Monday, November 5, 2007

Croatia Rules

I don't know whether Croatia makes high-quality films, or whether the Croatian series at the Walter Reade is unusually well curated, or whether I'm just having good luck. But my nearly random sallies into Croatian film culture keep coming up roses.

The high point so far is Rajko Grlic's terrific 1981 film Samo jednom se ljubi, bearing the English title The Melody Haunts My Reverie, even though the Serbo-Croatian title, taken from a popular postwar song, translates as You Love Only Once. Like the Sternberg of Dishonored or the Renoir of La Chienne, Grlic is such a powerful director that he can tell the story of a man ruined by love and yet create a competing, more alluring and exuberant narrative purely through the manipulation of tone. As original in its mysterious, bemused performance style as in its mastery of light and color, Samo jednom se ljubi will screen no more in this series, but subtitled VHS tapes can be had online for $4 or $5 plus shipping.

Much more casually executed, Tomislav Radic's 2005 Sto je Iva snimila 21. listopada 2003. (What Iva Recorded on October 21, 2003) is ostensibly the video experimentation of a 15-year-old girl playing with her first camcorder. What she documents is the fracturing of her bourgeois family on the occasion of an ill-fated dinner for a prospective business partner. Radic's sharp, undemonstrative observations and the effortless performances are complemented by the organizing idea that filming is an act of revenge upon one's family. It looks as if Iva is available on subtitled DVD.

Very few people are attending this series, which must be endangering Lincoln Center's plan to stage equivalent retrospectives for the other former Yugoslav republics. If you want to get a piece of my lucky streak, the upcoming Croatian films I'm most hoping to catch are Lordan Zafranovic's Occupation in 26 Pictures (1978) on November 6 and 11, Zvonimir Berkovic's Rondo (1966) on November 9 and 10, and Branko Bauer's Face to Face (1963) on November 11 and 13. To whet your appetite, here's a quote from Stojan Pelko's piece on Bauer in Ginette Vincendeau's Encyclopedia of European Cinema: "What Hitchcock and Hawks were for the French politique des auteurs, Bauer was for the young film critics in 1970s Yugoslavia. By discovering him, they rediscovered the notion of auteur and genre."


Anonymous said...

How was the Bauer film? Wish I could've seen some of these.

Dan Sallitt said...

Steve - the Bauer was pretty good. It felt a bit like fifties "Playhouse 90"-style American social consciousness, with possible echoes of Losey (at the beginning) and Preminger (strongly at the end). The material was built about our rooting interest in the hero-rebel galvanizing the masses against a Stalin-like authority figure; still, Bauer and the writer Jovanovic managed to suggest the difficult side of the hero and make the villain's etiology understandable, even though these nuances weren't allowed to inflect the story.