Program of films by Vatroslav Mimica

Vatroslav Mimica – The great master of animated and feature films

The first author from former Yugoslavia who systematically and consistently
built his opus in close correlation with contemporary trends in world film.

Even on a global scale, it is very rare that the same author creates
outstanding works both in feature and animated films. Along with Walerian
Borowczyk, Vatroslav Mimica is perhaps one of the most famous cases, (it is an
interesting fact that both of them were born in 1923, Mimica a few months
earlier than Borowczyk, and both started their career in 1957). Mimica started
working in the film industry “straight from the forest”, as the expression was
used for young partisans and promising communists. Mimica was a drop-out student
of medicine, whose primary field of interest was culture. He was the first
editor of “Studentski list”, and after the WW II, having had experience in
writing and publishing literary and film critique and being an editor of the
culture magazine Izvor, he became the creative director of Jadran film.
His artistic ambitions prevailed and he soon gave up prestigious positions and
set off on the adventure of creating feature films. Even though it was common at
the time, he had not had any previous experience in making short documentaries.
Even so, his debut U oluji (1952) was a full-blooded melodrama with
elements of humor, adventure and criminal film, and is especially made memorable
by a historic sequence wherein it’s protagonists lie on a beach and create a
small family. He continued the same genre and in 1955 made an unusual comedy
Jubilej gospodina Ikla
, at times a morbid piece of work that heavily relies
on the poetics of American slapstick. It is a story about an
industrialist from Zagreb who has a disturbing dream (we only find out that it
is merely a dream at the end of the film).

At the end of the 50’s and in the beginning of the 60’s, Mimica suddenly made a
turn in his career, devoting himself fully to animated films. In the beginning
he wrote scripts together with Vladimir Tadej, and later both directed and wrote
screenplays for his own animated films. There is no doubt that along with
Vukotić, Kostelac and Kristl, Mimica was the key figure in the first generation
of the Zagreb school of animated films. It was the generation that carved out an
international career for themselves, and laid foundations of the twenty years
long presence of Croatian animated film on the very top of the world animated
production. The film by Mimica, Samac, from 1958, was the first work done
in the Zagreb school of animated film that won an international award (on a
festival in Venice!), and together with his films Inspektor se vratio kući
(1959) and Mala kronika (1962) it represents an unavoidable point in
history of animated film. Unlike his feature films, in which he tried to master
the genre structures, in his animated films Mimica demonstrated his exquisite
modernist self-confidence and always managed to find lucid and innovative
artistic ways of expression. In many cases he relied on the experience of the
contemporary artistic movements (for example Exat 51), as well as the
modern animation trends of the Stephen Bosustow studio and of the other
anti-Disney animators.

The estrangement of people in a dehumanized contemporary civilization, his
strong commitment for a better world, (as it was enthusiastically called at that
time), his opposition to the atomic bomb and war, and his dedication to the
peaceful and active coexistence (on the lines of the proclaimed principles of
the of the nonaligned movement in which Yugoslavia had an important role), were
all themes that he promoted in both his animated and feature films. In 1964 he
decided to return to feature film, with which he began his career earlier. From
his animated films he brought to his feature films not only the themes but also
the modernist poetics. Between 1964 and 1967 he made a modernist trilogy
Prometej s otoka Viševice
(1964), Ponedjeljak ili utorak (1966) and
Kaja, ubit ću te! (1967), and became the first author from former
Yugoslavia who systematically and consistently built his opus in close
correlation with contemporary trends in world film. In Prometej s otoka
he relied on association as a constructing principle, and used the
technique of stream of consciousness, which he fully developed in Ponedjeljak
ili utorak
(inspired by Fedor Vidas). With Kaja, ubit ću te! (based
on a story by Kruno Quien) he created a unique feature film in the context of
the whole of Croatian cinematic history. He created magic, stringing up a series
of barely connected narrative fragments and poetic pictures, exploring how
people’s evil manifests itself.

In his later films, Mimica gave up on the transparent modernist poetics, but
destruction, evil, intolerance, and meanness as unavoidable human traits still
remained his primary preoccupation. This is most evident in his thriller – drama
with elements of horror, Događaj (1969), based on a story by A. P.
Chekhov, and in Hranjenik (1970), an adaptation of text by Milan Grgić,
in which the hell of a concentration camp primarily stems from the concentration
camp inmates themselves instead of the Nazi criminal practices – a very bold
perspective for Yugoslavia at that time. In the 70’s Mimica made his
contribution to partisan film when he made Makedonski dio pakla (1971) in
Macedonia, and to the underestimated socially critical fraction of Croatian and
Yugoslavian cinematography with his film Posljednji podvig diverzanta Oblaka
(1978). This film seemed pretty rigid because of its theme (the affirmation
of a variant of self-governing that relies on the “old fighters”, the so-called
SUBNOR, which was the most reactionary institution of the old socialist
Yugoslavia, and opposition to “technomanagers” regarded as bearers of
liberalism), but it was fascinating in its documentary features (shot with
camera from a hand, adequate ambience and texture of photography). It seems to
be the direct predecessor of the ultra realistic poetics of the second half of
the 1990’s.

In 1961, Mimica tried his hand at the genre of historical film: in Italian
production he made Tvrđava Samograd (also known as Sulejman osvajač).
It was a free adaptation of the story of battle at Siget. In his last phase he
went back to historical themes. Within the celebration of the 400th anniversary
of the uprising of Croatian and Slovenian peasants, led by Matija Gubec, he
started to film Seljačka buna 1573 (1975), which later became a
respectable representative of the historical genre. Also, it caused controversy
because the film did not have the character of Matija Gubec in its centre, but
rather focused on an unknown young peasant. Six years later Mimica finished his
opus prematurely, (just like Branko Bauer), when he made Banović Strahinja
(screenplay by Aleksandar Petrović). He created an exciting film about
temptations of love in a time of religious, ethnic, and cultural intolerances,
which makes it current even today.

Vatroslav Mimica was the first consistent modernist of Croatian and Yugoslavian
film, a relevant author of animated and feature films in the world context,
intrigued by ethnographic and natural-scientific motives. He was the author who
brought to Croatian (and Yugoslavian at that time) cinema topics and forms that
were relevant all over the world. In many ways he prevented the
provincialization of the domestic film scene and his creative ambitions (they
shouldn’t be confused with pretentiousness that exceeds the author’s
possibilities) can (and should) still be a landmark today for our mostly
unambitious filmmakers. (Damir Radić)