Reflections after 51st Pula Film Festival, July 16th-24th, 2004
This year’s Pula festival — made up of competition of Croatian feature-length films (feature and documentaries), a choice of international feature-length documentaries, a choice of international feature film, and a retrospective of contemporary Slovenian film — is marked, generally speaking, by decent organization, stronger and better program, more viewers and consistently good weather, which is particularly important for screenings in Arena amphitheatre. Along with palpable lack of specialized cinema for special programs (journalists’ screenings, night program’s reruns and additional programs), the festival was accompanied by unavoidable little scandals that filled daily newspapers: copies that did not arrive, films that were taken off the program, bizarre jury’s decisions, persistent opposition to Motovun Film Festival, which takes place immediately after Pula in a nearby small town.
Arena was full as never before for an international political documentary when Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was screened. It attracted audience from the entire Istria, and even from Slovenia and Italy. Always controversial Moore chooses a topic that bothers him personally the most: turning of his own country from (theoretical) torchbearer of freedom and democracy into (practical) Leviathan with dangerous intentions. Although his ambitions are bigger than his abilities, Moore’s film may be a good lesson to Croatian documentary filmmakers who obviously reach out for ’lighter’ topics from everyday life or from newspapers’ accident reports, favorite sources of ideas in the days of creative emptiness. This is true of feature documentary Peščenopolis by Zrinka Matijević-Veličan, as well as of the short documentary Imported Crows by Goran Dević.
In the feature film competition, the awards give a distorted picture of variability, attractiveness and frequent creative glow of this year’s feature films production. The jury crowned Antun Vrdoljak’s ambitious project Long Dark Night with laurels. Although Vrdoljak is somewhat more sophisticated and complex behind the camera than in his public appearances, Long Dark Night is not so much a film as it is a dramatization of Franjo Tuđman’s perception of recent national history. Among other films, there are some prominently admirable works, even among those that did not meet the expectations, but still have certain unquestionable qualities, and could be made into something much better. According to the author of this text, the most commendable film was 100 Minutes of Glory by Dalibor Matanić, although no other film in Pula was given such diverse evaluation. The overview of the life story of the deaf woman painter Slava Raškaj departs from the cliché and norms of a classical biographical film (biopic) by temporal mixing of scenes. The film is destructively powerful, with amazing performances by Sanja Vejnović and Miki Manojlović, and with more anthological scenes than you can sometimes see during the entire Pula Festival. Sorry For Kung Fu by Ognjen Sviličić, made in a relatively standard television production, depicts characters and unique traits of people from Dalmatinska zagora region. This is the cleverest story about the problem of ethnicity in Croatia; a young author showed that he knows how to find a silent drama and dry humor in our small, pathetic destinies, without being neither a misanthrope nor a preacher. The youngest debutant with a feature-length film was Arsen Anton Ostojić with his film A Wonderful Night in Split, in which he portrays, in a purely monochromatic graphic, the environment of Split’s »Get« — a centre of the town, where drug addicts meet — in a way that has never been seen in a Croatian film. The aesthetic of sophisticated noir, a director of photography who channels Toland and Krasker, author-screenwriter who writes like a head of New Brit Lit, and then directs it like a Hollywood professional from the ’50s, getting the best performances from the whole crew. Even though the third part is less effective, it is still a superb film.
The other films are failures, although they have some qualities. Fadil Hadžić is undoubtedly a doyen of our cinema, animated film and theatre, but in The Doctor of Craziness his attempt to use a number of caricatured portraits of archetype from present time Croatia in order to say something coherent about our situation suffers from wrong dramatic estimates and lack of recent practical experience.
Accidental passenger by Srećko Jurdana, feature-length debutant of mature age, was quite brave to put into the limelight a young, insightful, attractive and adventurous woman, and her journey gives the opportunity to comment on the society from a woman’s point of view. But a number of wrong choices, starting with the key staring role, and continuing with lack of elaboration and playfulness of almost every single situation make this film unconvincing. The director Silvije Petranović, another not so young debutant, wrote the screenplay for the film The Society of Jesus after the novel by a Czech writer Jiri Šotola: members of Loyola’s order are trying to get a young countess-widow to give them her fortified property; a monk named Had is stretched between their interests and hers. While Milan Pleština is a real revelation as Had, he did not have an equal partner, because Leona Paraminski as a countess is very superficial, there is nothing going on behind her eyes.
In a short comment of documentary program, the author says it would be better if Croatian documentaries were included in a non-discriminative manner. Foreign feature films were very well chosen, and the retrospective of contemporary Slovenian film was very useful for comparrison Croatian and Slovenian cinematography.
Vladimir C. Sever