Interview 18 Oct 16

Croatia’s Oscar Contender, A Tale of Love and War

A phone call from a war criminal changes two people’s lives in a film about the continuing impact of the 1990s conflict on relationships by Croatian director Zrinko Ogresta.

Sven Milekic BIRN Zagreb
Zrinko Ogresta (left) along with the actors playing Vesna (middle) and Zarko (right) in the film. Photo: Facebook/HAVC.

With his latest feature film, ‘S one strane’ (‘On the Other Side’), which has been selected as Croatia’s contender for the Oscars, 58-year-old director Zrinko Ogresta looks at how the wartime past can still have a crucial impact on relationships in the present.

The film focuses on middle-aged nurse Vesna and her two grown-up children, who left the central Croatian town of Sisak during the war in the 1990s in order to start afresh and recover from the traumas that the family were going through.

During the war, Sisak was on the battlefront between Croatian forces on one side and the Yugoslav People’s Army, JNA and rebel Croatian Serbs on the other.

The plot centres on the moment when Vesna receives a call from her ex-husband Zarko, a former JNA officer who has served time in prison after being convicted of war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague.

The drama - a story of love and troubled relationships - has been nominated by the Croatian Association of Film Workers as the country’s competitor for the best foreign language film category at the 2017 Oscars.

This is the third time that Ogresta has been put forward for an Oscar, after Croatian nominations for ‘Isprani’ (‘Washed Out’) and ‘Crvena prasina’ (‘Red Dust’). He is also known for films like ‘Krhotine’ (‘Fragments’), ‘Tu’ (‘Here’), ‘Iza stakla’ (‘Behind the Glass’) and ‘Projekcije’ (‘Projections’).

Is this, as it could be suggested from the title of the film itself, a presentation of another perspective on the 1990s war that is sometimes missed in Croatian films? Have you succeeded in your plan, as you stated in a previous interview, to go beyond the stereotype of a Croatian or Serbian director being labelled as ‘Croatian’ and ‘Serbian’ and therefore having their films seen as perpetuating national narratives about the 1990s war?

“Whether I managed or not will be evaluated by those watching the film, not myself, who created it. In any case, I have sought as much as I can, and as far as it is humanly possible, to step out of a very subjective position, that is, when the context in which you brought up is determined by the fact that I am a Croat, therefore a person that was attacked in the early 1990s. I tried so that this fact doesn’t define my film, which has generally happened with movies which were made in this region that directly or indirectly dealt with this period. I tried to be ‘just a man’ in the film and question everything from this fundamental position.”

In this sense, is your film trying to show multiple perspectives or truths, and should we leave aside objectivity and insist more on being correct or correctly showing other people’s positions or truths while recognising the facts?

“I wouldn’t really advocate so-called ‘correctness’. I’m afraid that correctness already implies a compromise, which is never good when making art. What I advocate is understanding; and in order to understand, we need to agree to step into other people’s shoes.”

Do you think that 1990s war and its legacy is still an important topic in Croatian films, even in the context of a story about love?

“Of course. I find it completely unacceptable, even immature, the request by those people who say ‘stop [dealing] with these topics’. Of course, creators should address all possible topics, but it is perfectly natural to deal with issues that fundamentally determine the lives of millions of people and their children to such an extent. Therefore it is quite natural that today we are dealing with topics that are, for example, related to World War Two or the Vietnam War.”

Does your film, in your opinion, have the potential to be a part of the process of informal dealing with the past?

“I would like such a potential to exist in my film.”

Is there any specific reason why Sisak was selected as the city where the family in the film lived before the war?

“There is. In this city, with a majority Croat population, lived a relevant number of Serbs. In addition, numerous JNA officers lived in that town, who were mostly of Serbian nationality. Zarko from my film is such a person.”

What other topics related to the war in Croatia, as well as its consequences, do you think should be covered in films?

“There are a number of dramatic themes and situations. One of the most potent creative is certainly Vukovar Hospital [from where patients and prisoners or war were away and executed in November 1991]… However, I am afraid that for such a topic it is difficult to find a writer with whom I would develop a scenario together that would avoid all the pitfalls of commonly-known things and banalities.”

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