Papić - the critical blade of Croatian cinema

We decided to present Papić’s documentaries, which in their quality may even surpass his feature films, in the way most of them were shown at the time when they were made - as short presentations before feature films

Croatian films have been made under autocratic social and political regimes, but even in those oppressive social and political climates critique was still possible. Of course there was always a risk that they would be censored. Unlike their eastern European colleagues Croatian directors used the opportunity for such critiques very moderately and so the criticism in their films often boiled down to exposing of sinful officials (for example in Licem u lice, Protest, Kuća, Samo jednom se ljubi) or foreshadowing the general atmosphere of apathy (for example in Prometej s otoka Viševice, Gravitacija, Živa istina, Isprani).

Therefore Krsto Papić’s opus holds a special place in the history of Croatian cinema. His feature film debut Čekati, an episode in the omnibus Ključ (1965), which portrays the apathy of a young couple without an apartment, still belongs to the mild critical approach. However, in his third film Handcuffs (1969) Papić exposed a sinful official - a local member of the establishment Andrija - and showed the fear caused among villagers by UDBA, the extended government’s arm, thus revealing the ominous character of the entire regime. His next film Predstava Hamleta u Mrduši Donjoj (1973) based on the controversial and condemned play by Ivo Brešan further sharpened his critical blade by strengthening the parallels between the political autocracy in Hamlet’s home country and the made up village Mrduša Donja, which is actually an allegory of the entire country. In Život sa stricem (1988) he directly warned about the autocratic character of the communist regime through a story about a young man named Martin who was cruelly punished by the regime because he dared to criticize socialist reforms. All these films were subject to attacks from party members, veterans and state-creating critics. In half of the Yugoslav republics Lisice was not allowed to be shown in film theaters, even though it won the Golden Arena in Pula. Predstava Hamleta u Mrduši Donjoj also had many problems with its distribution.

After Hamlet, Papić made his next film Izbavitelj (1976), which was the first Croatian horror. However, the success of that film did not lie in the choice of the genre but in the condemnation of totalitarianism disguised in the allegory about a secret organization of humanoid rats. Papić returned to this genre once more in his well-received comedy Kad mrtvi zapjevaju (1998). When Croatia became independent Papić used the opportunity to film a story about the communist persecutions of political emigrants, Priča iz Hrvatske (1991), in which he portrayed what he had not dared to show before 1990. In his last film Infekcija (2003), a sequel to Izbavitelj, he replaced his critique of a totalitarian regime with a critique of Euro-Atlantic integration.

His many documentaries also contain strong criticism. In Specijalni vlakovi (1972) he juxtaposes the poor socialist emigrant people with a rich train operator. In this program of Papić’s films we decided to present his documentaries, which in their quality may even surpass his feature films, in the way most of them were shown at the time when they were made - as short presentations before feature films. However, there is a special separate program of his documentaries devoted to emigrant issues. These films were organized into a separate presentation in order to emphasize how systematically Papić engaged with this topic and tried to portray it from as many perspectives as possible. Papić also made many commercial documentaries such as a series of films about the factory Borovo from the 1980s.

The value of Papić’s opus includes his courage and insightfulness in choosing the topics of his films as well as the expressionist and naturalistic style of his films with modernist elements. (Juraj Kukoč)