Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Battle of Neretva

Bitka na Neretvi; War drama, BiH/ Serbia/ Croatia/ Montenegro/ USA/ Italy/ Germany, 1969; D: Veljko Bulajić, S: Ljubiša Samardžić, Velimir 'Bata' Živojinović, Boris Dvornik, Milena Dravić, Yul Brynner, Sergei Bondarchuk, Anthony Dawson, Hardy Krüger, Franco Nero, Orson Welles, Curd Jürgens

Yugoslavia, World War II. The Nazis, Fascists, Chetniks and Ustashe all join their forces to execute operation “Fall Weiss”, which aims for a brutal attack on the partisans and their strip of liberated territory in western Bosnia and central Croatia. Faced with crushing air raids, Tito, his partisans and all the wounded people, among them poet Vladimir Nazor, have to flee to south-east, towards the Neretva River, in the middle of cold winter. On their way, an Italian Captain, Michael Riva, joins them. When they arrive at Neretva, Vlado blows up the bridge upon the command of his superiors, their only way out. However, the partisans manage to beat Colonel Kranzer’s division and secretly cross the river, where they defeat the Chetniks. Unfortunately, Nada dies which upsets Stole.

7 million $ made “The Battle of Neretva” the most expensive Yugoslav film of all time and one of the most expensive non-English language films overall, which attracted numerous Hollywood stars to Yugoslavia like bees to honey, since director Veljko Bulajic rightfully concluded that a European movie is much likelier to gather hype when one of its minor roles, Vlado, is played by such celebrity as Yul Brynner than your average local actor. Watching such stars as Brynner and Orson Welles (as Chetnik senator (!) who says that he wants to see “Tito’s head” near the start of the film) speak in dubbed Serbo-Croatian is rather amusing, but at some point in the film it becomes obvious that it would have been better if it was not overrun by chaos and 60s mainstream pompous concessions. Still, this cult Yugoslav versions of “Saving Private Ryan” is much better than your run-of-the-mill partisan film, among others because it dared to avoid some black and white solutions and even show the heroes in realistic-unglamorous light (the partisans have to cross hundreds of miles to Neretva during the cold winter; they are plagued by typhoid; one of them, Boško, even directs his gun against his comrades after a feud…) whereas the action and production values are downright flawless and spectacular (during the air raid, half of the wall collapses on itself from a building; a military plane crashes on the roof of a house; the explosion that blows up the Neretva bridge…), many of which defy the cliches in this genre. Too many characters make this rather uneven, yet the film still has merits, among them for (mostly) avoiding the tiresome cliché that one partisan kills a dozen Fascists and only has to die himself when the director wants the audience to become sentimental.


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