Pula: Among and Under the Stars

Pula Film Festival, Pula, Croatia, 14 – 28 July 2012

  • Vegetarian Cannibal (Ljudozer vegetarijanac), firected by Branko Schmidt

    During the existence of Yugoslavia, Pula, with its huge Roman Arena, attracted many stars who were then invited to the private residence of Marshall Tito on Brioni Island. Sophia Loren, Elisabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Yul Brynner and Orson Welles were among them. Richard Burton even played Tito in the partisan film Sutjeska (The Battle of Sutjeska, 1973) which was directed by the Tito’s close friend Stipe Delic. I mention this because I feel it is important. In the time when Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet troops, and the Prague Spring was stamped out, and the Communist Party sharply censored any Western content, Tito invited Richard Burton to his private residence on Vanga Island and prepared big Hollywood style film productions made in Yugoslavia. On Brioni, the guides nowadays praise Tito as a great politician and remember proudly the number of film stars who visited Pula and Brioni, compared with the communist bosses in former Czechoslovakia who are forgotten or damned.

    So it was no big surprise when the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Festival in 2012 and walked inside the Arena to watch a film together with the Croatian President Ivo Josipović, the festival director Zdenka Višković-Vukić and the Artistic Director Zlatko Vidačković. He was watching the ecological, more or less peaceful film, Sonja and the Bull  (Sonja i bik) by the woman director Vlatka Vorkapić in which young animal-rights activist (Judita Franković) tries to avert cruelty to bulls during bullfighting. I must say that this film was relatively good compared to the general difficulties of ecological films. The visit of the Secretary General was felt in Pula as business as usual. In Karlovy Vary, this event would have created great interest.

    The Main Section of the National Programme of the festival contained some very interesting entries. The Croatian crime drama Flower Square (Cvjetni trg) by Krsto Papic is a between-the-genres film, partly a black comedy and partly a suspense thriller, about an actor (Drazen Kühn) who is hired by the police to become a fake priest and to make a supposedly terminally-ill Croatian mafia boss confess. The film is well and surprisingly done, and was one of the most popular at the Festival.
    Flower Square (Cvjetni trg, directed  by Krsto Papic
    Another crime story was by Branko Schmidt Vegetarian Cannibal (Ljudozer vegetarijanac), later an official Croatian Oscar entry, won the FEDEORA award. A successful and ambitious gynaecologist (Rene Bitorajac) works as a chief physician at the clinic in Zagreb where he checks immigrant prostitute girls from Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria who work illegally in Croatia and who need illegal abortions from time to time.

    Another important film was Halima’s Path (Halimin put) by Arsen A. Ostojic. It is a true Balkan co-production between Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Slovenia. Producers often find it easier to make a domestic film than a complex co-production, which would need much more time in preparations, but not in this film. Halima’s Path is a moving story of a Muslim woman Halima (Alma Prica) who, after the end of the war in Bosnia, tries to find her husband and son. The film looks back to 1977 in the Bosnian village where the Muslim and Christian part of population lives together in peace but some tensions are already to be felt. Then the plot moves to the year of 2000 when the war is over and Halima tries to trace the remaining members of her family. Halima’s remark that “houses are built and destroyed here each 50 years” is too eloquent to be overlooked: what happened in 1991 can happen again in 2041.

    The first Croatian 3D film is a sort of anti-film as it has no story and plot. Accidental Passer-By (Slucajni prolaznik) by Jozo Patljak depicts the daily life of a nameless, homeless man (Igor Hamer) who is skilful in digging out of garbage cans. He is able to fill his stolen supermarket trolley and sell its contents, mostly empty bottles to those who control homeless people working on the streets. He makes some 20 kunas (Croatian currency) a day which are spent by his bizarre punk girlfriend (Elizabeta Kukić). There are some memorable quotations in this film: “The cinema is empty as they are showing a Croatian film.” This film depicts the streets of Zagreb magnificently in 3D. There are no spectacular action scenes; just a man, a supermarket trolley, cars in the background and garbage cans in the forefront. It seems to me that the film is anarchistic in a way it sees reality. It was disliked by many, but for me, it was a remarkable entry.
    Halima’s Path (Halimin put), directed by Arsen A. Ostojic
    I would also like to mention a small Croatian film A Letter to My Dad (Pismo caci) by Damir Cucic which shows a middle-age man who tells, with a small video camera, why he has always disliked his father in the form of a letter. The confession is interrupted by the father’s commentaries. The son fears that he is just a copy of his father. It is a sad portrait of the breakup of a family whose members have nothing in common and lead entirely different life styles.

    Among the short films, I would like to mention the Croatian film Red Handed (by young Bruno Mustic) on gay people and Zvonimir Rumboldt’s Rom Com on the making of the soap opera love story.

    The Minority Co-Productions Section of the National Programme also showed the popular Serbian-Croatian-Macedonian co-production film Parada by Srdjan Dragojević which was selected for the Berlinale earlier this year. It is a film on a gay minority in clashes with the homophobic majority in nowadays Belgrade. In the International Programme Europolis, which was out of the scope of the FEDEORA jury, were some important films programmed such as The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Robert Guédiguian, France), The Conquest  (Xavier Durringer, France), The Door (István Szabó, Hungary/Germany) and Love (Michael Haneke, France/Germany/Austria). The Claude Chabrol retrospective was pretty popular as was the morning screenings for children.

    Generally, I was really struck by the amount of viewers. In the open-air cinema Arena, the 5000 places were filled every night in Pula, a city with 40,000 inhabitants. They came mostly from Pula itself, and other Istria towns, but also from other parts of Croatia and foreign countries. Pula is a really extraordinary place. It is a place where the old meets the modern and where everything is possible.

    Radovan Holub, Czech Republic