Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Alphabet of Fear

Abeceda straha; war drama, Croatia, 1961; D: Fadil Hadžić, S: Vesna Bojanić, Josip Zapalorto, Nada Kasapić, Tatjana Beljakova

Zagreb, World War II. Vesna, a young student, accepts the partisan offer to be a spy: under a false name, Katica, she pretends to be an illiterate girl and gets employed as a maid in the home of a bank director and counterintelligence agent Molnar, who is working for the fascists. Molner has a wife and two daughters, Saša and Elza. Vesna's task is to find a list of a dozen Axis spies who have infiltrated the partisan rows. When a Nazi commander drops by for diner, the allied bombing starts and the family goes into a bunker. Molner however catches Vesna searching for his secret files. Still, two partisans show up, get the list and one main Axis collaborator, and escape in a car with an wounded Vesna.

The feature length debut film from director Fadil Hadzic, "Alphabet of Fear" is a well done World War II spy thriller in an introverted edition, appealing thanks to a fine black and white cinematography, that 'good old school' filmmaking, fine performances - especially the main heroine played by Vesna Bojanic - and a "cozy" mood despite the grim setting. However, Hadzic did not know how to extract suspense to the fullest - even though the entire story is set inside only one apartment of the family of the Axis collaborators, it did not manage to achieve that intriguing 'kammerspiel' - which is why the movie is not that suspenseful by today's standards, save for maybe three sequences (in one, the mother has toothache during the night and demands aspirin, so she sends her daughter to get the maid, Vesna. The daughter goes to the maid's room and finds it empty, but instinctively cover her and just says the maid is already sleeping). The main tangle, that Vesna could accidentally blow her cover of an illiterate maid in the house if she shows she can read, referenced in the title, was also not that cleverly set-up or exploited in the rather schematic finale. Since the Yugoslav cinema pushed for hundreds of partisan films, even "Alphabet of Fear" seems slightly like it was ordered, yet Hadzic still did a proportionally good job at enhancing the viewing experience to a higher level.


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