When one talks about Zvonimir Berković, the emphasis is always on the fact that he was an extreme modernist whose films are examples of precisely dramaturgically and narratively structured units with an accentuated formal harmony as well as stylistic and acting superiority. Berković is an author who paid as much attention to music as to the film itself and who intensely dealt with influences of different kinds of arts in everyday life and whose characters are often important an d great artists themselves (Dora Pejačević), sometimes variations of famous fictional characters (Cyrano de Bergerac) and especially Mozart’s music (Papageno), but always in one or another way and more or less individuals that have been crucially influenced by art and artistic habitus. He is the Croatian director who managed to transpose the perfection of musical forms onto the big screen in the best and most comprehensive way. Musical harmony of Berković’s film composition is easily noticed in his extremely estheticized romantic existential drama Premeditated Love Letters, featuring the inserted crime detail of anonymous love letters. The main motif was borrowed and varied from Rostando’s "Cyrano de Bergerac", as well as further developed with motives from Mozart’s "Magic Flute". In Countess Dora Berković complemented Dora Pejačević’s devotion to music, which is her biggest passion and in fact the only love of her life, with an imaginary relationship with a cabaret entertainer Karlo Armano. Nevertheless, he was very careful as not to harm the integrity of the real character of countess Pejačević with fictional additions, but he still sometimes lost himself in triviality and kitsch. Paraphrasing Shakespeare’s "weakness thy name is woman", we could say that for Berković the moto was "art, thy name is woman", because in three out of four of his feature films, female characters are passive objects of male fantasy and yearning, as well as catalysts (muses) of not just drama but also art and artistic creativity.
His is evident already in his debut and best film, the impressive chamber romantic psychological drama Rondo. It is a precisely structured film in line with the strict musical form from the title in which the central theme is constantly repeated with different contrasting themes. It is a film that, with each new viewing, captures the audience with new and interesting nuances hidden in the complex and abstruse relationship between the three characters. They are all lonely and unhappy people out of which at least two corners of the love triangle are extreme misanthropes and egoists. These corners are the cold, seemingly insensitive and possibly prone to sadism artist Feđa, played by Relja Bašića, a middle aged man estranged from his young, emotional and very sensual wife Neda, played by Milena Dravić. He takes the “loss” of his wife too lightly in a seductive and multifaceted game of chess with the other corner of this love triangle, the withdrawn and refined judge Mladen, played by Stevo Žigon. Berković suggests that Feđa thinks of Neda as intellectually inferior to himself and that she is merely another beautiful but tiresome and boring “artefact” similar to those that hang on the walls of their apartment, which with the dimmed lights has the unavoidable feeling of anxiety. Neda is an "artifact" that Feđa is ready to lose in a game of chess metaphorically as well as literally. However, Mladen also has some hidden and unclear intentions during the game. Namely, he is a lone wolf and to an extent an asocial character who silently plays chess in the Theater Café with Boris Festini. He is possibly an ever bigger or at least an equal misanthrope and egoist who seduces Neda only to add a love triumph to his already existing chess triumphs. We can only speculate about the motives of the three characters because even Neda, who is more superior to the two men when it comes to the human aspect of her personality and level of intelligence (social especially), as well as artistic sensibility as it is suggested, agrees to be an unspoken collateral in their game. Only in the end does she shed a few tears and shows resignation. Berković suggestively raises very intriguing questions, and intelligently does not offer any answers to them but rather lets the audience to guess and suspect, which depends on individual sensibility and emotional intelligence of each viewer. It seems that he is satisfied with “just” a formal preciseness in creating the film and musical structure.
The only Berković’s film in which a woman is an active protagonist is A Trip to the Place of the Accident, envisioned as a subtle analysis of the eternal relationship between eros and thanatos. Young protagonist, brilliantly portrayed by Ana Karić, starts to question her mostly unhappy life unde the influence of her “accidental acquaintance” Vlatko, played by the great Rade Šerbedžija. Her relationship with Vlatko, her meetings with her ex-husband, played by the as always authoritative Stevo Žigon, and her father, played by Emil Kutijaro, are merely stations on the way to her final doom, identical to that of her late mother. Jelena’s search for love and happiness is a brilliantly suggestive and well-directed and multifaceted story additionally strengthened by the exquisite music by the musical doyen Alfi Kabiljo, who made his debut as a film composer on this film.
The aforementioned Countess Dora, was Berk’s weakest film in the very weak competition in Pula in 1993 where it won the Great Golden Arena for best film and Golden Arenas for best screenplay, best actress and music as well as the audience’s award Golden Gate of Pula. In the following year, it won the Oktavijan award at the Days of Croatian Film. Nevertheless, it is less dramaturgically and narratively unified even though it is a well stylized and estheticized film that is often poetic and at moments wondrous work for which Igor Kuljerić magnificently arranged original music by Dora Pejačević. The TV series with the same title was superior to the film itself. Freely adding to some details of Dora’s life, Berković created fiction in which music plays an expectedly important role and functions as a portrayal of the state of Croatian society and culture in the beginning of the 20th century. (Josip Grozdanić)