Beyond Boundaries: The Emergence of Croatian Cinema


Currently underway, “Beyond Boundaries” intersperses a retrospective look at the golden age of Yugoslav cinema, from the ’50s through the ’70s, with a nicely curated selection of films shot over the last decade in the infant Republic of Croatia.

The demarcation between the series’ halves is the Croatian War of Independence, during which the young filmmakers screening here came of age. It seeps through their work: It’s in Antonio Nuic’s All for Free, a contemporary fable of a wandering holy-fool concessionaire, who is introduced caring for a best friend who lost his arms to a land mine; in Dejan Sorak’s Two Players from the Bench, which follows a Croat-Serb odd couple recruited to bilk a Hague committee prosecuting war crimes; in Ognjen Svilicic’s Armin, a well-observed duet of adolescent discomfiture and middle-aged desperation, in which a Bosnian bumpkin brings his son into Zagreb to audition for an international coproduction. That movie’s subject? “It’s the war again.”

These post-independence films seem uniformly occupied with making a particularly national cinema of social commentary. The parallels in these works seem less indicative of a “movement” than of a kind of shared Balkan pessimism: There’s a laconic quality to the filmmaking, an ingrained understanding that life is at best disappointing, reinforced by a world of buses that don’t run, empty city squares, a geriatric population, and an unsentimental eye for the crappiness of provincial existence. I’ve been told that Croatia’s Adriatic shores are beautiful, but the countryside visited in these films is pocked inland turf that looks, at best, like the gutted bits of West Virginia. In city and country both it’s perpetually February, just after a pissy drizzle; the stories that happen here don’t tie together so much as hang open. But there’s a vitality—things will fall apart, but there’s always a beer, a smoke, a screw—that helps leaven Zrinko Ogresta’s Tu, a vignette anthology of bombardment, addiction, decay, isolation, suicide . . .

Of special note in the retro category is an 11-short program, “The Zagreb School,” which provides a rare big-screen outing for the internationally renowned animation of the Zagreb Film Company, culminating in a wonderful 1978 piece by near-unknown Zdenko Gasparovic, who synchronizes fluid sketches and surreal ultraviolence to a selection of Erik Satie compositions.