"Films are stories about people, not about ideas" – an insight into Croatian film style


In my previous post (about the reasons for starting  research in the Balkan (horror) cinema, with the focus on Croatia and Serbia), I mentioned a book titled In Contrast: Croatian Film Today, a collection of conversations, articles, reviews and interviews of some of the most important directors, films and recurring themes in Croatian film. The title of this post was taken from a conversation with one of the most prolific Croatian directors, Rajko Grlić. His expertise, as well as his innovative directorial style is described by the editors of this book as:
“Rajko Grlić’s sensibility for political issues doesn’t manifest itself in open proclamations. Rather, he tends to focus on simple individuals and their foibles, on characters who exist within a well rounded social and political environment. As they cannot escape the intricacies of their own temperaments and habits, much in the same way they are entrapped, sometimes even without knowing it, in the circumstances dictated by a specific historical and political moment. His films point to the obvious, the absurd, the ridiculous in our lives – to which we have become oblivious.”
Having said that, this is a pretty well rounded and accurate description of most films made in Croatia, when it comes to topics represented by numerous Croatian filmmakers. Most of Croatian films are permeated with a specific type of light, but remarkable and very distinct sense of humor, which gives the audience a sense of relief among the difficulties presented to them during such films, because they are, more often than not, somewhat too close to home. Different styles in directing call for different views by the filmmakers, of course, but the above mentioned themes and characters are somehow always present in Croatian film, no matter the genre. Showing the life full of everyday passions, romanticized relationships and settings, makes way for all this positivity to fall apart in front of the viewer’s eyes, slowly revealing the true state of our reality, which turns out to be not so funny and kind.
Most Croatian films, especially the ones made by Rajko Grlić, have political undertones, depicting the times in which they were made, often dealing with changes and tumultuous times in Croatia, especially concerning the war and post-war times. These films say a lot about the country, and the mentality of the people, as well as the now very visible social and political issues that seem to form a strange and somewhat hopeless atmosphere in the country. Nevertheless, Croatian filmmakers do keep up pretty well with the West when it comes to directing films, which can be seen in various co-productions and collaborations, and the shift in some of the genres, like horror, where filmmakers, mostly independent, self-funded ones, follow the Western formula of making horror films, but in a Croatian way, still using the previously mentioned characters, oblivious of their own reality until a horrific event breaks all the rules of their seemingly safe and happy lives.
“Films are stories about people, not about ideas”, the one sentence that sums up the core of Croatian style of filmmaking, in the midst of the struggle against representing the political propaganda and the lack of finances in contemporary times. Croatian film is evolving, and focusing more on these distinct themes, and combining them with contemporary issues, it is slowly establishing itself on the world map.