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Plague in communist Thebes: generic and ideological in Zoran Tadić’s The Third Key

The essay explains, evaluates and contextually places The Third Key, Zoran Tadić’s second feature film from 1983, which after his highly praised film debut The Rhythm of Crime (1981), established former ’outsider’ as the flag bearer of changes in filmmaking. Low budget film with motives of corruption and elements of horror-science-fiction, situated in urban Zagreb milieu, received favourable critics as modern, effectively directed, chamber film, but they were also somewhat reserved in comparison to the first film because of the film’s screenplay-dramaturgical awkwardnesses. Despite of this, the critics mostly supported Tadić. With the director and his first films, contemporary critics were, on one hand, affirming an alternative production principle within an ossified etatistic cinema, and on the other hand, the poetical model of which Tadić was the first messenger. Eighties criticism singled out his movies as positive exceptions from two types of films that were considered ossified and clichéd. Such were, on one hand, author’s modernist films, and on the other hand, social critique films of the so-called feuilleton cinema. Above all, young critics appreciated Tadić’s films for what they were not, and they were not social, that is to say, political, and their intention was not to represent a certain society and its social ambiance. Such reaction appeared at the same time as reactions of contemporary generation of literary critics to the appearance of the followers of Borges or fantasists in Croatian literature. They particularly stressed the process of extracting functionalism, that is to say, ideology from literature, a shift from the tradition of mimetic, presentational, realistic prose, and an enlightened attitude towards tradition.
After two long decades during which domestic cinema was characterized by modernist carelessness, and even contempt for tradition, Tadić returned to storytelling, and as generic director, continued the tradition of old generic storytellers as were the likes of Hawks, Clouzot, Land or Melville — Tadić declaratively admired those authors, but also always stressed the distance from the idea of author’s film. When The Third Key appeared, most of the commentators were under the impression that Tadić had repeated similar generic formula. It was another urban thriller with the elements of sci-fi escalating towards the end of the film. However, if we evaluate the generic model and construction of the world of The Third Key in the light of the previous analysis, we realize that the film was not even close to The Rhythm of Crime; it was actually its total opposite. While The Rhythm of Crime started from the social level and worked its way to mysterious and fantastic reducing a social phenomenon (crime) to a natural phenomenon (statistics), starting point of The Third Key was a strange/mysterious motive that gradually transformed to social. In The Third Key, nature did not determine the social; but instead, the social element generated the supernatural, in other words, the unexplainable.
Tadić did not deal with subjects like corruption through representational model of film, realistic explication, or reconstruction of social circumstances; he did not thematize central social and ethical problems in the way ’feuilleton’ authors did, even the great names of the black wave. He addressed the problems through generic mythems, and indirectly through the atmosphere he created, which put him shoulder to shoulder with Hollywood classics like Hitchcock, Hawks, or Lang (whom he admired) or new genre colleagues Spielberg and Carpenter (of whom Tadić is a legitimate domestic relative). This was Tadić’s poetical step out distinguishing him as a reformer of contemporary Croatian film.

Jurica Pavičić

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