Politics as a Destiny: A Certain Tendency of Mediterranean Cinema

in 25th Valencia Film Festival

by Bruno Kragic

Among the 17 films in the official section of the 25th Film Festival of Mediterranean cinema in Valencia, quite a few had some political content, even if it wasn’t overt. Stopping short of fulfilling its ambitious title this article will try to look at the political themes, motifs or preoccupations in 6 films: ‘A Moonless Night’ (‘Nata pa hene’) by Artan Minarolli from Albania, ‘Gori vatra’ by Pjer Zalica from Bosnia and Herzegovina, ‘The Mud’ (Çamur) by Dervis Zaim from Cyprus, ‘Witnesses’ (‘Svjedoci’) by Vinko Bresan from Croatia, ‘Kajmak and Marmalade’ (‘Kajmak in marmelade’) by Branko Djuric from Slovenia and ‘The Professional’ (‘Profesionalac’) by Dusan Kovacevic from Serbia and Montenegro.

Among the above-mentioned films three of them are mixtures of comedy and melodrama. ‘Kajmak and Marmalade’ describes the relationship of a Slovenian woman and a Bosnian man, taking as its main preoccupation the theme of cultural differences. Those differences and the traumatic consequences of the war are also the main subjects of ‘Gori Vatra’, a film based around the motif of US President Clinton’s visit to the small Bosnian town of Tesanj (a film historian could find an echo of the mid-fifties Spanish film ‘Bienvenido Mr. Marshall’). ‘The Professional’ tells the story of one intellectual opponent of Milosevic’s regime mainly through flashbacks narrated by a former agent of state security who followed the protagonist. All three films try, not always successfully, to find a balance between dramatic and comic, sometimes even grotesque, elements.

Of the other three films, ‘Witnesses’ is a crime story of a war crime committed by Croatian soldiers against a Serb civilian during the war at the beginning of the nineties. The film effectively uses a complicated flashback structure, repeating some scenes with slight variations, and this is formally the most accomplished film of the six. Low-key photography contributes to the claustrophobic atmosphere and the story functions both in pure genre terms and in symbolic ones, trying to present varieties of reactions toward war and war crime.

The main interest of the other two films lies in their effort of trying to present political implications mainly through symbolic and occasionally almost surrealist images. ‘A Moonless Night’ is at the same time a romantic love story and the political theme of economic immigration from Albania. Sometimes verging on the edge of banality, the film nevertheless develops the theme of an effort to transcend borders – political, cultural and emotional – poetically and at times very effectively.

War crimes and their consequences, but also the problem of the border and of the way of transcending it is the main preoccupation of the Turkish-Cypriot film ‘The Mud’. With some images that are the most surrealistic among all the pictures in the official section, ‘The Mud’, although far from perfect, develops its political subject through few interesting symbolic themes – that of the mud as both healing and cursed, that of survival of centuries old beliefs and even that of filming itself as a healing process, although that may be stretching it too far.

In all, one can conclude that tradition of political cinema, so characteristic of many Mediterranean countries is certainly alive and, a little less certainly, well.