Here's an attempt to provide a useful guide to Croatian cinematography to non-Croatian speaking audience - avoid it for the time being!
All that was good about Croatian cinematography lies in the glorious past, that is the times before the War for Independence. After the war there was a movie or two worth seeing, but not enough to call it a mainstream. The mainstream Croatian movie is the one financed by government. You are free to take guess what that means, you won't be wrong. It means that the script is agreeable with whoever is in power, that it won't stir a fuss and that the budget is awarded to directors that may not know much about film-making but know someone within "the structures". The actors are on par with the inept direction, and they couldn't be otherwise because majority are trained for stage acting which is quite different from what is required in front of camera. The result are films nobody goes to see in cinema. Ultimately they end up on national television where they get some audience.
Veljko Bulajic, the director of "Libertas", was long out of the loop in Croatia. He was a golden boy of Yugoslavian cinematography, mostly known for his WW2 propaganda epics about partisan struggles against the German invaders. Something of a Yugoslavian Eisenstein. He is still regarded as one of our greatest directors and those epics of his are still fondly remembered. Quite naturally, he wasn't popular with the new government. Only recently he too was granted access to state funds and many were hoping it would finally result in not only a watchable movie, but a masterpiece nonetheless. Furthermore Bulajic spent almost three years making it.
Hope flies out the window with the first shots of "Libertas". This is a biographical film about Marin Drzic, a Dubrovnik-born Renaissance poet and playwright who is something of a cultural icon in Croatia. Potentially interesting story is here presented through slow and at times sloppy directing, same stilted acting seen everywhere else (horrendous attempts at archaic Dubrovnik accent at that) and quite anachronistic music and mise-en-scène. It made for a boring watch, even on TV (of course I didn't go to the cinema, since I'd heard it sucked). Too bad because there were some good things about it - cinematography and costumes.
Turns out Bulajic is no wonder man after all. Maybe he never was. His big-budgeted spectacles of the past are legendary the least due to his direction. It was more about coordinating large numbers of crew and extras than direction anyway. The Yugoslav nation was spoonfed with legends of glorious battles since elementary school. Thus the popularity of filmed versions was guaranteed, at least domestically. They didn't fare well abroad, to my best knowledge.
Just as everybody else, Bulajic has problems presenting the story unfamiliar to audience. Drzic may be a revered figure in Croatia, but nobody really reads his work nor knows about his life. "Libertas" doesn't help it, since its filled with so many unnecessary digressions and anecdotes that it's hard to keep track at what's going on. The timing is bad, the scenes drag on and on, the story tries to focus both on Drzic and on portraying medieval Dubrovnik and does it ineptly. Many scenes are filmed in the streets of Dubrovnik and Venice and one can't help noticing how horribly empty the streets are. It's either the plague swept ninety percent of the population or the budget couldn't afford enough extras. Kind of kills the ambition that "Libertas" purported to be.
So Bulajic is not that great a director after all. He's decent at best but he's old-fashioned and past his prime. It's certainly not enough to provide the inspiration for reviving the Croatian golden age. Someone else will have to do it.
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