To prepare him for his role in Dust, David Wenham was faxed a reading list of 97 books about the Balkans.
Mixing the western film genre and Balkan history, Dust tells the story of two brothers at war over gold and a woman in turn-of-the-century Arizona.
But like Before the Rain, which traveled between London and Macedonia in an elegantly circular plot, Dust plays subtle games with time and geography. The brothers, portrayed by Joseph Fiennes (the Shakespeare of Shakespeare in Love) and the Australian actor David Wenham, find echoes of their personal war in the Balkan violence of 1912-13. “I call it an Ottoman eastern,” Mr. Manchevski says.
The story opens in contemporary New York with an encounter between an elderly woman (Rosemary Murphy) and a robber (Adrien Lester), whose stories merge with the saga of the brothers: In the West at the start of the century, Elijah (Mr. Fiennes) and Luke (Mr. Wenham) fall in love with Lilith, a woman from the brothels played by the French actress Anne Brochet (Tous les Matins du Monde). The three resurface in war-torn Macedonia, where, as one character says, “centuries don’t follow each other; they coexist;” and Elijah and Luke must fight it out with the Turks, interfering neighbors and assorted bounty hunters.
Like Before the Rain, Dust has a dense script, mapped with conflict and carnage. But, says Mr. Manchevski, “We’re not showing the worst of what went on during the Balkan wars — violence that continues even now.”
Mr. Wenham, whose Luke wins and loses everything — the girl, the gold — was struck by Mr. Manchevski’s pursuit of historic truth. “One night, I was home in Sydney and about 3 a.m. this fax came in,” he says. “He was sending me a reading list of books on the Balkans — 97 books.”
“He got the short list,” Mr. Manchevski says with a laugh. “Here in Macedonia we have an obsession with history.