by Allan Fish
(Yugoslavia 1967 75m) not on DVD
Freedom starts in the morning
d/w Mladomir Djordjevic ph Mihajlo Popovic ed Mirjana Mitic m Miodrag Ilic-Beli
Ljubisa Samardzic (Mali), Neda Arneric (girl), Milena Dravic (Slobodanka), Mija Aleksic (Capt.Straja), Ljuba Tadic (Gen.Milan Prekic), Neda Spasojevic (Marklena), Jelena Jovanovic (Ruza), Olga Jancevecka (Stana),
When it comes to Yugoslavian cinema, the west remains fairly ignorant. Essentially, it’s based around two figures; Makavejev in the sixties and Kusturica either side of the war that would tear the country into six or seven pieces. Yet Makavejev was only one of many directors at work in the sixties, and there are many whose work is worthy of some attention; Branko Bauer, Velkjo Bulajic, France Stiglic, Alexander Petrovic, Zvonimir Berkovic, Vojislav Rakonjac, Bostjan Hladnik, Ante Babaja or Zivojin Pavlovic, whose The Awakening of the Rats and When I am Dead and White came to embody the ‘black wave’ of Yugoslavian film of the period.
Only one or two of those directors have work represented here, but this is quite possibly a defect on my part, for Yugoslavian film has always been the odd one out amongst the old eastern bloc cinemas. We know Polish film, we know Czech, we know Hungarian. Yugoslavian was different. The people were different, the Romany DNA and the close proximity to Italy lent itself to exaggerated passions and structureless anarchy. Like Czech film, Yugoslavian film was subversive, but Czech film was gentler; its films seemed to ring the doorbell of authority and run. Yugoslav films rather seemed to put a Molotov cocktail through authority’s letterbox.
One name not mentioned above was Mladomir Djordjevic – nicknamed Purisa – and from viewing only a handful of films he seems one of the pivotal filmmakers of the period. In four films in the mid- to late-sixties, set during and just after the World War II Nazi occupation, he said as much about his nation’s identity and his people’s quandary as any director to come out of Yugoslavia. He began with The Girl, starring his then wife, that blonde Anna Karina of the Balkans, Milena Dravic, as the eponymous devojka who falls in love with Ljubisa Samardzic’s partisan. It would be followed by The Dream, with Samardzic returning as the same partisan. Morning would be the third film in the series.
It’s now 1945, the four year occupation is over, but the nation is moving from being occupied by the force of Nazi invasion to the stealth politics of the communists. Samardzic’s partisan is merely glad to have survived and returns to thinking about his first love, women. Several occupy his thoughts, most notably the nameless young girl who, at age 13, he’d tried to make promise to wait for him. Now 17 she prevaricates and seems to prefer a young Russian officer. Finally, Samardzic realises that the girl he really loves is the girl from The Girl played by Dravic, but she’s up for treason and about to be shot for coughing up information to the Germans after being raped and tortured.
Morning offers more than just Samardzic’s amours, offering also an insightful look at a people who were freed but not freed. His aunt, who runs a boarding house, to use her euphemism, talks of how it once would have been a place to enchant Faulkner. A husband returns home to find his wife has had another child. Knowing it’s not his, he asks “I left you with five kids. Whose is the blonde one?” She replies, nonplussed, “Hitler’s, the son of a bitch!” I won’t spoil the ending, partly because it led into a fourth film, Noon, the following year, in which Samardzic and Arneric return. Both are exceptional here, with Samardzic reminding one of the young Belmondo, and when he and Dravic discuss movies over a bridge, it becomes truly Godardian. Special mention, though, to Arneric, who was only 13 when filming. If that knowledge gives Samardzic’s line “I’ll fuck you even if they shoot me in front of my house” an awkward edge, she convinces as the girl who’s grown up too quickly in one of the great film indictments of childhood, and life, lost to war. “War is finished for me”, one character says; “generals decide that”, he’s told.