delicious and colourful, bittersweet tale that covers 10 years in the life of two European immigrants who truly believed they were going to live “The American Dream” – easy and fast,  whatever it is. The film presents, with “in-your-face” clarity, the truth and false illusions about the former ‘Eastern Europe’ and the myth of ‘California Dreamin’.

  Trish Thalman is an American originally from California who lives in Gland.