Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Birch Tree

Breza; Drama, Croatia, 1967; D: Ante Babaja, S: Manca Košir, Fabijan Šovagović, Velimir 'Bata' Živojinović, Nela Erzisnik, Stane Sever

The blond Janica is considered to be the most beautiful girl in some isolated village. She is thin and quiet, thus people say she "stands out as a birch tree from a forest of European Beech". When she experiences a collapse in the forest, she is saved by Joža Sveti who adores her and brings her home. The local hags try to cure Janica, but she dies without seeing her husband Marko. At the funeral, Joža remembers her life: she married Marko even though he neglected her, while their child died. Marko continued drinking in pubs and seducing other women, which crushed Janica. Instead of mourning, Marko goes to a wedding the following days and starts a fight. While walking through the forest, he stumbles upon a birch tree and starts crying, regretting his whole life.

This excellent adaptation of Slavko Kolar's novel "The Birch Tree" is one of the 3 most influential movies in the history of the 20th century Croatian cinema. Although it isn't anything spectacular, this realistic, gritty and depressive film copes with heroes who live in a village surrounded by rural mentality, cherishing their customs, traditions and landscapes, but also displaying a sad story about a local beauty who is misunderstood by the primitive society jealous of her. The complaints manifest themselves in the scarcely described main heroine Janica (very good Manca Košir), the lack of plot and cause-consequence thread and a few bizarre scene (celebration in front of the dead Jancia). Ante Babaja wonderfully directs the film, never loosing the emotions even in the "bad guy", Janica's husband Marko, a bully who transforms and converts himself in the symbolic tragic ending, while the most amusing moment comes in the strange song about turkeys, cops and the death hour that comes to everyone, accompanied by random images that give it a surreal touch - some even proclaimed that sequence to be the first music spot in Croatia. A meditative, simple and "rough" piece of poetry that's cut into more flashbacks of the events.


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