Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Horseman

Konjanik; Adventure drama, Croatia, 2003; D: Branko Ivanda, S: Nikša Kušelj, Zrinka Cvitešić, Goran Grgić, Mladen Vulić

18th Century. After the Ottoman Empire lost the war with the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Republic of Venice, the Treaty of Passarovitz stipulated the border between them, with the line going between Dalmatia and Bosnia. Brothers Petar and Ivan Revač became orphans after the commander of the Nečven fortress killed their parents to punish them for stealing his sheep for Christmas. As a grown up, Petar works as the border horseman. He gets an order to kill aga Mujaga, but spares his life. Mujaga then brigs him over to Bosnia, where Petar converts to Islam. He fells in love with Lejla, the daughter of Džafer-beg, and escapes with her back to Dalmatia after killing Mujaga. She converts to Christianity and stays in Zadar waiting for him. But after Petar kills the commander of the Nečven fortress, he gets arrested and brought back to Bosnia to Džafer-beg.

An ambitious adaptation of the history novel of the same title by Ivan Aralica, "The Horseman" impresses only with great production values and epic landscapes, yet otherwise its a dry, chaotic, nihilistic, too long (and too dark) history film. The basic premise of the main anti-hero, a horseman, who feels alienated by both (political and religious) interests between two empires (Ottoman and Venice) and thus flip-flops between them to exploit them both, is clever, yet in this version too many characters got too little screen time, even though the film's running time is 3 hours, whereas the sole events are unmemorable. And when they are memorable, it's mostly something you don't want to remember, like when Petar is circumsized after (falsely) converting to Islam and holds on to his crotch in pain or when the camera shows the explicit scene when he cuts off the head of the murderer of his parents. Basically, whenever the great Zrinka Cvitesic is in the film, it's the only time when its excellent, but there are too little scenes with her character Lejla. One of them is the beautiful, albeit naturalistic, love sequence between Lejla and Petar, when they become intimate in his home and she tells him how she "choose him for her first time", which is a rare example of love making in the rather conservative Croatian cinema of the 2000s.


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