This is something very interesting - a movie recently discovered and restored from Croatian State Archive, the very first Croatian feature movie with a sound. Yes, I know - Hollywood was there already some 20 years before and even neighbors like Hungary, Austria or Italy had their own movie stars and industries while poor little provincial Croatia limped way behind them, however some time in mid-1940s there was enough enthusiasm, energy and inspiration to have this first ever Croatian movie finally made.
The most interesting of all is the fact that this movie was for almost half a century completely forgotten and believed lost. Generations were born and died without ever knowing about it. The main reason behind it was timing - it was filmed around 1943. and had a premiere next year, with biggest names from politics and public life arriving in the cinema. Apparently it was a huge success and people loved it,even for simple fact that this was first local, home-made cinema feature and not some little short documentary. However, as WW2 ended and new political regime took over, everything from 1940-1945 was seen as embarrassment and collaboration with previous enemy-state. From now Yugoslavia started as a new country and in the schools we all learned about the first Yu-movie "Slavica" (made shortly after the war) but nobody had ever mentioned that Croatia already had a movie hit earlier - this movie was finally unearthed and lovingly restored on DVD with some nice extra clips, photos and even short documented newsreels from premiere on Easter 1944.
Apparently the movie had been already screened in cinemas and shown on TV several times recently but I am always away traveling so this is all new to me - I saw DVD on "Interliber" book fair and immediately purchased it, not expecting much from some old historical document. It is supposed to be movie biography of famous Croatian composer Vatroslav Lisinski who is remembered as writer of our first opera and the biggest concert hall in Zagreb is named after him, but to be honest nobody knows much about him beyond this fact. We know the titles of his operas ("Love and Malice", "Porin") but how did they actually sound nobody can tell. So I decided to check it out last night and to my biggest surprise this is what I saw.
Movie is surprisingly beautiful visually - not only considering the time when it was made (middle of WW2) but also that it was basically made by people who had to improvise on each step, overcoming technical difficulties and trying to make something out of non-existing local cinematography. Director Oktavijan Miletić comes across as eager movie fan who valiantly tries to prettify what is truthfully half-baked idea - there are many beautiful scenes filmed around Zagreb's historical old parts (with palaces, squares and churches), lovely period costumes and quaint panoramic views of flowery fields. Unfortunately the script is all wrong, presenting poor struggling artist as a overtly naive, meek and humble to the point that viewers find him annoying little mouse (he constantly worries is he "worthy" and needs to be pushed and poked into action by friend Alberto triga who is far superior character in the movie). As for acting, it is all very wooden unfortunately - main role was given to certain Branko poljar who looks like Lisinski but can't act to save his life and comes across as poor country relative lost in intrigues of big city. In fact, everybody looks quite unconvincing from today's perspective, except supporting roles of energetic Alberto triga (Veljko Maričić) who constantly pushes Lisinski into getting on with composing and lovely real-life opera singer Srebrenka Jurinac as countess who sang and promoted Lisinski's work on the stage (Jurinac later made a nice international career in classical world under name Sena Jurinac). It would be unnecessary nitpicking to list all that is wrong with this movie today - the final result looks really naive and amateurish in many ways, however this is exactly what it was, labor of love for its creators who had no big companies backing them or superior technical gadgets to work with - as a historical document it is however a truly heart-warming little masterpiece that has to be taken for what it was, specially considering that none of the artist (including the director) was later given chance in Yugoslavia when future decades would be focused on WW2 spectacles, heroic sagas about partisans and such. We all grew up watching partisans fighting Nazis, bridges falling and villages burning but none of us ever knew about "Lisinski" and this little romantic biography of 19. century composer. Until now.
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