Monday, August 11, 2014

Sokol Did Not Love Him

Sokol ga nije volio; drama/ war, Croatia, 1988; D: Branko Schmidt, S: Fabijan Šovagović, Filip Šovagović, Krunoslav Šarić, Nada Subotić, Ivo Gregurović

A small village somewhere in Slavonia during World War II. Šima is an ordinary farmer who kept good relationships with friends who are now wearing different uniforms, from Toma, who is now a ustasha, a fascist collaborator, up to Andrija, who is now a partisan. However, Šima does not want to let his son Benoša back in the ustasha army and hides him in his home, hoping to "skip" the conflict altogether. Benoša copes very hard with this, since he is in love with a Volksdeutsche girl from the neighborhood. Ultimately, the ustashe find Benoša and forcibly draft him. As the war ends, they find out Benoša is among many Axis collaborators who were forced to march back to Yugoslavia, but thanks to Andrija, they are able to spare his life. After years in a labour camp, Benoša returns to his family. However, startled by the arrest of farmers who are now refusing to give up their land to the collective, Šima takes out his rage on his horse Sokol (Hawk), who kills him in self-defence.

Branko Schmidt's feature length debut film, an adaptation of the eponymous play, "Sokol Did Not Love Him" caused a lot of controversy in Yugoslavia during its premiere - not only for being the first Croatian film of showing the Bleiburg repatriations in one sequence - yet it advanced into a classic and Schmidt's best film, meaning that a lot of those initial complaints were just of ideological nature. World War II films are a dime a dozen, yet the thing that makes this one stand out is the staggering way it breaks the cliches of that genre: Schmidt bravely filmed a scene where two young lads, one a fascist and the other a partisan, embrace and welcome each other, and it was not meant as some sort of slap at antifascism, but as a simple message that the two of them were friends since childhood, and decided to remain so, regardless of the two conflicting ideologies that were imposed on them from some politicians in far away lands.

The story is not aimed at whitewashing fascism, either, since it clearly shows the cruelty of the ustasha regime in the scene where a farmer is moaning for being taken away by ustasha soldiers from his village ("Why do I have to go to a camp? Why? Of all the people... Tell me, what did I do to deserve this fate?"), nor at humanizing the regime, just to show that there were exceptions as well, embodied in the excellent character of Toma, an ustasha soldier who has a heart: in one crucial scene, he tells Šima that he is proud for not killing anyone in the the entire war, since he chooses only to shoot in the air, and despite knowing that Šima is hiding his son from the army, he pretends he doesn't know and just says: "This was a raid. I haven't found anything." All this underlines the deeper theme of the storyline, namely that people should stay true to themselves, and not follow norms others expect from them. Fabijan Sovagovic gave a fantastic role as the main protagonist who does not care for any side in the war, but just wants to live his life in peace, whereas the narrative is fluent and elegant, and some wise observations come so swiftly as if they were the main theme of "Sokol" (the expulsion of the native Germans; the ever lasting change of events). The only problematic element is the black horse Sokol, a symbol for uncontrollable fate, since Šima takes out his frustrations on him, beating him, which was a heavy handed and slightly tedious allegory that unnecessarily stumbled into animal cruelty, but since it is limited to only two scenes, the film manages to overcome it.


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