The Mediterranean Ambiance

Twenty documentaries, five feature films and two TV series – this is the entire directing and screenwriting opus of Obrad Bućo Gluščević

Twenty documentaries, five feature films and two TV series – this is the entire directing and screenwriting opus of Obrad Bućo Gluščević, an author who built his (in numbers quite solid) opus somewhat outside the cinematic mainstream, but always with passion and a continuous devotion to the suggestiveness of the Mediterranean ambiance.
After several preparatory stages (music high school, partisans, acting), this talented youth with impressive looks, was permanently mesmerized by the moving pictures. After his debut documentary Partizankom do Buenos Airesa (1948) he was lucky (more than inspired) to direct the 17-minute long Ljudi s Neretve (1966), which became the permanent trademark of his opus and poetics, which were powerfully inspired by the habits and lives of people from the Neretva delta. In a sequence of visually impressive scenes (fishing, night hunting for swamp birds, feeding cattle, weddings, washing laundry on old Roman “boards”), a funeral scene stands out: a wide boat containing a coffin and suggestive figure in black are followed by narrow boats filled with the family and friends of the departed.

From a handful of impressive documentaries, these stand out: Bura (1958), Između dvije prozivke (1959), Pod ljetnim suncem (1961), Vuk (1962), Brđani i Donjani (1969).

He also successfully directed feature films. His feature film debut was the short film Priča o djevojčici i sapunu (1962). Two years later, he made the full-length feature Lito vilovito (1964, produced by Avala-film), the first part of his humorous Dalmatian trilogy which also includes Čovik od svita (1965) and Goli čovik (1968). In the extremely dynamic 1960s, when Yugoslavian cinema split into, on the one hand, spontaneous author films and, on the other, the more popular repertoire films encouraged by the production houses. The popular Bućo instinctively embraced the latter. Unlike other directors, his choice was logical; in his feature comedies, he used the same themes as in his documentaries. Moreover, he did so in a way similar to how our neighbors from the Apennines, where typical Italian comedies were produced, did.

“Using the theme of seagulls”, as Ivo Škrabalo wrote in his 101 Years of Film in Croatia (1896-1997), “i.e. summer lovers in small coastal towns who entertain tourist women, only to return to the local girls in the fall (a motif he used also in his short film Pod ljetnim suncem), Gluščević filled his atmospheric comedy Lito vilovito with humorous gags and subtle observations accompanied with the sentimental tones necessary in a genre that floats between comedy and melodrama.”

In Čoviku od svita (1965) he tries to dress up the heavy topic of guest workers with saucy humor: then a brilliant young actor, Boris Dvornik made sure that the burden of certain stereotypes would not harm the film by adding his irresistible charm to it while, in collaboration with the director, making the entire film flow smoothly.

The new screenings of Goli čovik should answer the question of whether critics from the time the film was made were right when they claimed that this was Gluščević’s most ambitious project (the screenwriter was the typically Mediterranean writer Ranko Marinković). Unfortunately, the film seems to have stumbled upon dramaturgy that, as those critics wrote, scattered “in a series of fragmented and loosely connected anecdotes…” Another possibility is that the ambition to create the ultimate author film degraded the virtues of this work.

Nevertheless, as the finale of his opus, he directed the popular children’s film Vuk Samotnjak (1972). It was based on the director’s wife Maja Gluščević’s novel. She was a writer and a script girl for most of Bućo’s films. Vuk samotnjak is a story about a German shepherd police dog called Hund (which resembles a wolf) that remained in those parts after the German army left. A bright village boy named Ranko (played by the legendary Slavko Štimac) manages to bond with the bewildered dog and they become close companions. In a dramatic dispute between the villagers, who think that Hund killed their sheep, and Ranko, who remains faithful to the dog that saved his life, the friendship between a sensitive and reasonable boy and a clever animal triumphs. Gluščević successfully led this extremely demanding film project, which included a dog and a child actor, with great authority. It won several awards: four at international festivals and the Silver Arena in Pula.

His other successful film for children is Kapetan Mikula Mali (1974) in which a kid named Mikula Mali and his crew from a ship have to deal with the troubles brought on by war. It was edited into a TV series of five episodes. Gluščević also directed Jelenko (1980) a popular 13 episode TV series for children. (Petar Krelja)