It wasn't all pristine beaches and Karlovaÿko beer at the inaugural Croatian Film Festival, which took place earlier this month.
More than a third of all Australians who identify as having a Croatian ancestry live in Victoria, the new home of the Croatian Film Festival. The Croatian film industry is a small and the inaugural Australian festival programmed many of the country's top films since 2003; largely contemporary, award winning feature films that have screened at major Croatian film festivals and internationally.
Festival director Slavica Habjanovic worked in close collaboration with the Croatian Heritage Foundation, a Croatian government run agency whose mission is “to preserve and develop Croatian cultural identity”, language and the customs of the diaspora.
Together with the Foundation, Habjanovic referenced templates from festivals staged across the world to select the Australian festival program that aims to provide a new focus for the Melbourne-diaspora. Says Habjanovic, “We wanted to make an event that you bring anyone along to — that non-Croatians wouldn't feel alienated coming to. We also wanted to unite young Croatian people who perhaps don't identify with the Croatian clubs and the organisations here.”
While Habjanovic purposefully selected a variety of genres to introduce the cinema to a wider Australian public, there is no denying that much of the Croatian cinema programmed in the festival was weighty fare. In the films I previewed, atrocities of war, questions of financial survival and illness predominate. The black-tie opening night film was Armin (2007) by Ognjen Sviliÿiÿa — a multi award winning co-production between Croatia/Germany/Bosnia Herzegovina. It is a story of a young Bosnian boy, Armin (Armin Omerovic-Muhedin) and his father, Ibro (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic) who travel to Croatia to read for a part in a German film. Theirs is a poignant relationship fuelled by a father's desire for a better life – for freedom and hope. It's minimalist visual style and pared back dialogue ensures the film's focus is on the actors' subtle performances, highlighting the vulnerability of the characters' predicament and resolutely defying further humiliation.
Dalibor Mataniÿ's 2005 feature, I Love You (Volim te) is a hauntingly uncomfortable, bleak and cautionary tale about a generation's disconnection and loneliness. In a stand-out performance by Kresimir Mikic whose character contracts the HIV virus, the film follows the reactions of those around him and asks probing questions about the bonds of friendship, accountability, and the value placed on consumer goods in contemporary, upper-middle class society. With a sharp editing and visual style, I Love You is a universal modern tragedy. Finally, in No One's Son (Niÿiji sin) Mate Matistic's play is transformed into a powerful work for the screen in which 36 year-old war veteran Ivan (Alen Liveric) struggles to come to terms with the physical and emotional impairments he suffered as a soldier in the war. When a dark family secret is revealed, Ivan's self destruction uncontrollably escalates and his bitter despair takes hold. A film of heartbreak and misfortune.