Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Living and the Dead

Živi i mrtvi; War drama, Croatia/ BiH, 2007; D: Kristijan Milić, S: Filip Šovagović, Velibor Topić, Slaven Knezović

Two stories playing out on the same location, somewhere in Bosnia: in '43, Martin is a soldier in the Ustasha units who are patrolling through the woods and battling against Partisans. When their commander gets captured, Martin decides to quit the army and return to his home...In '93, Croatian army - among them Tomo, the grandchild of Martin - has to hold positions against an upcoming Serbian invasion. But just then, the Croatian-Bosnian conflict starts. The soldiers die patrolling through the woods. Vijali stays alone and has a vision of the ghosts of the deceased soldiers from '43.

Winner of 7 Golden Arenas in Pula, "The Living and the Dead" is one of those independent art-house films, but unfortunately one of those annoying ones that don't quite give credit to the "genre". Director Kristijan Milić managed to achieve a fantastic technical aspect rarely before seen in Croatian cinema, incorporating great looking slow-motion shots of shooting and fighting as well as fluent camera movement, while he also ambitiously juggles with two parallel stories playing out on the same place, but separated by 50 years - the one playing out during the Wars in Croatia and Bosnia in '93, the other one during the World War II in '43 - while he used a neat trick to distinguish them by shooting the first one in blue cinematography, and the second one in "washed out" colors, talking about some reoccurring cycles of violence that strike these areas and wreck the lives of its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the two stories are so bland, bleak and grey that they in the end just leave the viewer indifferent, with characters that are poorly developed and hardly distinguishable one from another. The only thing the viewers will notice towards the end will be that some people are shooting at some people, and that's not a good sign. Milić has a sense for directing - for instance, in one neat trick scene, a soldiers asks Tomo about his grandfather Martin, and he just says: "Ah, that's another story", and right then the story really cuts to that "other story", to Martin in '43 - but it's just another dreadful film where Croatian authors where still preoccupied by heavy issues of war from the 90s, which in the end consumed the whole story.


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