Nenad Polimac:

Film archive and cinema in one

“Why didn’t you come to Tuškanac yesterday for a screening of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” Tomislav Gotovac asked me when we met in the city. “I know the film by heart”, I didn’t react to the admonition. “A mistake, Zagreb has never seen such a copy” Tom insisted.

I realized my mistake when I went to see Lola that evening, a film I could hardly remember or understand because I had seen it as a child. Tom was definitely right because the program of Jacques Demy’s films consisted of freshly restored copies: the black and white Lola and Bay of Angels that both looked equally magnificent. Yet the highlight was The Young Girls of Rochefort, which the legendary Ghislain Cloquet filmed in Widescreen and Eastmancolour, no less effective than the Hollywood’s own Technicolor. The French Institute took care of the Demy’s “festival” and it is thanks to such cinematic events that Tuškanac has become an important cultural gathering place in Zagreb.

I will never forget when Zvonimir Berković invited me to go and watch Marcel Carne’s Children of Paradise with him, which was screened as part of the excellent program entitled “French film during the occupation“. He had not seen the film for quite some time and the first time he had seen it was in the post war years as a young man and he remembered that it made a strong impression. Thus he wanted to see if it would still hold the same magic. It turned out that it did, he was especially enchanted by Jacques Prevert’s dialogues. It must have been then, when he first saw the film, that the creative seed was sown in our great director and made him pay particular attention to the manner in which his characters spoke as well as the content of their dialogue in his films.

I remember well the screening of Lisinski, which, exactly ten years from now, closed the first spring program in Tuškanac. I invited my good friend Zvonimir Berger, a connoisseur of Zagreb’s theatre life, to attend it with me. Namely he could tell me who the actors in the supporting roles were; who played the lead roles was not a problem, but most of the other faces were a mystery to me. Thanks to him I had an excellent guide for Lisinski: he immediately recognized not only Janko Rakuša and Bogumila Vilhar but also revealed the subtleties of the opera careers of Sena Jurinac, Ivan Francl and Tomislav Neralić. He also pointed out the rather large cultural blunder of our milieu: the film was shown at the occasion of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the death of Vatroslav Lisinski, and hardly anyone thought to mark the anniversary appropriately.

Jožica Štajner, the late and great Croatian film expert was a regular visitor of the Tuškanac theatre. After seeing a film we would often stop by the Stari fijaker restaurant and chat about films. We were both pleasantly surprised by Grigorij Aleksandrov’s Soviet musical Spring, shown as part of the directors retrospective, which neither of us had seen before. Aleksandrov was known for his musical films with lots of rural motifs, jazz and some parlour humour in Shepard Kostja were just a spice for a comedy for the masses. On the other hand, Spring was a very urban film, in which the always costumed Nikolaj Čerkasov finally showed up in a suit and flirted with the elegant Ljubov Orlova. Hollywood was spiritually very close to Aleksandrov. Spring was recently aired on the third channel of the Croatian national television, but at the time this film was an unattainable delicacy, which we would have liked to see again.

Another interesting screening was of the Polish film The Eighth Day of the Week, which was directed by the masterful Aleksander Ford in 1958 just before he tackled the Sienkiewicz’s Black Cross. The latter spectacle quite popular in our country, while The Eighth Day in the Week was not seen by anyone because it ended up in the bunker straight away (it was publicly shown in Poland for the first time in 1983). It was assumed that a story about a couple that could not find a place for love and sex did not fit the socialist moral standards. Fortunately it was a co-production with the West Germans so thanks to them the film still travelled the world.

The eighth day of the Week was based on the short story by the cult writer Marek Hlaska, who collaborated on the screenplay and later married the lead actress, the German Star Sonja Ziemann. The same short story inspired our own Zrinko Ogresta for his Washed Out, and after the premiere it was Gotovac who complained that he had copied the Polish film. That evening Ogresta came to the screening, because he had never before seen Ford’s film, to see if there were any similarities: he was relieved, there were none. What is more, Washed Out, steeped in the hopelessness of the Tuđman era was much more in the spirit of Hlaska’s short story. Namely, Ford’s film was touched up, which the author even reproached him for.

We never liked the fact that Zagreb did not have its own real Cinematheque such as those in Paris, Vienna or Belgrade, but it turned out that Tuškanac became something much more. Whenever the chance presented itself there were screenings of silent films, a generation that only heard about Visconti and Fassbinder was able to see their masterpieces, and it did not avoid screening modern films as well; the first films by Paolo Sorrentino were shown exactly at the time when he was becoming an important Italian director. Finally, even the film archive found its space in Tuškanac, because as soon as the employees of our film archive would finish restoring one of the treasures from the Croatian cinema, it would be shown here. Tuškanac has become a happy combination of a Cinematheque and an art cinema and let’s hope it stays that for a long time.

Nenad Polimac