Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Don't Look Back, My Son
Croatia, World War II. A train full of people is heading towards the Jasenovac concentration camp. One of its passangers, partisan sympathiser Neven Novak, manages to escape through a hole and run away to Zagreb. He meets an old friend there, sculpturer Leo, and finds out that his son Zoran is being brain washed in a fascist training camp for kids. Neven manages to get Zoran out of there, but the child is so indoctrinated that it is suspicious towards his partisan views. Finding a contact in a tavern, Neven and Zoran cross the Sava river where they are directed towards a partisan outpost. The fascist find and kill Neven, but the partisans manage to bring Zoran to safety.
Even though it is not as strong and polished as Stiglic's excellent "The Ninth Circle", Bauer's "Don't Look Back, My Son" is a valuable and quality example of a realistic portrait of the World War II era in Croatia, before the genre would sink into thousands of kitschy partisan (B) movies. Due to Tito's stance not to mention the Jasenovac or other concentration camps in order to preserve "brotherhood and unity" among the mixed people in Yugoslavia, a similar policy was probably pursued in the cinema which is why neither "Circle" nor "Don't Look" explictly show the conditions in the camps, just the persecution of the proagonists hiding in Zagreb, yet their fear conjures up more than enough to "fill in the blanks" in the viewers' imagination. Bert Sotlar is great in the leading role of the persecuted protaginist, director Branko Bauer leads the story with a sure hand, in an almost 'neo-realist' way, refusing to turn too sentimental or too cold, the characters are complex, never black and white (i.e. an attractive woman who has an affair with a German commander in order "not to starve to death") whereas the black and white cinematography gives a solid expressionistic touch. However, one huge flaw really burdens the film, namely the entirely unconvincing sequence where Neven meets his son Zoran again, but he doesn't recognize his face nor his voice (sure, they were seperated for a few years, but it is definetely too little time to forget your own parent's face or voice) as well as the naive way he rescues him from the training facility. As a curiosity, Croatia's ex-president Stjepan Mesić has a small role as an ustasha soldier - he can be seen some 27 minutes into the film, behind Neven, in a streetcar, looking almost like a young Gable with that mustache.