Tomislav Pinter - the best of Croatian cinema

If a person exists who personifies the entire Croatian cinematographic tradition and indicates what is best and most relevant in it, then in the case of Croatia this person is not a director. For Croatian film this central figure was a cinematographer. His name was Tomislav Pinter

When you mention Swedish film to anyone, wherever he may be, he will think of Bergman. If you mention Finish movies, he’ll remember Kaurismaki, and Spanish cinema is bound to evoke Almodóvar. There are cases when a single author’s personality becomes a bumper sticker that represents an entire cinematic tradition.

Croatian film didn’t have one such dominant figure. If a person exists who personifies the entire Croatian cinematic tradition and indicates what is best and most relevant in it, in the case of Croatia this person is not a director. For Croatian film this central figure was a cinematographer. His name was Tomislav Pinter.

Tomislav Pinter - know as Pičo in movie circles - passed away in Zagreb after a long illness at the age of 82. This greatest of Croatian and possibly greatest of Yugoslav cinematographers filmed 118 movies, out of which fifty were feature films, filmed in all Yugoslavian and several west European productions.

Pinter made films not only with Aleksandar Petrović, Vatroslav Mimica, Ante Babaja, Srđan Karanović, Rajko Grlić, Goran Marković, Veljko Bulajić, but also with authors of the new generation like Lukas Nola and Goran Rušinović. He shot visually ambitious, tightly wrought art-films, as well as luxurious Partisan spectacles like The Battle of the River Neretva and The Battle of Sutjeska.

His films received three Oscar nominations, were shown numerous times in Cannes and won him awards from Moscow to the West. He had a crucial role as a cinematographer in at least three distinct periods of Yugoslav cinema. As a young man, in the early sixties, he was one of the key cinematographers of the “little Eastern Hollywood” genre films, mostly war thrillers.

At the end of the sixties he substantially enriched Yugoslav modernism, filming the key movies of that era: Happy Gypsies, Three, Roundabout, The Birch Tree... At the end of the seventies and the beginning of the eighties he worked with authors from the “Prague film school” who looked up to him as an experienced mentor. Pinter’s key characteristic was invisibility. He didn’t force his own visual style or try to show the “Pinter camera”. He was a first class professional in the service of the author’s vision who could adjust to various esthetics and different authors.

Tomislav Pinter was born in 1926 in Zagreb. He entered the world of film as a documentary cinematographer and made his first feature film in 1960 with Mato Relja’s underrated Point 905. The film’s plot revolved around the outwitting between the Yugoslav intelligence agency OZNA and the remaining Četnik soldiers in central Serbia. In the first part of his career, Pinter became an expert in war thrillers: he made Hadžić’s Abeceda straha, an expressive thriller set within the four walls of a city apartment and Double Circle, a thriller in the plains of Slavonia.

He gained his reputation as a cinematographer in 1964 with Mimica’s Prometej s otoka Viševice in which he used risky photography in high-key lighting for flash-back scenes. In the late sixties Pinter shot the majority of key Serbian and Croatian modernist films including two of Petrović’s films (Three, Happy Gypsies) which were nominated for Oscars. In The Birch Tree he used the camera to evoke the visual world of naïve Podravina and the group Zemlja, and in Berković’s Roundabout he utilized light and shadow to dramatize chess pieces, in the process almost granting them the status of characters. During that period, as a famous professional, he went on to make expensive Partisan epics with Richard Burton, Yull Brynner, Orson Welles...

In the 1990s the level of Croatian cinema production faltered and so Pinter rarely worked at home (Each Time We Part Away, Anđele moj dragi), but he was regularly invited to Slovenia where his old reputation was still in full bloom. Even at the age of 80 he continued to be active in film. In 2005 he filmed the film Kontakt in Macedonia, and in 2006 he was a co-cinematographer in Libertas.

He achieved everything a cinematographer could: he made great and important films, successfully fought his way across generation gaps and created a cinematographic offspring: For better or worse, Zagreb’s films distinguish themselves with a specific camera culture inherited from Pinter. (Jurica Pavičić, Jutarnji list)