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BRANKO BAUER (1921-2002)

Sixth Reel, The End — In the Memory of Branko Bauer

This text is a personal associative commentary on the late Branko Bauer and his opus. The author underlines precision and emotion as the two key features of Branko Bauer’s imagination. Precision, however, did not refer to film planning and shooting script, but to an organic and non-technical power of controlling film narration. In his films, Bauer figured as the observer who patiently waited for the moments when the story would open for a climax. He perfectly handled the tasks of the story executor, telling the story with tectonic sureness, and providing us with easy watching. The core of his films was emotionality based on a simple premise: love. It is not meant passion, carnal desire, or even infatuation. In Bauer’s films, love, and its extension — duty (presenting a prolongation of love by other means), appear as a person’s essence, a measure for human relationships, and an imperative often preceding the story.

Bauer was developing those two features while the country was governed by the post Stalinist party. The party had a strong idea of what it did not want, but had no idea of what it wanted. Bauer developed his gift of precision and emotionality in a narrow passage between party control and narrative banality of other directors, much in the manner of a high-wire walker. Prohibitions generate desire, while limitations perfect the skill and produce new solutions.

The commemorative gathering at the small cinema of the directors’ association was an occasion for the screening of the sixth reel of his most famous film Don’t Turn Around, Son. Father and son are leving the town before dawn. Comes the break of dawn: they cross the river, run into an ambush, the fight, they say goodbye, the motorbike and death of the father and attacker on the bike, the boy runs towards the gloomy light on the other side of the woods. The camera does not allow the character to leave the close-up, we feel Hitchcockian tension.

But then again, the ellipsis is expediently elaborated; the story develops with a Zinemmannian fatality, constantly moving forward, into yet another trouble. The sequence ends with a Fordian emotion. Pathos without sentiment, almost cruelly short climax. Even the metaphorical crewless motorbike was only a short digression, the last picture in the eye of a dying man. Life has ended. Sava wasteland has turned into a graphic, a barely visible background with nothing but people on it. And the light of death.

Bauer, sensible, gentle and utterly firm man, has done his job, said farewell and left. His world matured somewhere in the cinematic fifties. The fifties as we would have liked to remember them, built of our own wishes, or Bauer’s imagination, powerfully imprinted on the film tape.

Hrvoje Hribar

Branko Bauer — A Carrier on the Turn of Stylistic Periods

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