Saturday, November 26, 2011
H-8...; drama, Croatia, 1958; D: Nikola Tanhofer, S: Boris Buzančić, Đurđa Ivezić, Antun Vrdoljak, Vanja Drach, Marija Kohn, Mia Oremović, Marijan Lovrić, Mira Nikolić, Fabijan Šovagović
On 14 April '57, a passenger bus was driving from Zagreb towards Belgrade. Among the passengers are piano student Alma Novak; reporter Boris; actor Krešo who lost his career since a doctor's treatment made his laryngitis even worse and thus has a grouch against Mr. Šestan just because he is also a doctor; a young mother with her baby; a middle-aged Swiss man who is jealous of his young wife just for talking with anyone; aging poet Nikola; a couple with a little girl with a nosebleed. At the same time, a truck from Slavonski Brod is driven by Rudolf. 147 km from Zagreb, at 8:34 pm, an unknown car driver with a license plate starting with H-8, wants to pass the bus even though the truck was heading towards him in the opposite direction. In order to avoid the car, the truck makes a sharp turn left and thus crashes into the bus. The car driver escapes.
One of the most critically acclaimed Croatian movies of the 20th century, based on a real event, road movie drama "H-8" is indeed a small classic, a cleverly conceptualized and executed story. The inventive opening already gives a small summary of the road accident for the viewers, determining the exact time (8:34 pm), location (147 km away from Zagreb) and causes of the crash between the truck and the bus: the story then "rewinds" and goes back to the start of the bus journey and the slow build-up of suspense results from the viewers knowing which passenger seats will be fatal (at the front, number 2, 3, 4 and 5) yet the uncertainty is heightened since the characters exchange their seats several times (a mother with a baby cannot close her window, so a soldier concedes his seat to her and thus resettles towards the "death row"), unknowingly "playing" with their fate, so the audience is always hoping their "favorite" will survive while the bad guy will die.
Director Nikola Tanhofer leads the moody story with a sure hand, yet at times the weakness of the writing is not entirely hidden since there is too much babble among the passengers which is at times "just there" to fill the story, instead of acting natural, like the slightly superior example of "Who's That Singing Over There?" where practically every line of the passengers on the bus was essential to the story or simply fun. Still, numerous lines reveal fine writing ("We were poor, we had only 7 dinars when we got married. For our honeymoon we went to the cinema" or "Doctors have it easy: their "successes" praise them, while their failures are buried!") whereas the 'fatalism' of the crash is a source of gripping storytelling towards the end when the inevitable is about to happen, which is why this is a quality achievement.