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Yearnings of power and power over yearnings: Samo jednom se ljubi (You Only Love Once) by Rajko Grlić

The text is a detailed interpretational study of Rajko Grlić’s film Samo jednom se ljubi (1981). The film was approved at a competition three years before Tito’s death in 1980, and shot and screened a year after that, and it symbolically divides two decades and two epochs of Croatian cinema. While the socially engaged films of the 1970s mainly dealt with life and malformations of their contemporaries, in Samo jednom se ljubi Rajko Grlić will, for the first time after ’black wave’, direct critical apparatus backwards and looked for a genesis of social defects in mythical childhood of communist system — immediately after the Second World War. While all the ’revisionist’ films before this one talked predominantly about communist repression in economy and ideology, Grlić’s film will show how repressive actions of the system do not stop even at the borders of extreme privacy — or, more precisely, eros and sexuality. With the intention to show the effect of political repression in the field of intimacy, Rajko Grlić will fuse political film with a classic melodrama, making a genre hybrid that had, in previous years, made Fassbinder, Kluge and new German film famous. By reviving black-wave tradition of critical film, but not removing it into new genre framework or higher level of attractiveness populist, Grlić made a film that represents Croatian cinema’s goodbye to the meager 70s and the era of so called ’feuilletonistic film’, and entrance into the new decade. The decade that will, in ideological sense, be marked by disappearance of Tito as a physical person (and partly his ideological authority), and in film, by the prevalence of authors of co called ’Prague school’, that Grlić belonged to. Critical topic and its treatment provoked politicians in supervisory bodies — after Samo jednom se ljubi was finished, it was the object of censorial affair that almost ended with the banning of the film. Only the fact that the film was screened in Cannes and was critically acclaimed saved it from being banned. The film was successfully distributed in Yugoslavia: only in Zagreb it was seen by 100,000 people.
At the time of production of the film Samo jednom se ljubi, the so called Prague school had already taken prominent positions in the then Yugoslavian cinematography. Even since the mid seventies the ’Prague students’ started getting acclaim abroad and wining international awards. In Serbia, three Prague school authors swiftly jumped into the empty space freed after the Party purge destroyed the ’black wave’ in 1973, while in Croatia the involvement of Prague school authors — Lordan Zafranović and Rajko Grlić — was slower. Before Samo jednom se ljubi, Grlić had made two feature films. Kud puklo da puklo (Come Hell or High Water) (1974) was a mixture of meta-film, ’film about film’ and a political pamphlet about the youth’s rebellion against the society. His modernist approach interested some critics, but general audience found it too complicated, so it was hissed at the Pula Film Festival. In his second film, Bravo maestro (1978), Grlić abandoned meta-film experiments and returned to traditional dramaturgy — he made a film that criticizes society, a film about careerism and nepotism in the then artistic (more precisely — musical) circles. The reactions were divided; on the one hand, the film entered the competition in Cannes, where it got critical acclaim, but the critics in Zagreb did not agree. Realizing that the roots of many contemporary deformations lie in the initial history of socialism in Yugoslavia, in his third film, Samo jednom se ljubi, Grlić decided to go back into the 1940s and the period directly following the Second World War. Although there was an interest, even before him, — especially in so called ’black film’ — in the sources of deformations in the period directly following the Second World War, this sensibility grew in the years before and (particularly) after Tito’s death. The interest in the dirty laundry of communist postwar period was then a kind of cultural dominant factor in Yugoslavian publicist writing, literature, theater and, s little later, film. We find the same intention in Grlić’s film. It is situated in the postwar period (before the events of 1948, which are not mentioned in the film), and wants to show that the communist government, at the very beginning, displayed tendency toward, on the one hand, material corruption, and on the other, repression over the individual, his freedom, and even sexuality. The film is therefore, a political film, as well as a melodrama. This melodramatic genre orientation defines Grlić’s film. The film itself deals with, so to speak, archetypical melodramatic situation — forbidden love of two young people that come from the opposite worlds. At the very beginning of the film, the hero, Tomislav (Miki Manojlović) is a winner, a ruler, indisputable master of the city and a blind follower of revolutionary ideology. He is a man of action. The hero’s fall begins in the moment he sees Beba (Vladica Milosavljević) — a ballerina he falls in love with, although this love is politically unacceptable to both his and her surroundings. This ’sinful’ love finishes with a theatrical suicide, exactly like Romeo and Juliet, or the lovers from Meyerling. The role of music in the film is very important, and it illustrates, but also symbolically indicates passion, as in many other melodramas. These are all elements that unambiguously identify Samo jednom se ljubi as a melodrama. It was exactly this status of melodrama as ’harmful’ and ’decadent’ was decisive for Grlić’s film. As the melodramatic had s status of ’rotten’ western cultural parasite in a rigid socialist culture, the topic of Grlić’s film is precisely this ’poisoning’ of the communist system, that inevitably becomes infected after the war, and in the end flooded by products of ’decadent’ culture. So, the genre in Grlić’s film becomes a meta-commentary of the values of the system dissected in the film.
ANALYTICAL CONTENTS: 1. Introduction / the production of the film; 2. The context of the production; 3.Over Tito’s grave: recapitulation of the 40s; 4. The melodramatic in Samo jednom se ljubi; 5. Class stumbling of the hero and stumbling of the ’new class’; 6. Between the machismo and eroticism; 7. Treatment of time and space in the film; 8. Music as melodramatic and political sign; 9. Fassbinder and Grlić: melodrama as a political allegory; Bibliography; Notes

Jurica Pavičić

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