Wednesday, June 27, 2007

When You Hear the Bells

Kad čuješ zvona; war / drama, Croatia / Serbia, 1969; D: Antun Vrdoljak, S: Ivica Vidović, Pavle Vujisić, Boris Dvornik, Boris Buzančić, Fabijan Šovagović, Branka Vrdoljak
During the World War II a political commissioner, Vjeko, arrives from Zagreb to Banija. There the peasant Kubura introduces his land to him: Orthodox comprise a majority in Gornji Kladari, Muslims in Donji Kladari, while the Catholics are a majority in a third village in the middle - and they are all fighting each other, instead of the enemy, the Nazis. The leader of their village is Gara who thinks Vjeko doesn't know much about them and their partisan movement. When Meho, a Muslim, is arrested, the villagers are already preparing to liquidate him, but Vjeko stops them by proclaiming him innocent and even giving him a gun to join them. They soon manage to free the occupied territory from the Ustaša and Nazi regime, while a woman with a child returns to Vjeko from captivity. During a new military action they win again, but Kubura dies, which devastates Vjeko.

For his directorial debut the actor Antun Vrdoljak adapted the novel "War Journal" from Ivan Šibl. The result is extraordinary and extravagant because the very good "When You Hear the Bells" is one of the secret recommendations of the Croatian cinema, an unusual little film that handles the issue of World War II in both realistic and surprisingly humorous way, while both Ivica Vidović and the hilarious Boris Dvornik (as Kubura) play their roles very well. The movie's absurd side is so emphasized that the story seems like a comedy at some points - except for the satirical plot about 3 different villages with 3 different religions fighting each other, the funniest scenes are ones involving Kubura. In one of them, he is talking with Vjeko in the middle of the nature while riding a horse, when all of a sudden they are interrupted by a strange noise in the bushes. Kubura goes into the bushes and shoots a pheasant, then returns back and continues: "So where were I?" In another one, the villagers are shooting at a fleeing thief from a great distance, up until he suddenly falls on the ground. When he does, they all assume they managed to hit him and start joyfully screaming, but all of a sudden he just stands up again because he was just making fun of them and runs away. Also, the whole sequence where normal citizens from a village can't wait to plunder an abandoned village also shows both the hilarious as well as tragic and barbaric human state during the war. The action sequences are very naive, the running time is short and the ending too serious compared to the cheerful exposition, but that does not prevent this spontaneous and energetic movie from turning into a small, unknown jewel.


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