by Albert Gabay
Watching the Croatian film What a Country (Koja je ovo drzavel, Croatia, 2018) makes you wonder whether it is a black comedy, a political satire, a funny or a sad story. Actually, it is a blend of all these aspects. The film, shown in the online edition of goEast Film Festival held in Wiesbaden, Germany, was directed by Vinco Bresan, and the cast include Kresimir Mikic, Sebastian Cavazza, the excellent Serbian actor Lazar Ristovski, the famous Polish actor Daniel Olbrychski and many others.
In the beginning, the plot of the film centres around a decorated General (Niksa Butijer), who develops a death wish and dreams in his frequent nightmares of different ways of committing suicide. Then there is the Minister Kelava (Mikic), who is in charge of all the prisons in the country, and who voluntarily, without reason, locks himself up inside a prison cell and refuses to come out, despite the insistent pledges of the Prime Minister and even the country’s President.
The other conflict in the narrative deals with four pensioners, who steal the coffin with the remains of Croatia’s late first president Franjo Tuđman. And in the picture there is also the coffin of the slandered president of Serbia, the late Slobodan Milošević. Actually, one of the key scenes features a simple apartment with the two coffins and three men from three different countries, who fought each other in a war not long ago. But the whole story, or how all these guys relate to each other, will not to be told here to avoid unnecessary spoilers.
The experienced Zagreb-born director Bresan, who has six feature films on his records, succeeded in making a film that on one hand is very funny, with black humour and many surrealistic scenes, but at the same time opens the pains and wounds of the Balkan wars that have actually never healed. Those who are familiar with the bleeding history of that region, which ended nearly 20 years ago, will have a better understanding of the nuances in this brilliant film. The use here of coffins, cemeteries and suicide and death rituals, along with the many turns in the story, makes its narrative very surprising, unexpected and delightfully moving.
It is an ironic and absurd story, politically oriented with strong criticism of the people who are running the country today, those who try to be what is called “politically correct”, but who are actually cowards, corrupt, selfish and with an enormous ego: as if they were afraid of doing something meaningful as leaders, or they still live in the shadow of communism and Marshal Tito. They don’t have the courage to take the right steps to create a better society in their country. They think only about their survival in power, and have forgotten what they once fought for. So the old men in the country who sacrificed their sons in the war for a better future must do whatever they can to teach the current generation of leaders and politicians a lesson that they will never forget. But will they?
The excellent acting performances of all the cast members, the mise-en-scene, the cinematography, the editing and the right metaphors Bresan chooses all together make the film an important statement—against the ugly politics in his country at the present time, against the broken ideals of the founders, who hoped for a much more just place to live in and pass on to future generations. These are all serious subjects, and the decision to make it a comedy or a drama with many comic twists seems like the right one and leaves a strong impact.
© FIPRESCI 2020
Edited by Birgit Beumers