Rondo; drama, Croatia, 1966; D: Zvonimir Berković, S: Stevo Žigon, Relja Bašić, Milena Dravić
Zagreb. A young man, Mladen, a judge by profession, is invited by Fedja, an artist, to play chess at his place on Sunday, while Neda, Fedja's wife, observes them. This becomes a daily routine: each Sunday afternoon, Mladen arrives to Fedja's apartment to play chess. However, after some time, this routine becomes monotone. Mladen tries to add something new, by arriving on Saturday or celebrating his birthday at the same time, while Fedja shaves off his beard. During a firework display, orchestrated by Fedja, Mladen tries out an entirely different dimension of something new: he has an affair with Neda. Fedja is angry at him, but even after that, they return to their routine of playing chess.
One of the most famous and critically acclaimed films of Croatian and Yugoslav cinema, Zvonimir Berkovic's feature length debut "Rondo" is a highly static (and almost experimental) art-film which the director crafted in a very modern, European way: as the title already suggests, the relationship of three protagonists who always gather in an apartment on Sunday for a game of chess is stuck in a 'Rondo', an endless repetition of the same variation, thereby creating a highly charged "Groundhog Day" monotony which they try to 'breach' by inserting several little unexpected twists, but all of which end up only as temporary refreshment before they are overrun by routine again. This minimalistic ritual has no dramatic conflict or a clear plot, but mirrors the existential view of human life in general: after a while, whatever someone does, it becomes routine, predictable and stale. What was once fresh and exciting, becomes everyday and mundane with time. By endlessly repeating the chess game visit on Sunday, it seems that the time does not flow for the three protagonists at all, which escalates their desire to do something, anything that is different. Unfortunately, this monotone nature becomes slightly monotone as a viewing experience, as well, which kind of corrodes the film and loses the viewers' concentration, though one can respect it for its high ambition and class, as well as a few inspired dialoges which live it up a bit (Fedja mentions how he was a lighting technician, and when Neda laments how the street is dark at night, he jokingly adds: "I am not in charge of lighting the whole street!"; the ironic, metafilm moment when Mladen says to the two: "I am tired of today's films, it's always one and the same: two people either love each other or they don't, and then a third one shows up", cleverly setting up and announcing to the viewers what will happen to the film itself).