Last year marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of Zagreb Film, which for a few decades was home to one of the premiere animation studios on the international scene. The Zagreb School of Animation was distinguished by its emphasis on an artist’s unique vision, its variety of approaches to filmmaking and design, its deliberate use of stylized animation, its experimentation with unconventional soundtracks, and, perhaps most crucially, its focus on making fun of the absurdities, foibles, and cruel realities of life from the little man’s perspective.
To continue this blog’s previous ill-fated format of Capsule Reviews, I will try to discuss the films of the studio’s most visionary artists over a few articles. For this first entry, I will focus on the three great directors who defined the studio’s early years, namely creative leader Dušan Vukotić, live-action filmmaker Vatroslav Mimica, and modern artist Vlado Kristl. Owing to the sheer volume of films, I may not go quite as in-depth as I have in previous articles; nevertheless, I would like to shed some light on an important corner of animation and film history that is, alas, largely neglected among general audiences nowadays. A few reviews, labeled with [popka], have been written by my dear friend Benjamin Wang; additionally, in a change from this blog’s previously-exclusive focus on animation, we have discussed some of Vukotić’s and Mimica’s live-action films, as they were very much a continuation of their work in animation.
By the late 1950s, Dušan Vukotić was the established leader of the cartoonists and artists gathered at Zagreb with the admirable goal of producing cartoons with innovative design and movement. Their initial collaborations on 1956’s The Playful Robot (Nestašni robot) and the following year’s sadistic Western satire Cowboy Jimmy suffered from wonky character designs and animation that appeared to be stuck in an awkward middle ground between Disney and UPA (the studio’s main professed influence), yet were nevertheless captivating in the staffers’ earnest attempts to make films on their own, with sporadic moments of visual creativity and genius. Progress was made with Vukotić’s 1957 children’s film Abra kadabra, in which the design and key animation were, for the first time, each delegated to a single person (Boris Kolar and Vladimir Jutriša, respectively); while Jutriša’s animation retained some of the unwieldiness of the earlier films, Kolar’s confident stylization of the characters provided a solid baseline that he and others would build on in the years to come. The same could be said for Vukotić’s horror parody shortly afterwards, The Great Fear (Veliki strah), also designed by Kolar but animated by Zlatko Grgić; it was one of the earliest films that Vukotić himself was involved in writing. Both films were also the earliest to feature music by composer Tomislav “Tomica” Simović, who would largely be responsible for the studio’s reputation for musical experimentation in the ensuing years; Vukotić had discovered him while listening to the radio for music he could consider an ideal soundtrack for Abra kadabra.
An Avenger / Osvetnik (1958)
1958 was when the elements of Zagreb’s cartoons crystallized into truly brilliant, well-defined films. An Avenger, written by Vukotić and Branko Ranitović from Anton Chekhov’s story, marked the studio’s foray into adult subject matter: an obsessive, lanky husband, upon discovering that his wife is cheating on him with a bulky soldier, visits the gunsmith’s shop to figure out what lethal action to take. Boris Kolar’s charmingly abstract designs possess an elegance befitting the story’s 19th-century setting, and are perfectly suited to the characters in their shapes and color stylings; in a striking change from the earlier films, they are animated with balletic grace by Zlatko Grgić, with pose-to-pose popping being used sporadically to heighten the drama, tension, and humor of certain moments.
Vukotić and Grgić develop the husband through not only the various clever scenarios, but also how he is animated; he is clearly an affected, calculating man fixated on his self-image, always trying to make sure that everything he does or that happens to him goes perfectly. On the streets, he obsequiously greets upper-class folk and takes whiffs of their cigar smoke, but inflates his chest at perceived inferiors like the elderly; at home, he takes the time to hang and comb his dropped coat before peeping through the keyhole where his wife is laughing. Upon realizing she is in flagrante delicto, the husband nearly opens the door but decides such a confrontation would be improper, so he settles for destroying the portrait of the two happily married (which he imagines has been ruined by the interloping soldier fading in and taking his wife away anyhow, leaving him alone)—but not before wrapping his fist in his scarf to prevent self-injury.
The husband’s fantasies, to which the gunsmith’s florid, purple-hued shopman reacts pleasurably at being able to show off the guns or irritably at the indecisiveness, give further insight into his neuroses. On his hurried, emotional way to the gunsmith’s, he comes upon a store sign that resembles the soldier’s boot and envisions his wife’s stocking linking with it, agonizing him further. He soon sadistically indulges in the idea of killing his wife and the soldier at once, as he imagines himself intimidating the couple at gunpoint by stepping like a crab and popping teasingly around them, eliciting prolonged screams from his wife by sticking the gun out randomly, and even making sure the two die just right: in a particularly inspired gag, his initial shot makes them die gracefully (to his understated shock), so the footage plays in reverse so he can shoot them again such that they simply drop dead! He rejects this, however, when the suggested gun proves too expensive.
From there, the fantasies become increasingly pessimistic. The thought of a pistol duel with the soldier, in which the latter starts out as a papery-weak, unmanly coward, ends in the husband being shot onto his coffin after he misses. Murdering the soldier from behind a bush and dancing afterwards, meanwhile, results in him undergoing a prolonged trial by a three-faction court that examines the ethics behind the murder before he is imprisoned. Finally, committing suicide to bring a theatrical sorrow out of his wife is rendered moot by how the soldier will be free to become her new husband—in a cynical moment, the soldier arrives and takes her pained face off like a mask to reveal her glee underneath, with her sobbing changing to laughter, and the two prance about joyously in the presence of the husband’s corpse before fluttering off. Ultimately, the husband must accept that nothing he does will end ideally for him, so he leaves the gunsmith’s with only a butterfly net; in a touching finale, he wanders the streets depressedly, dragging his net behind him, paying no heed to the butterflies around him even as he retains his old habit of wrapping his scarf around his neck.
Zvonimir Lončarić’s picturesque, Paul Julian-influenced backgrounds, ranging from the decorative European cityscapes and interiors of the main world to the minimal, surrealistic backdrops of the fantasy sequences, are a perfect complement to the characters, and largely responsible for the film’s quaint atmosphere; they are flattened and occasionally crooked, but also richly textured and colored, as though reflecting both the man’s twisted worldview and the romanticism of the 1800s. The suitably melodramatic, largely keyboard and string-based score was by Aleksandar Bubanović, who had composed for Zagreb from the beginning with The Playful Robot and would stick around all the way up to the early 1980s.
Concerto for Submachine Gun / Koncert za mašinsku pušku (1958)
This was the last of Vukotić’s parodies of American film genres, in this case the gangster film, and it is perhaps the best work to come out of Zagreb Film’s earliest years, if not one of Vukotić’s best works period. For the first time in his career, Vukotić himself was the sole screenwriter; in collaboration once again with designer Boris Kolar, animator Zlatko Grgić, and scenographer Zvonimir Lončarić, he creates an imaginative, satirical world dense with striking visual symbolism, inspired gags and situations, and quirky character animation, undergirded by Aleksandar Bubanović’s jazzy musical backbone. The abundant creativity heightens the impact of the theme that an obsession with wealth turns a person into an inhuman, manipulative monster.
The story centers around a conniving, black-suited, evil-eyed gangster who, in public, wears the façade and refined mannerisms of a white-colored, affable-looking, respectable rich man (even the city’s cars move to the side and literally stand at attention as he passes), which in private he literally sheds like a snake. This pleasant cynicism towards the rich is compounded by a commentary on how expendable life is in crime: the gangster possesses a secret closet of sentient puppets who do his bidding, but whose well-being he lacks any regard for—at one point he even viciously distrusts his main puppet on the suspicion he is stashing money for himself.
Grgić’s use of popping throughout the film emphasizes how the gangster and his puppets carry their deeds out methodically, such as when the gangster throws his initial six puppets (Kolar contrasts them nicely by shape, size, and color) submachine guns in instrument cases: they land in the puppets’ hands without flying in from off-screen, an effect indicative of their orderliness. His talent for distorting the characters’ forms is evident in the absurd, unprecedentedly violent musical shootout between the puppets and the bank’s wall of cops (alerted by a whistle-shaped guard), in which the main puppet literally conducts the dashed-line gunfire with a baton before joining in himself. Vukotić pulls off a magnificent integration of sound and image as he cuts between the puppets firing, conducting, or getting shot repeatedly and rows of cops firing back or being X’ed out in bullet fire before dropping dead, all to the sound of the rhythmically-coordinated guns (backed by jazz guitar); it’s exquisitely ironic how the enmity between the cops and the criminals results in a deadly, orchestra-like accord.
Vukotić’s inventive, wide-ranging vision manifests itself in several other truly ingenious ideas. The top of the gangster’s head becomes a mini-factory as he formulates his next plan, which is to unveil a statue before the bank to fool the cops (sycophants of the rich man), complete with a grandiosely incomprehensible speech and a set of servant puppets. Slipped beneath the hollow pedestal, the main puppet joins his sharp-fingered gloves into a half-buzzsaw, allowing him to tunnel underground to the bank’s vault; Zvonimir Lončarić’s sparse backgrounds are mostly serviceable, if still pleasant, but here he cleverly has the motion-detecting lasers surrounding the vault emit from eyes. When the puppet accidentally touches one of them, the alarm emits visible sound waves that he rushes to stop, taking them and squishing them into nothing. The money-pilfering is depicted as a venipunctural procedure, complete with stethoscope and a hypodermic needle attached to a long hose—presaging the climax, in which money turns out to be the gangster’s actual love, food, and lifeblood.
The gangster’s contempt towards his own hard-working assistants, puppets though they may be, proves to be his downfall. As the puppets fight over a single remaining bill like a phenakistoscope, he decides to kill them off by making them shoot it out under his rapid conduction, mutilating them into paint splatters. But as he is about to consume the bill himself, the dying main puppet finally stands up against him, firing enough bullets to bleed all the money out of his body; Lončarić’s backgrounds, with their fleshy splotches and disfigured body and furniture parts, now reflect the characters’ pain. Reduced to a wispy skin, the gangster desperately tries to grab the money back but causes one bill to be blown out the window, in turn fluttering off after it over the bustling city where the cars (which resemble hails of bullets from high above) continue moving to their own big-band rhythm. Accompanied by the morose strains of Ozren Depolo’s saxophone playing, the finale is a poignant metaphor for how a life of criminal greed is an empty, pointless, homicidal waste.
Given how important the musical aspect had been in Concerto, it was only fitting that Vukotić decided to explore music itself—its potential to unite and create harmony in the world, but also to divide and rouse humanity into self-destruction. Thus came Piccolo, a tale of two close friends who become bitter rivals in a rapidly-escalating war of noise, which partially owes its concept to Norman McLaren’s earlier Cold War parable Neighbours. With this film, Vukotić, who served as character designer in addition to writing the story, achieved new heights in animated filmmaking.
From the opening credits, the film’s color styling establishes a dichotomy between yellow-green and magenta. The two men’s house straddles this division, with the rotund man living in the yellow-green side and the lanky man in the magenta side. Vukotić and animator Vladimir Hrs use the film’s trippy, abstract world (designed with chrome-plated, futuristic textures by Zvonimir Lončarić) to establish their friendship: trees with self-conscious songbirds can be picked up and moved like sticks, and leaky roofs can be remedied by using scissors to cut the rain pouring down from clouds that wring water out of themselves. This stylization extends to the soundtrack, by composer Branimir Sakač and editor Tea Brunšmid: the overture is a ridiculously sped-up orchestra-backed harmonica solo, hands are shaken to high-pitched laughter, and warped electronic sounds emanate out of opening windows and objects entering or exiting the frame.
The friendship begins to deteriorate after the lanky man buys a mini-harmonica to play a birdsong: the rotund man finds it enough of a risky annoyance that he turns the sun off like a lamp to bring in the night and, hopefully, peace and quiet, but never tries to confront him directly about how the playing is bothering him. Eventually, the lanky mocks a stark ultimatum (“STOP”) delivered by the tired rotund’s fists violently banging on the wall between them—he knew not of any dislike for his playing before then—by playing his harmonica even louder, provoking the frustrated rotund to move time forward with his clock to begin his daytime retaliation.
In the ensuing senseless war, Vukotić creates a rapid-fire procession of surging musical gags, drawing inspiration from the instruments’ aural qualities and mankind’s own deleterious flaws. The color divide becomes a proxy weapon, like when the lanky’s piercing violin-playing jabs the rotund via the wall; the rotund’s tuba (in which a cat and its litter had previously lived) blows the house off its foundations and spins it around. When the lanky is missing a drumstick for his drums, he drinks an entire gin bottle to hallucinate a second one into existence. Soon, their fervor to outdo each other is so intense that the lanky tears one of his drums from playing them so hard with his feet, and the rotund flattens his own head from explosively crashing a pair of cymbals, which he then uses as wheels to depart on an imaginary motorcycle as the lanky dances on his piano and bangs out Chopin’s Heroic Polonaise—losing to the rotund’s massive, triangular pipe-organ.
In a final show of raw anger, the lanky screams out a song, which quickly escalates to the two men rallying crowds of lookalikes from their sides of town to sing back at each other. Through the insanity of clones flooding a small house to sing and stomp out patriotic-sounding songs, the conflict becomes a symbol for the precarious factionalism and chauvinism of the Cold War; Vukotić and co-storyboarder Boris Kolar’s sharply-designed shots capture the endgame’s extraordinary scale in a clear, graphical manner, and Hrs pulls off the feat of animating different sections of the masses singing the melodies and their accompaniments in near-perfect sync. It all culminates in the rotund crowds becoming an orchestra to perform a sped-up rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, and the lanky crowds jumping up and thunderously stomping their feet—with this final briskly-cut montage, the house is literally brought down, killing them all.
When the lanky man initially leaves to buy the harmonica, he leaves a multilingual sign stating as much; the sign returns at the end as the crowds rise up to the heavens, except he wants to sell it. This multilingualism, if not the overt Cold War satire in general, reflects Zagreb Film’s international stance from this point forward, and the reminder of the harmonica is a blackly amusing warning that even the smallest quibbles, and an inability to be honest with each other, can end in devastation for all.
Cow on the Moon / Krava na mjesecu (1959)
Vukotić’s other great film of 1959, while not as striking in its visual style and oriented more towards children, is similarly wry in its sensibility and perhaps even more remarkable in its character animation. His story, about a pudgy little girl outsmarting and humiliating a tall, lanky bully by tricking him into thinking he’s gone to the moon (in reality a quarry) and bringing out his inner cowardice, pokes fun at the paranoia associated with the extraterrestrial in the 50s, and serves as an early showcase for the exuberant, comedic style of eventual filmmaker Zlatko Grgić (assisted by Turido Pauš and Stanko Garber).
Grgić had already played a crucial role as the key animator of Vukotić’s earlier films, but this was the first film in which he designed the characters he animated, and it’s clear he relished in the opportunity to create characters he could play around with however he wanted. Much of the film’s vitality and humor comes from how the three characters, with their simple but flexible and even cute designs, move around and act amidst the minimalistic settings by Ismet Voljevica, which range from the abstract suburbs to the jagged, painterly vistas of the quarry. The bully, in particular, undergoes a variety of inventive distortions and catchy movements and poses right from his introduction, in which he bounces a ball using his rear only for it to fall into a pothole (causing him to splatter flat onto the ground) and then strains to pull it out, and always in a nuanced manner that brings out his inner feelings.
Indeed, at the heart of the film, much like the previous Vukotić-Grgić collaborations, is the endearing chemistry between the characters. From the bully’s initial contemptuous, smirking disdain towards the clever girl, he becomes curious over the rocket she builds (in a nice visual gag, he mutates his hands into a multi-fingered pair of telescopic binoculars to see what’s going on from afar), and then wants to go the moon to where he willingly has his head squished by a rolling pin to fit it inside the space helmet. This eventually gives way to wide-eyed, flailing terror and high-pitched shrieking as he tries to get away from the girl-as-alien in the quarry, made even funnier by how he soon finds himself hanging from the tail of an equally hysterical cow in a tree who evidently wants both of them gone; in the end, it’s the cow who literally gets the last laugh as the girl reveals it was all a farce, much to the bully’s astonishment.
Vukotić’s formal experimentation with stylized graphics and limited animation largely takes a back seat to Grgić’s character animation, though there is one cute gag in which the girl gets her cart of supplies to the top of the hill by running outside the film frame and tilting the background such that the cart rolls “down” on its own. More evident is his use of deft cutting between odd camera angles and close-ups in critical scenes like the ride to the quarry, the girl terrorizing the bully and the cow beneath a tree, and her cranking the cow’s tail to change his direction just as they are all about to go off a cliff, indicating that he had developed cinematic proclivities even before he went into live-action. Stipica Kalođera’s score, which adds to the film’s retrograde charm, relies heavily on the wah-wah trumpet, not only in the ragtime theme that opens and closes the film but also as a sarcastic way of punctuating the action; a mocking saxophone serves as the bully’s leitmotif, while gentler instruments like the piano and marimba are often associated with the girl, and eerie faux-horror strings and horns emphasize the ludicrousness of the bully’s fright as he believes he’s being confronted by aliens.
Both Piccolo and Cow on the Moon were submitted for Academy Award consideration in 1960, but unfortunately neither of them received even a nomination. Not until the year after would Vukotić at last be recognized, and even then it would prove to be an exception as far as the Oscars were concerned. In the coming years, Zagreb’s films largely picked up prizes at other festivals.
Ersatz / Surogat (1961)
Sometimes, landmark films do not age well after their creation, their significance almost worn off from years of praise. In this respect, Vukotić’s Ersatz, which won Zagreb Film its only Academy Award (the first ever awarded to an animated film produced entirely outside North America) and is arguably the studio’s most iconic film, particularly suffers. What likely launched the short to world prominence upon its release was that it worked as a manifesto of the ideology at the root of Zagreb’s films: to give reality a stylized, satirical interpretation instead of simply imitating it like the Disney studio was often said to do. The story, ostensibly a satire against consumerism and the popularity of quick, cheap substitutes for expensive commodities, depicts a fat, triangular man spending a day at the beach using inflatable substitutes for everything from the food to the decor; the catch, however, is that these ersatz goods essentially are the real thing, compressed into small shapes that take on their own lives once blown up.
Vukotić’s design, pushed to an extreme, Paul Klee-esque level of abstraction, blurs the line between the man’s reality and his inflatables’ artificiality, constructed as they all are of geometric, angular forms against minimalist beach backdrops (gradients of paint against muslin) by Zvonimir Lončarić. Moreover, Vukotić, now serving as his own key animator (assisted by Leo Fabiani and Rudolf Mudrovčić), animates these rigid forms with a contrasting pliability and warmth; certain details are avoided in favor of stylization, like splashes of water being represented as curved lines or how the man pops between different poses and locations for striking effect (an early gag involves him pointing towards his next location, then chuckling to the audience about being able to teleport to it). In effect, the film is about creating and manipulating a little living world using representations of reality, like Zagreb’s artists themselves did—this self-referential structure justifies the climactic twist, in which even the backgrounds and the man himself turn out to be inflatable substitutes on a blank canvas. The sudden, farcical manner in which the man meets his demise, via a single nail on the canvas, is an early indicator of the darkly humorous worldview that came to define the Zagreb School at large.
Where the film falls short of being a true classic is in its weak story material. Vukotić had shown in his previous films that he was more than capable of wild humor and biting satire, and he easily could have applied that to the issue of imitation products, yet such commentary in that direction is muted even as certain elements harken back to his earlier work: the man’s control-freak mentality and insistence on everything going perfectly recalls the protagonist of An Avenger, and indeed, the very motif of living substitutes for real people had already been used to more meaningful effect in Concerto for Submachine Gun. Perhaps the inadequate story, along with the emphasis on the aesthetic and high concept, is attributable to the screenplay being written not by Vukotić himself but by documentary filmmaker Rudolf Sremec.
The film instead consists largely of heavy-handed commentary on the objectification and control of women: one of the man’s inflatables is a big-breasted woman (an earlier ersatz woman is quickly deflated and tossed out for not being to his liking), but she rejects the man’s advances and goes swimming on her own, eventually riding off to a far-off island with a hunky water skier. The man retaliates by inserting an ersatz shark into the ocean to scare her and pretending to subdue it to feign bravery, and then by riding to the island in his boat and deflating the woman altogether, causing the despaired hunk to reveal himself as also being an ersatz (foreshadowing the film’s conclusion).
These mundane, frankly sexist scenarios are enlivened to a degree by the amusing visual gags and moments of character animation that Vukotić, as usual, scatters throughout the film. The man “rescues” the frightened woman from the ocean with an odd fishing rod that allows the woman to defy gravity and the rod’s very structure, his scuba fins leave a fish skeleton pattern on the beach sand as he steps out to deal with the shark (followed by the woman becoming an austere funeral torchbearer to signify she thinks the man is doomed), and the shark cackles with glee as it exposes the man’s deceit by deflating itself; the man’s ability to kick himself in the back of his head when flustered, the hunky water-skier flexing his mountainous muscles to pleasurably bounce the woman around, and the man obsessing over properly stepping off of his boat once he arrives at the far-off island are also highlights.
The film is also driven by avant-garde composer Tomica Simović’s jazzy, Latin-flavored score, his third work for the studio but the first that tried to break new ground. Almost diegetically, it keeps the film going in a restless, variable rhythm while drawing attention to the on-screen action; particularly memorable is the man’s recurring mumbling, sung by Ozren Depolo, which first appears as he sets the beach up at the beginning. Simović wrote to Irena Paulus that he had “suggested a sort of musical ‘mise en scene'” in looking at the film’s storyboard, and from there he and Vukotić began to determine the sequences’ time-frames and the musical categories (instrument choices, tempos, etc.) associated with each sequence.
As it stands, Ersatz remains a historical relic and early achievement of the Zagreb studio. Although it pales in entertainment value compared even to earlier films by Vukotić, it nevertheless served as a bold, Oscar-winning proclamation that the studio’s artists were out to experiment with animation.
The Play / Igra (1962) [popka]
When the drawings of the two young children (Jelena Verner and Zvonko Pavliš) in Dušan Vukotić’s Igra start moving and interacting with each other, you understand it depicts the imagination of children taking on a life of its own. But that alone doesn’t capture the short’s significance. Igra tells us something more ominous: that if imagination can take on a life of its own, it can also spin out of control.
A small seed of aggression grows into a war the children wage through their drawings. The film’s atonal, percussive music (once again by Tomica Simović) and the sharpness of the sound mixing (by Matija Barbalić) overall carries across the idea of stress, of the pressures and distractions that bear down on people in complicated situations. While the kids don’t seem to experience stress for most of the film, we do understand them to be playing with something unstable, something that would put pressure on them if they were aware of what they were dealing with.
There’s a clear, but very general, anti-war sentiment in Igra that emerges as the conflict escalates and one of the children begins drawing war machines. What makes the film fascinating is the juxtaposition of this sentiment with the concepts of stress, out-of-control imagination, and the limited perceptiveness of childhood. It puts forth a thesis appropriate to the Cold War era when it was made: that war and militarism place us in an unstable position, facing a vast amount of stressors that put us at risk for our decisions and visions of the future spinning out into unintended, catastrophic consequences.
Toadette: This was Vukotić’s first foray into live-action narrative filmmaking—he had directed a short documentary promoting Zagreb Film, 1001 Drawings (1001 crtež), in 1960—and his skill at creating the unsettling atmosphere outlined above, not least through frequent uncomfortable close-ups of the children and their actions, is all the more remarkable in this regard; special mention must go to cinematographer Mihail Ostrovidov, who was Television Zagreb (now HRT)’s co-founder and principal cameraman from 1956 to 1991, and who won a Grand Prix at the Mannheim Film Festival for his work on this film. Vukotić’s animation style, with its little character moments and gags, popping, and pliable treatment of the children’s drawings, reaches a deft maturity in service to the more disturbing material here; Zvonimir Lončarić, as usual, was responsible for what sparse backgrounds there are.
The Seventh Continent / Sedmi kontinent (1966) [toadette-popka]
Vukotić received, among many other accolades, an Oscar nomination for Igra in 1963. He had achieved great success in animation by this time, and now that his first largely live-action short film was being lauded as well, perhaps Vukotić felt it was a logical next step to try moving towards a career in live-action filmmaking. He continued to do some miscellaneous work at Zagreb Film for a time: that same year, he directed a pilot conceived and outsourced by American TV producer Phil Davis, Astromutts, with animation by Borivoj Dovniković and Zlatko Grgić—a fitting team, considering that Dovniković and Grgić proved to be the two Zagreb animators who were most influenced by classic American comedies and cartoons (more about the pilot can be read here). The following year, Vukotić was the writer of Grgić’s directorial debut, A Visit from Space (Posjet iz svemira), featuring animation by Ante Zaninović; he also helped storyboard art director Zlatko Bourek’s beautifully grotesque Far Away I Saw Mist and Mud (I videl sam daljine meglene i kalne), based on passages from the great literary figure Miroslav Krleža’s poetic masterpiece Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh. (As it happens, Grgić, Zaninović, Bourek, and previous Vukotić collaborators Boris Kolar and Tomica Simović would go on to be the key creative figures behind Zagreb Film’s beloved Professor Balthazar shorts.) By 1965, however, Vukotić was well into production on what was to be the first of three live-action feature films he made over the course of his career.
The Seventh Continent was a co-production between Jadran Film in Zagreb and Czechoslovak Film in Bratislava (now the Koliba Film Studios); it was one of several international co-productions the latter studio embarked on in the 1960s. The original story was by Růžena Fischerová, about whom little is known other than that she has writing credits on a few other Czech films; the final screenplay was by Vukotić and Andro Lušičić, the latter of whom was a theater actor in Zagreb who also wrote a number of shorts for Zagreb Film over the years. Vukotić chose to direct the film because he felt it was close to his own worldview, citing his earlier film Igra as an example of a similar humane anti-war story.
The story pertains to a precocious Asian girl (played by Opatija-born Iris Vrus) and a white boy (Zagreb-born Tomica Pasarić) who stow away on an inflatable boat at night in search of the girl’s basket after it falls into the ocean, eventually arriving at an uninhabited continent. With the help of a black boy who arrives shortly after them (Abdulaj Sek, son of the Senegalese diplomat to Yugoslavia), they create a fantastic paradise and invite children from all over the world to join them, much to the confusion of the largely inconsiderate, often disreputable adults they leave behind.
When Iris Vrus and Tomica Pasarić’s characters depart on their journey to find the basket, they take a map with them. It depicts six continents and the land masses are decorated with simplistic drawings of trees and buildings. It doesn’t guide them to the seventh continent, but once they land there, it guides their creation of a new landscape.
Up to this point, the movie is surreal. Things happen and change arbitrarily, as children’s fantasies so often do. The ocean changes color as the children pass from the “Red Sea” to the “Yellow Sea,” and so on. When they come across a military submarine, the sailors on board move in an exaggerated fashion and speak only in grunts. When they reach the island that eventually becomes the seventh continent, inanimate objects come to life. They cut drawings of trees from the map and plant them in the sand, where they grow to full size, and paper birds start to fly on their own. These bits of animation by Milan Peťovský and Josef Kluge, combined with some unusual camera angles and compositions by cinematographer Karol Krška and the charming, whimsical, at times wondrous score by Tomica Simović, maintain the dreamlike sensibility of the film’s first act.
This changes when they decide to invite other children to the island. They cut a drawing of a building from the map and plant it in the sand, hoping other children will be inside. They knock on the door and it grows to life size. But when they go inside, they find no children; rather, they find a strange, frightening scene of men fighting in the dark. One pulls off another’s head, which turns into an animal’s head. It’s still dreamlike, but no longer displays a child’s capricious creativity. It’s an interruption, an event in which a threat comes from a world the children do not control. They turn the building back into a drawing, tear it up, and throw it into the sea, where, in another bit of commentary on the inherent barbarism of combat sports, it becomes a pair of bull skulls.
It shows that vestiges of the world they came from just don’t fit on the island, but it doesn’t show why. The rest of the film does that, starting with the children’s second attempt to bring other children to the island. They discover they can use the map to communicate with children anywhere in the world, and ask them to come to the island.
The new children they invite are introduced in a remarkable sequence that shows us the various countries they come from. Each time a new child is introduced, we see long, sweeping establishing shots, and then a closer look at their living space or workspace. Each location has unique architecture and we see some of the new child’s daily activities, creating a strong sense of place. The few adults that show up are depicted with cynicism on Vukotić’s part, at times becoming the butt of amusing visual gags: in one instance, an old miser’s annoyance with the children outside his window is depicted as a hedgehog perched on his head, while in another instance a dock worker falls right into the ocean after he sees one of the invited children walking on its surface and attempts to do the same.
These are the first glimpses the film gives us of the real world, a world that resembles normal waking life more than a dream. This prefigures The Seventh Continent’s first major turning point, where it becomes less of a fantasy and more of a satire.
The turning point occurs soon after the adults have realized that the children are gone. Naturally, they panic. The police are swarmed by both parents and the press who demand to know what happened. A citywide announcement attempts to calm them: it orders them to return to their homes and workplaces and act like everything is normal, or else society will fall to pieces.
They’re unable to respond to a disruption. The initial effort to find the children becomes a government contract for a candy company. When politicians sit down to work out a new solution to the problem, they talk around it. But although what they can do is constrained by their limited imaginations, the adults in this film aren’t all just drones. At least some of them are truly distraught that their children have gone missing, and would do anything to get them back – they just don’t know what to do or how.
Though the way The Seventh Continent aims to expose ironies comes at their expense, the adults aren’t totally uncomprehending. In one scene, a strange man accompanied by women playing flutes gives a speech claiming that the disappearance of the children was divine punishment. He’s obviously a charlatan, but throughout his speech, when he casts blame on his audience, the film cuts away from him to people in his audience. He appears as a specter, whispering his admonishments directly into specific individuals’ ears. Regardless of whether what he says is sensible or not, it speaks to these people on a deep level. The idea that something was wrong and that they should have done something about it weighs on their minds.
Recall the actual reason the children left: at the very beginning of the film, after Iris Vrus’s character loses her basket, her father tells her not to worry about it. He’ll buy her a new one. But, for better or worse, she’s a child – she doesn’t want a new one, she wants the one she imagined had some value. People grow out of thinking like this. But The Seventh Continent asks: what becomes valuable when they do?
At the end of The Seventh Continent, Vrus, Pasarić, and Sek’s characters approach the adults to seek out an adult musician Vrus’s character saw at the beginning of the film. They want to ask him how to teach a seashell to play music. Other adults come forward and attempt to answer their question, but all of them are baffled as to why anyone would ask to begin with.
The adults’ inability to understand what it would mean to teach a seashell to play music places a question mark at the end of the film. The seashell is one of many examples of the children’s imagination, but this scene is not meant simply to show that their imagination has a superior scope compared to the adults’. The nonsense of what they’re asking for shows how alien a new world would be. The answer to the question of what could be valuable would be almost incomprehensible. The philosopher Philip Mirowski suggested that when you approach really new ways of thinking, “you’re going to feel like you’re in a science fiction movie…everything will look different. That’s how you know it’s an alternative.”
The film closes with a shot of the adults attempting to follow the children as they drift back out to sea. The children float on their impossible watercraft while the adults wade through the ocean, unadapted to the new possibilities before them. We don’t see if any of them catch up; but if they could, it would require them to ask questions and consider possible futures so extensively as to push the limits of nonsense.
In a testament, perhaps, to both Yugoslavia’s relatively stable position in the Cold War and Vukotić’s prestige as the country’s only Oscar-winning filmmaker, the film’s remarkable cast of multinational children was achieved by asking foreign diplomats based in Belgrade and Zagreb if they would allow their children to appear in the film. Most of the scenes on the titular continent were filmed on the beaches of Ulcinj in Montenegro, with the film’s cast and crew living there for two months (additional scenes were filmed in Rijeka in Croatia); the scenes in the real world, meanwhile, were purportedly filmed in both Czechoslovakia and Croatia, specifically the cities of Bratislava, Brno, Zagreb, and Pula. To achieve the important special effect of the children sailing through the ocean on objects that could not float otherwise, an underwater technical device that could carry those objects around was set up in the ocean surrounding Ulcinj.
Unfortunately, The Seventh Continent was not a success upon its release on 12 July 1966; perhaps its combination of children’s fantasy, biting satire, and metaphorical contemplation on humanity did not appeal to general audiences. By the following year, Vukotić had returned to Zagreb Film, where he continued to experiment with combining animation and live-action over the next decade in a series of five films (A Stain On His Conscience, Opera Cordis, Ars Gratia Artis, Gubecziana, and Grasshopper). Sadly, almost none of these later works are available in watchable copies at the present moment; in any case, it would be years before Vukotić directed another predominantly live-action feature film.
Unlike the other great directors at Zagreb, Vatroslav Mimica was neither a designer nor an animator: his interest was always in filmmaking, first and foremost. Mimica had previously been a medical student, serving in the medical corps of the Partisans during World War II, but worked as a literary and film critic on the side; on this basis, he was appointed general manager of Jadran Film in 1949, only to step down after two years so that he could concentrate on making his own films. His first feature films were the 1952 melodrama In the Storm (U oluji) and the 1955 black comedy The Jubilee of Mr. Ikel (Jubilej gospodina Ikla), both of which largely conformed to genre conventions but had hints of originality; by 1957, he and his production designer on those films, Vladimir Tadej, had joined Zagreb Film as a writing team, creating the screenplays for Dušan Vukotić’s Cowboy Jimmy and several of Nikola Kostelac’s films. The following year, having already directed a conventional Disney-esque short The Scarecrow (Strašilo), Mimica began creating a string of animated films in which he established his identity as one of Yugoslavia’s first modernist filmmakers, using Zagreb Film’s creative freedom to experiment with depicting the inhumanity and alienation of modern life in strikingly abstract, powerful ways; on all these films, his main collaborators were designer Aleksandar Marks and animator Vladimir Jutriša. Mimica himself stated, in an interview with Kinoeye‘s Andrew James Horton, that their approach was “a reaction to the ideologism and regimentation of the time. For me it was a form of resistance.”
Happy End (1958)
For his first major work, Mimica and co-writer Vladimir Tadej sought to make a bold statement against the potential outcome of the Cold War by inverting the very temporal structure of film. With Jutriša, scenographer Zlatko Bourek, and Slovene composer Bojan Adamič, Mimica portrays a reversal of the Earth’s destruction and decay from nuclear war as a broken statue comes to life and journeys through time to return to its original position: the titular happy end turns out to be the peace that preceded the onset of war.
The film opens with a long pan through the debris-littered cosmos, titled “Finis”; a recurring motif of a backwards-turning pendulum clock, accompanied by a repetitive, slightly anxious piano-backed melody, makes its first appearance, establishing that time is being reversed. This leads to a scene of asteroids flying towards a planet in shambles—soon, the Earth is re-assembled.
As if reversing time was not already a remarkable idea in itself, Mimica structures the entirety of the film from this point on as a single extended long take, adding to the sense that we, the audience, are participating in this backwards tour through the desolated Earth and witnessing its revitalization right before our eyes. In the first brilliant sequence of animation by Jutriša and beautiful, surrealist-inspired scenery by Bourek, a tornado suddenly rises out of the cracked landscape in front of us and whirls away into the sky; the landscape then rejoins itself, and its sediments reintegrate into numerous cragged structures and skeletons that litter the war-torn plains. Adamič’s score goes from dramatic terror at the sight of the tornado to playfulness as the rock formations initially reassemble, finally giving way to somber, somewhat ethereal choral music that emphasizes both the tragedy of the situation and the miraculousness of the reintegration as the film pans across the disfigured remains of civilization.
Amidst the debris are two mangled halves of a bow that suddenly come to life and straighten themselves out, clearly startled by our gaze; to a triumphant timpani, the bow summons its other pieces back one-by-one, finally becoming a broken-up archer statue who serves as our companion from now on. Mimica’s decision to use a statue in this manner is perhaps a meaningful one: statues are typically intended to memorialize the humans they are built after, and thus the statue here—with its generalized, futuristic design by Aleksandar Marks, its bow nonetheless signifying it represents the ideals of a bygone time—can be seen as the sole remnant of humanity at large in this post-apocalyptic world.
At first, the statue’s separation into four pieces (the head, the right arm with the bow, the right leg, and the remainder of the body) allows it to move somewhat like a real human as it walks along, looks around, and witnesses the reassembly of two signs pointing ahead, much to its satisfaction; Jutriša appropriately gives the movement a slow, measured, graceful pace. This turns, however, into shock and panic as the statue discovers another region of the world’s twisted remains, with its head frantically examining the destruction after the other pieces seem to recoil and float off into the distance on their own. In the face of such hopelessness, the statue’s pieces reconvene only to collapse and roll on the ground pathetically, coming to a despaired standstill.
Time continues to reverse, and soon a city of dilapidated, disordered ruins of 1950s life (more impressive craftsmanship by Bourek) rises up around the statue, the rejuvenation continuing as the amazed statue floats onward to the bittersweet strings of Adamič’s score; in another display of his versatility, Jutriša does not simply repeat the earlier sedimentary reintegration, but animates objects like buildings, doors, and photos actually regrowing out of thin air. In one lyrical sequence, he animates the silhouette of a crib rising up such that its two halves almost consciously rejoin each other to a delicate soprano vocal; its pieces and those of the surrounding children’s playroom then pop back into place as a charming children’s song begins, with a cymbal-crashing clown doll briefly coming back to life and playing along with it.
Finally, the statue’s pieces disperse as it reaches its destination, which pertinently turns out to be another children’s playroom—with one final reversal of time, a catastrophic explosion and its hazy aftermath are reversed, bringing the statue and the entire city back to its former glory. Taken together, Happy End is perhaps not simply an anti-war film, but also Mimica’s plea not to take our world and its beauty for granted, and to consider the numerous innocent children whose lives and futures will be destroyed if a nuclear war comes to fruition.
Incidentally, less than a decade later the Czech filmmaker Oldřich Lipský would produce an entire feature film based around the concept of reversing the course of events, also titled Happy End. Whether or not he was directly inspired by Mimica’s film is unknown, although his film certainly has a different, more humorous plot from Mimica’s, pertaining to a wife-butcherer named Bedřich Frydrych (Vladimír Menšík) and his journey from the guillotine to his mother’s womb.
The Loner / Samac (1958)
This was the landmark short in which Mimica established the elliptical, enigmatic form of filmmaking that would characterize his best works over the next decade or so, with its almost-documentary focus on and stylization of the plight of the individual in an oppressive, disorienting modern world. The screenplay, by Mimica and Ivo Vrbanić, eschews a standard plot in favor of conveying the psyche of a lonely office worker as he suffers from the mechanized civilization around him and reconsiders his standing in life; towards this end, Mimica plays around with the flattened perspective of the film’s attractive, unabashedly chaotic yet well-composed world, designed by abstract painter Rudolf Sablić.
Swiss sound engineer Kurt Grieder’s abrasive musique concrète soundtrack makes its presence known from the start of the film, with its industrial cacophony of loud typewriters and ominous, almost melodic whirring as the film’s opening credits are typed out. In the first of several such remarkable scene transitions over the course of the film, Mimica enters into the cartoon proper with a live-action rippling effect, as though the camera were passing through a frosted-glass window into the office worker’s life.
The office is unflatteringly depicted as a grimy, cluttered space, where desks are nothing more than wood-textured rectangles at which the largely-emotionless workers noisily type away all day; layered on top of them are endless flashes of the alphanumeric lines and scattershot numbers they bang out, the literal noise pollution emphasizing the inhumanity of their working conditions. Aleksandar Marks’s geometric, flatly-colored, largely dot-eyed designs for the workers, in tandem with how Vladimir Jutriša only animates their arms and typewriters, add to the impression that they are little more than superficially-different, robotic ciphers within the system.
The one typist who is clearly anxious about the situation sits at the very center of the room. He is set apart from the others by his numerous subtle yet uncomfortable glances (Marks suitably gives him wide, full-bodied eyes) and the way he takes a break from typing to sigh; not even the reassuring, almost flirtatious smile of the woman who sits next to him can assuage his discomfort. Soon, Jutriša animates the man’s panicked neuroses as he sees his fellow workers morph into gears and other factory machinery that gradually enlarge, surround him, and grind against him, the noisy typing giving way to perturbing bursts of low-pitched electronic sounds; only at the end of the workday do they disappear, leaving his mangled body behind.
The loner walks home solemnly in a state of despondency, ignoring the woman’s advances towards him; Mimica and Sablić portray the city as being little different from the loner’s workplace, with its mess of painted autumn-colored rectangles against a filthy, inscrutable, somewhat industrial wasteland. Initially, the loner wanders through an undefined street where multiple cars zoom by in different directions; each car that passes in front of the loner changes his size and position relative to the cars, with his overall indifference towards the abrupt changes serving as a potent illustration of how it matters not to him where he stands in this dystopian society. He is soon disturbed by electric screeches and warbles that take the form of abstract, colorful, vaguely biological structures throughout the city, and then attacked by an onslaught of flying newspapers as the scenery grows even more chaotic and collage-like; his attempt to take refuge at the top of a streetlight is sabotaged as the city explodes in a morass of cars, newspapers, and lights.
Mimica innovatively transitions to the next sequence by having the loner’s door arrive like a stretcher to rescue him and bring him to his bedroom, where he is irritated by the city’s increasingly loud and tense buzzing outside his window even as he falls asleep. Thus begins an extended oneiric interlude in which the loner’s desires to overcome the horrors of the modern world and truly embrace his humanity are fully elaborated upon: in his dreams, his bedroom becomes a refractive mosaic through which he can fly and change his size, allowing him to enter an ideal version of the city dominated by vivid, nature-like green hues. It’s a city where clouds and rooftops are his stepping stones, where he can defy gravity and stretch his legs and teleport from one building to another, where he can wipe away the city’s unpleasant noises by swinging himself around like a clock hand, where he can literally tear up the roads of moving buildings blocking his path.
Even at the dreary office where he works, the loner is at least given a peaceful desk far away from the others; when the woman from earlier tries sliding up next to him, just a few unpleasant glances are all he needs to make her recede into the background and disappear, and he proceeds to abort the workday altogether by smashing his typewriter with his fist. The loner’s newfound freedom gives way to a tour-de-force of pliable, imaginative animation by Mimica, Marks, and Jutriša as he revels in what he sees as his fantastic, self-contained personhood, accompanied by Grieder’s warped, beeping soundtrack of sped-up jaunty music: multiplying himself, he takes on various trippy forms ranging from a kaleidoscope to a series of stacked pumps, all while the outlines of his face and even his appendages and pajama stripes grow and connect to further his reproduction.
It is as multiple copies of his face are dancing with each other, however, that he comes to a revelation: being a unique person does not mean much if you do not have someone else to share your personality with. His dream soon becomes a nightmare—a transition punctuated by high-pitched grinding noises—as he desperately seeks out any kind of companionship amidst a blackened backdrop, whether it be the noises he once reviled, the woman he once rebuffed, or even a white square that proves to be his exit from the dream world.
Mimica closes the film on an optimistic note. Morning has arrived in the real world, and the loner, now imbued with newfound life and purpose, gaily dresses for work, prances down the stairs, and has a grand time with the city’s cars, finally rolling the city up like a scroll and hugging it; Sablić’s backdrops are now painted in bright, candy-like colors, and Grieder underscores the loner’s happiness with sped-up big band music and scatting. He is soon joined on the other side of the city scroll by the office woman, and at last they hold hands romantically—amidst the horrors of the modern world, there is still some beauty and goodness to be found, and it certainly helps to have relationships with others who care about you in return.
The Inspector is Back! / Inspektor se vratio kući! (1959) [popka]
In this short, a police inspector (designed by Aleksandar Marks, as usual) ventures into a dark city to pursue a criminal who is depicted only as a cackling fingerprint. The city (crafted by Zlatko Bourek) is composed of haze, angles, and layers of drawings, textures, and photographs. The inspector, as he explores, moves along a two-dimensional plane while the background shifts behind him: there’s a disconnect between his movement (once again by Vladimir Jutriša) and the destinations he actually reaches. He slides across the screen in seemingly random directions, contorting himself in strange ways but apparently not achieving anything purposeful. He finds his criminal eventually, but only by coincidence.
When they meet, the film gives us a jolt. The inspector attacks the criminal with extreme brutality, and then we simply return to the inspector’s apartment. We see him doing what he was doing at the beginning of the film. Nothing has changed. The apparent fracture between the events in the inspector’s life—between his ferocious violence and the way it apparently doesn’t faze him at all—is mirrored in how the film depicts characters other than the inspector. We see them fractured, one part at a time: a fingerprint, an eye, a pair of lips.
Something is amiss about the connection between the inspector and the world around him. On one level there’s the aimlessness of his movement, as well as its isolation to a plane separate from the rest of the film’s world. On the other is his mind, so detached from what’s happening around him. We might ask why this is, but the film isn’t trying to answer that question. It’s interesting, though, that the character is a police inspector. He’s not just another person, but a part of the world’s architecture. The relationship between objective difficulty of movement and his subjective emotional detachment is apparently nonlinear. Neither causes the other; rather, they feed on each other.
Toadette: Arguably the best of Mimica’s animated films pertaining to dehumanization in modern society, and the first to demonstrate his live-action proclivities by way of the photographic art design; Kurt Grieder comes up once again with a brilliant soundtrack, featuring a theme song in which singer Gabi Novak vocalizes the syllables of “monotony” as a reflection of the inspector’s state of mind. The Mimica-Marks-Jutriša-Bourek quartet also created two other short films in 1959; these were less ambitious, more lighthearted satires that displayed Mimica and his team’s knack for poking fun at society with amusing visual gags and playful character animation. At the Photographer’s (Kod fotografa) focuses on a photographer’s attempts to get his depressed customer to smile, complete with demented, bizarre collages of real-life smiles; in the end, the frustrated photographer decides to take a picture of the sad man as-is, with the closing twist being that the man’s expression is what makes him smile. The Egg (Jaje), meanwhile, plays around with the idea that a work of art’s value and greatness is purely subjective, with a peacock-like man laying an egg that he considers his masterpiece only to have it continually “improved” upon by observers who add their own accessories; ultimately, the egg is crushed beneath the weight of the various objects, and the once-celebrated assemblage is promptly discarded by museum cleaners as trash.
Scenes from At the Photographer’s and The Egg, the two other films to come from Vatroslav Mimica and his team in 1959.
Everyday Chronicle / Mala kronika (1962)
Mimica did not direct anything for Zagreb Film in 1960. His only contribution to the studio that year was the screenplay for a Disney-esque children’s film, Spring Sounds (Proljetni zvuci), the first film to be directed by Aleksandar Marks and Vladimir Jutriša as a duo; it was a sequel to Dušan Vukotić’s 1957 film Magic Sounds (Čarobni zvuci), which also featured design by Marks and animation by Jutriša but was written by Andro Lušičić. As it happened, Mimica had accepted an Italian producer’s offer to direct a historical epic, Suleiman the Conquerer (Solimano il conquistatore), based on the Siege of Szigetvár in 1566 that blocked the Ottoman advance towards Vienna; the film was a box office success upon its release in 1961, but Mimica wisely decided he did not want to spend his career directing such films. That same year, he would return to directing Marks and Jutriša at Zagreb with Perpetuum & Mobile, Ltd., a rather simplistic film (produced in black-and-white and not in color) about a worker’s troubles with the factory; with its fairly brilliant, collage-like use of cutouts of actual factory machinery, it served as a good test run for what would be Mimica’s crowning achievement at Zagreb.
Everyday Chronicle was the ultimate expression of Mimica’s modernist style in animation, and the bridge between his animated work and the live-action features he did afterwards. As indicated by the title, it is essentially a haunting audiovisual portrait of everyday life in the modern world, with its mechanized rhythm of colorless, dehumanized workers going about their day emotionlessly amidst a disillusioning urban decay. Perhaps underlining how special the film was, Mimica brought in fellow live-action screenwriter and filmmaker Zvonimir Berković—himself later famous for the 1966 film Rondo—to help him write the screenplay.
The main element that sets the film apart from Mimica’s earlier cartoons—and from any other cartoon Zagreb ever produced—is the way each shot is clearly composed of different layers of dark, alluringly shabby, almost lifelike artwork by painter Mladen Pejaković, against which Aleksandar Marks’s contrastingly flat characters leave visible real-life shadows. This innovative media mixture is furthered by the extensive use of cutouts, collages, and photographs of actual objects for various non-sentient elements in the film, ranging from the automobiles constructed of factory parts to the signs and poles on the streets to even the food eaten by the populace during their lunch break. It may well have been the case that cameraman Zlatko Sačer shot the film using a special animation stand, which also allowed Mimica to exploit lighting and depth-of-field blurring in several scenes for a cinematic effect; altogether, Mimica and his collaborators create an astonishingly multi-layered world caught between abstraction and realism, perfectly capturing the clutter and hopelessness of a nakedly industrial modernity.
The film opens as automobiles drive through the city, coming to a halt at an intersection; these are quickly followed in turn by several miniature automobiles making their way through the spaces between the larger ones for ideal stopping points, establishing the city’s congestion. A deft 90-degree camera rotation reveals lines of pedestrians passing by the automobiles; with their flat, monochrome, robotic designs by Marks, fittingly limited movement by Vladimir Jutriša (only their legs are animated as they move up and down from their static upper bodies to simulate walking), and the way that sound editor Lidija Jojić ingeniously has them walk along to the sounds of squeaking machinery and high-pitched beeping, they are no less cold and mechanical than the automobiles. So broken are they as humans that, whenever they come to a sudden halt themselves, they pay no heed to how the momentum causes their heads to snap off and continue bouncing forward, often ending up on others’ bodies or even the ground.
At the very bottom, it seems, of the city, on a precarious sidewalk between two lanes of automobiles, are a blind organ-grinding beggar (whose organ sounds like a harmonica) and his cute dog, whose role is to hold the beggar’s hat out as the lines of pedestrians drop coins into it as a matter of routine. Unlike the humans in the film, in some nice contrasts by Marks and Jutriša, the dog is colored a vivid pink and capable of emoting through his facial expressions and body—and he is clearly bored of his life, with an obvious desire to run off on his own. His opportunity comes amidst the commotion caused by the chilling, rather graphic death of a pedestrian run over by an automobile (his head is reduced to a bloody mess), leaving the poor beggar to helplessly feel around and eventually open a compartment in the organ with a newspaper featuring a “lost dog, reward if found” ad; this becomes an intertitle throughout the film, a sporadic reminder of the dog’s true identity. In an ominous bit of foreshadowing, the unpleasant noise heard shortly after the vehicular collision as the crowds move closer to the scene resembles a dog’s whimpering.
Now on his own, the dog is initially intimidated at his different surroundings, but as it happens he has taken the beggar’s hat with him. Donning it allows him to pass into the crowds of mechanical pedestrians unnoticed, walking mechanically with them on his hind legs: none of the citizens feel anything more than indifference towards the idea that a pink dog has joined their ranks. The dog himself has trouble adapting to this inhuman world, with a subdued energy in his curiosity towards it: he sees one citizen’s head fall onto the ground and puts it back into place for him, whereupon the citizen responds by simply greeting him as though nothing unusual had happened, and on the subway he attempts to conform to how the citizens sway back and forth from the train’s hunting oscillation. At the factory, the citizens function as though they were part of the actual machinery, continuously moving up and down in one spot; they have only a short time to eat lunch in their crowded workspaces, and the food is served to them as though it arrived on conveyor belts. The sequence ends with a distorted view of them behind a multi-colored frosted-glass window: the addition of unique colors to the workers and the misshaping of their forms almost seems like an indication of the people they could be, were they not trapped in this miserable existence.
The closest the film gets to a poetic interlude is after the workday has ended. The street lamps light up one by one as though they were spotlights, revealing that wives have been waiting for their husbands. The cacophony of urban noise that quickly takes over as the husbands arrive, however, along with the couples’ blank expressions as they reunite and walk home together and how even the dog finds a girl to walk with, make it clear that even this seeming display of affection has become just another part of a vacuous daily routine.
Mimica and Sačer open the film’s denouement by showcasing the even worse congestion of the city at night, with layers of automobiles and buildings piling onto each other in quick succession before the pedestrians begin walking over it all. The blind beggar is close by, grinding his organ; soon, all that separates the pink dog and his master is a single street. Alas, the dog, with all his dehumanizing experiences in the industrial society, is so excited about returning to his master that he jumps right into the busy street—the earlier fatal incident is repeated, but this time the dog is the victim.
Even aside from the bitter irony of the situation—the very event that had set the dog free to venture out into this alienating world proved to be his demise—the manner in which the citizens proceed to repeat the exact same brief acknowledgement they had given to the earlier pedestrian, donning black hats as the ambulance arrives to take the corpse away (underscored by a powerful orchestral rendition of Chopin’s Funeral March) and then simply turning in the other direction, is perhaps the ultimate expression of how inured they have become to the cruelties of their everyday life. There is no attempt to put an end to the tragedies and injustices, nor is there anyone willing to speak up against them; it is far easier to simply ignore it all and get used to it.
The film closes just as it had begun, albeit on a far bleaker note: the citizens and automobiles simply drive on with their meaningless, industrial, gray lives, with no end in sight to the relentless sounds of squeaking machines and beeps and metallic clanking. The poor blind beggar continues grinding his organ, hoping in vain that his dog will return soon; he may never know what truly happened.
The same year as Everyday Chronicle, Mimica began transitioning back to a full-time career in live-action film, directing the 17-minute short Telephone (Telefon) about an isolated man (played by Vanja Drach) in a shabby apartment who is unable to soak his feet in peace because the phone keeps ringing with no one on the other end of the line. It was Mimica’s first collaboration with the great cinematographer Tomislav Pinter, who would play an important role in Mimica’s films afterwards.
The following year saw Mimica’s final animated film with Aleksandar Marks and Vladimir Jutriša, Tifusari, a visualization of Croatian poet Jure Kaštelan’s elegy to the Partisans in World War II who fell victim to typhus. Here, Jutriša brings Marks’s take on the aesthetic of German Expressionist prints to life in an encore of his earlier fine work in Happy End; clearly intended as Mimica’s homage to his own fallen comrades, it remains a fascinating one-off in his animated oeuvre. Mimica also directed an 11-minute live-action film, The Marriage of Mr. Marzipan (Ženidba gospodina Marcipana), which is purportedly a continuation of his earlier satirical cartoons at Zagreb: the film concerns a self-sufficient groom who does not notice or care that his bride is a headless doll, and it is said to playfully use color to depict the world in a kitschy, artificial manner, with scenography by Everyday Chronicle‘s Mladen Pejaković and cinematography by Croatian film pioneer Oktavijan Miletić (with whom Mimica had collaborated years before on The Jubilee of Mr. Ikel). In any case, it would only be a matter of time before Mimica’s name at last came to prominence in international film circles.
Monday or Tuesday / Ponedjeljak ili utorak (1966)
From 1964 to 1967, Mimica embarked on a trilogy of feature films (all produced at Jadran Film) in which, drawing upon his experience in animation, he fully embraced the modernist currents that ran through European art cinema at this time, of which the French New Wave was the foremost representative. One notable aspect of these films is their continuity with Mimica’s animated works, whether in their themes involving disillusionment from society or in the prominent roles of certain artists who had worked (or would work) at Zagreb Film.
The first of these films was 1964’s Prometheus from the Island of Viševica (Prometej s otoka Viševice). The film pertains to a middle-aged Communist and director of the Promethaeus company in Zagreb, Mate Bakula (played by Janez Vrhovec), who returns to his home island Viševica to attend a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the post-WWII revolution. Upon his arrival, he begins to experience flashbacks of his often-unpleasant past on the island and how, in spite of having been a devoted Partisan in his youth (Slobodan Dimitrijević), he became disillusioned with trying to make a positive difference as a Communist party official.
In an unusual move, Mimica once again called upon his collaborator in animation, Aleksandar Marks, to create concept drawings and even storyboard the film. The screenplay was co-written by Mimica, fellow ex-Partisan and journalist Slavko Goldstein, and screenwriter and poet Krunoslav “Kruno” Quien; the great Željko Senečić was responsible for the scenography, Maja Jeričević was the costume designer, and Katja Majer was the editor responsible for deftly interweaving the present-day scenes and the flashbacks into a single narrative. Cinematographer Tomislav Pinter achieved the fittingly hazy, dreamy, and high-contrast look of the flashbacks by filming them with 10 ASA negative film (of very low sensitivity to light); aside from the fragmented narrative structure, what is most striking about the film is the ethnographic approach Mimica and Pinter took in sporadically focusing on the beauty, intricacies, and hardships of traditional life on the Dalmatian islands, complete with characters speaking in dialect.
While rough around the edges, Prometheus was nevertheless an important step in Mimica’s advancement as a filmmaker, garnering a Big Golden Arena for Best Film at the Pula Film Festival for its modernism. He would soon follow this up with an even more daring effort that remains one of his most satisfying achievements as a filmmaker, if not one of the greatest films to come out of Yugoslavia in the 1960s.
Monday or Tuesday, based on a 1961 novel by journalist-novelist Fedor Vidas, derives its title and basis from a statement in the English modernist writer Virginia Woolf’s essay Modern Fiction: “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday.” The film, co-written by Vidas and Mimica, is a vivid portrait of Marko Požgaj (Slobodan Dimitrijević), a troubled journalist in Zagreb, as he goes through what seems to be a fairly typical day of his life only for a variety of thoughts and images—sporadic or provoked by his surroundings, at times fantastic and at times based on his memories (or even both at once), occasionally pleasant but more often unsettling and even tragic—to pass through his mind along the way. Katja Majer once again did a fantastic job as the editor; costume designer Martin Pintarić, meanwhile, was easily one of the most obscure artists who ever worked at Zagreb Film, but he would collaborate with Mimica again as designer-animator on three cartoons for Adria Film (1970’s Čvor na putu, which Pintarić himself directed from a story by Mimica; 1971’s Firemen (Vatrogasci), the very last animated film Mimica personally wrote and directed; and 1978’s A Woman Without Prejudice (Žena bez predrasuda), again directed by Pintarić but scripted by Mimica from Anton Chekhov’s short story of the same name; all three featured scores by Tomica Simović, who had never worked with Mimica while he was directing at Zagreb).
The film opens on a series of views of Zagreb at 5 o’clock in the morning, giving way to an intimate look at the city’s already-bustling life on Mimica and cinematographer Tomislav Pinter’s part: pigeons are out pecking food on the streets, citizens are walking or driving to work, and the trams are already running and filled with people of all ages, all to the sound of a broadcast by Radio Zagreb and the mellow jazz of composer Miljenko Prohaska’s score (performed by the RTZ Dance Orchestra, of which Prohaska then served as longtime leader and conductor). At this time, however, Marko is still sleeping, and soon he begins dreaming of how the trams ran even in Zagreb’s past, to a nostalgic mandolin song; Mimica’s use of color to create mood is already evident, as he tints the present-day scenes in a gloomy, somewhat futuristic gray-blue color, whereas the scenes in Marko’s subconscious are largely full-color with a slight sepia tint, evoking the quaintness of past memories. The passing tram is followed by a quick blurry shot of an old woman with a red umbrella; as Radio Zagreb announces it is 5:05, Marko hears the woman’s voice saying his name gently and twists and turns in bed, entering a dreamy vision of his past.
In his dream, the present-day Marko is an ignored bystander to an idyllic, happy memory of how he played hide-and-seek with his grandmother (Gizela Huml) in the forest; in the lead-up to young Marko (Mimica’s son Srđan, the future Sergio Mimica-Gezzan) jumping out and surprising his grandma, Mimica and Pinter blur the scene of his grandma walking, as though Marko were having trouble remembering that moment, and then cut back to a present-day shot of a tram running by, symbolizing a blank in Marko’s memory. Upon young Marko and his grandma’s return home, we see that Marko has romanticized the memory of his old house: in a painterly shot by Pinter and scenographer Zvonimir Lončarić (who had previously played such an important role in most of Dušan Vukotić’s best cartoons), a giant apple tree towers high above Marko and his vaguely cathedral-like two-story house.
Soon, however, another brief interruption by the present-day trams gives way to disturbing visions of the walls of Marko’s house melting, as his wounded father (Pavle Vuisić) is taken away by the Ustaša (Croatia’s Nazi collaborationist regime during World War II); sounds of gunfire, explosions, and falling bombs play over the scene. The wreckage of the war is shown as a fantastic, abstract vision by Mimica, Pinter, and Lončarić, in which the disillusioned young Marko stands and peers around amidst wrecked furniture and chairs floating in mid-air; this is followed by shots of other townsfolk standing in silent pain and sadness, with the exception of one man in particular who hides out, crawls around, and yells out as he runs to a different position, as though trying to evade death. Finally, Marko sees a vision of his younger self struggling to crawl out of a dark pipe into daylight, only to find himself trapped between high buildings; unable to overcome his traumatic past, the sleeping Marko sheds a single tear that drips down his body.
At 6 o’clock, Marko wakes up depressedly; in a poignant visual metaphor, he sees a spider outside his window, struggling to make its way higher. He decides to amuse himself for a bit by peering out at the city through his Yashica camera, only to be interrupted by the glare of the oncoming sunlight; he then takes a moment to feel the cool morning air, and then looks out towards the sunrise—which, as the brief shift to color suggests, is no different from the sunrises of his past. At 6:15, Marko begins preparing for his workday, interspersed with the film’s opening credits and accompanied by more of Prohaska’s relaxing jazz; the credits are styled as newspaper blurbs, just as they had been in Everyday Chronicle.
By 7 o’clock, Marko is having breakfast, and his lifting of an apple off his newspaper as Radio Zagreb announces the weather report, too, is apparently a ritual that has remained constant all these years; the station begins playing classical music as Marko reads the newspaper (featuring a poignant headline nodding to perpetual governmental inefficiency: “What does the draft of a basic law envisage?”) and drinks coffee, with Mimica and Pinter seemingly emphasizing, by way of extreme close-ups on Marko’s face and mouth, the subdued gusto with which he savors his coffee and news. He then leaves his cup to soak in the sink and minimally wipes his hands as he leaves his apartment in a hurry, but not before assuring his landlord (Rudolf Kukić) that his rent payment will come soon; in the meantime, a couple loudly argues right behind their closed door, no doubt a more significant concern for the silent landlord at the moment than unpaid rent.
Cigarette in mouth, Marko walks over to the tram stop, exchanging glances with an old woman at her window before the tram arrives in front of him; Radio Zagreb starts playing 1960s rock music (performed by the pop group Crveni koralji) as Marko takes his seat and the tram runs, with Mimica and Pinter taking time to highlight the passing city streets and other folks riding the tram. The ride reminds Marko of how his girlfriend, Rajka (Jagoda Kaloper), called out to him as she rode a ski lift up a mountain, with lush romantic music taking over as he recalls a passionate, erotic embrace the two of them had in a shadowy forest. But then an official asks Marko for his tram ticket; the brief exchange replaces the romance with a fleeting reprise of the earlier scenes of his house walls melting and his father being taken away, except they are now tinted gray-blue as though they were present-day scenes. A glance at a mother holding her child on the tram, too, gives way to still photographs of the Ustaša’s indiscriminate cruelty tinted with present-day immediacy—there is little difference, it seems, between modern law enforcement and the Ustaša of the not-so-distant past, for both are capable of barbaric reprisals if one does not comply with their rules.
The tram arrives at its first stop, with Marko noticing that the city’s traffic lights have not changed from how they were in the past; the old-fashioned street market, too, seems to carry on as it always has, even as numerous cars pass in front of it. As fascinating as the market is—Mimica and Pinter take time to ethnographically focus on how the vendors and their buyers go about their business—the sight of the bustling, traditionally-dressed crowds is too much for Marko: crowded shots of the market are soon interspersed with photographs of mass murders at concentration camps as tragic choral music plays, culminating in archival footage of Ustaša soldiers and their officer (who stomps to the violent sound of a cannon firing, bringing the footage to a dramatic end). It has proven all too easy for the evil-minded to use large, market-like gatherings as opportunities to commit mass slaughter and genocide.
As the tram continues forward, Marko recalls a conversation in which his landlord tries to dissuade him from writing about the war, during which time he respectfully gives his tram seat up to an older woman. His landlord claims that people would rather forget about the war, and want to be given lightheartedness; he then suggests that Marko include a kayak ride in his new novel, on the basis of his own fun time riding down the Sava river in Slovenia. A beautiful scene of kayakers riding down the Sava gives way to a brief comic fantasy in which the aged landlord and his associates, dressed in silly seaman’s outfits, are star participants in a kayakers’ competition, complete with women surrounding them; the use of Johann Strauss Sr.’s Radetzky March in this scene, effectively comparing the landlord to the ignorant frivolity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which Croatia and Slovenia had been a part of), is compounded by how Mimica cuts away to archival footage of Austrian soldiers (including Emperor Franz Joseph himself) parading down the streets—and off to the very war that doomed the empire, World War I, the black humor and irony particularly evident in the use of war footage newly dubbed with the sounds of explosions and the ceaseless moaning of the soldiers who died in the war.
The tram arrives at Marko’s destination, and soon Mimica and Pinter replace the close shots of trams and cars speeding along the streets with detailed close-ups of noisy machinery and typists at work in a newspaper-printing factory. Interspersed with this intimate look at the factory’s processes are a few conversations Marko has with his boss and a co-worker, followed by a telephone conversation with Rajka, who is revealed to be a television reporter; we don’t hear what she is saying on the other end, but it evidently perturbs Marko enough that Pinter symbolically darkens the lighting on his figure, reducing him to a shadowy near-silhouette, as more war scenes—this time largely naval and air-based—flash through his mind on top of everything else going on in the factory, culminating in press photos of the ongoing space race and a shootout, fashion magazines (complete with sultry saxophone-playing), and scenes of soldiers yelling and raising their guns. Ultimately, he plans to meet Rajka at 2 o’clock.
In an elaboration of Rajka’s identity as a modern working woman, Marko recalls a recent moment in which she admitted she does not want children. He asks another co-worker if he knows a doctor who does abortions, but the co-worker tries to convince Marko to keep the baby, offering to be his godfather and saying he wouldn’t mind “one more little Marko” in the universe. As Marko returns to his typesetting station, he recalls a childhood memory—unusually tinted gray-blue like the present, almost as an indication of how the subject remains a hot-button issue—in which a lad sneaks him into an abandoned, cobweb-laden body exhibit to gaze at a textbook featuring a painting of a naked woman with her vaginal area covered and a lift-the-flap model of a woman’s body, which the lad opens up to reveal a highly-developed fetus in the womb.
This is swiftly interrupted by a temporally pertinent memory in which Marko’s teacher asks why he is not paying attention, saying he should be an example to others as the son of a fallen fighter—his father. Young Marko holds up a world map, stating that he is traveling, whereupon the teacher declares he will travel when he is older; this leads to present-day Marko having a vision of a colorful, decorated children’s hot air balloon floating off. He is older, yes; but, far from making it easier for him to travel, his progression in life has, if anything, landed him in a dead-end job with no holiday in sight. Not that this dashes his co-workers’ ambitions, to be sure, as one comes up and asks Marko if he knows anyone who can give him a discount on a trip to Egypt in spring. The sequence is capped with Marko discovering that an insect has been perched on his hand all this time, almost indicative of how he became so lost in his thoughts that he forgot about his job and reality altogether.
A tense meeting Marko has with a superior is alleviated by the presence of the superior’s child, playing with a puppet. Coming on top of the previous recollections, this leads him to recall the amorous, sexual interaction with his ex-wife Milade (played here by Olivera Katarina) that led to the birth of their only child Davor: Mimica and Pinter engage in erotic close-ups of her lips and eyes, and their kissing is followed up with close-ups of a naked woman’s breasts, leg, and back, concluding in the sight of a dirty, bleeding wall (!).
On break from work in a busy cafeteria, with its rattling silverware and pipe-smokers and people spilling their drinks, Marko tries to offer a drink to someone else before admitting at last that he is too entangled, and would like to go somewhere the best. The typesetting machinery starts up again with renewed intensity; this time, though, Marko puts aside his humanity and focuses on his work, with Mimica interspersing Pinter’s close views of the loud machinery with his close-ups of Marko’s determined eyes. The brief flashbacks to his younger self trapped in the dark now give way to shots of static rocky formations that resemble the earlier wall-melting scenes, as though Marko’s mind has decided to freeze those memories for the time being; the noise of the machinery itself drowns out another conversation Marko has with a co-worker, as well as yet another flashback (also frozen) to his wounded father. Mimica concludes this sequence with a marvelous, almost musical series of rapid cuts between close-ups of the machinery, as though Marko is now fully caught up in its rhythm—at last, it all comes to a halt, with Marko finishing up the last page of the day as Mimica and Pinter provide some additional urban texture with views of Zagreb’s industrial buildings.
Thus begins an extended interlude by Mimica and Pinter showcasing the bustling, yet gloomily-tinted city of Zagreb in the afternoon, underscored by the great singer-songwriter Arsen Dedić’s song “Sandra”. Amidst the droves of people and vehicles making their way through the city or having conversations, with many silhouettes passing right by Pinter’s camera—at times being used as ingenious scene transitions in themselves—Marko simply stands, checks his watch, and looks on, seemingly unable to relate to anyone around him. He recalls a visit to an energy plant serving the entire country: as Mimica cuts back and forth between the city and various parts of the plant, the manager proudly proclaims that, with today’s technology, the individual means nothing, for there are instead working groups. Marko—perhaps futilely, in hindsight—tries to argue back that, for oneself, being an individual means everything, and that the two of them are individuals.
At one point, Marko does recognize his friend Luka holding his son, but fails to get into an extended conversation with him before he walks off. Soon, his extended staring at Zagreb’s crowds brings to mind how, not long ago, the city was ravaged by World War II—it was the very center of the Ustaša soldiers and tanks that had been responsible for the deaths of his father and innumerable others, and Allied bombing, in turn, took its toll on the populace and city at large. And yet, there are quite a few landmarks that have remained all these years, not only the street signs and traditional markets, but even minor items like a mannequin outside a store (as shown by a brilliant change in the scene’s coloring, heralded by a passing vehicle).
This reminisce on relics from the city’s past leads into another blackly humorous fantasy of Marko’s, in which a journalistic society conducts his funeral in a charmingly old-fashioned manner (complete with a man in medieval dress leading the pallbearers). Both Rajka and Milade (and Davor) are present at the funeral, and Milade (who, in her present-day form, is played by Renata Freiskorn) proceeds to fight with Marko’s “corpse” over his relationship with Rajka. The farcicality of the affair, and perhaps of death and its impact on others in general, is played up by how the lugubrious music accompanying the scene turns out to be emanating from a record player; it all comes to a head when, just as Marko is lowered into the ground, his landlord (in his seaman’s outfit from the previous fantasy!) runs up and stops the funeral, refusing to let him die on account of how he has not paid his rent. Just as certain elements of 19th-century Austrian rule and earlier have lived on in Zagreb to this day, so too does Marko, upon further contemplation, realize that he has left enough of a impact that he could pass away now and still be remembered—even if only for gaining the respect of his fellow journalists, starting love triangles, and agitating miserly, frivolous landlords.
As the scene transitions back to the present-day, where trams and modern crowds still intermingle with townsfolk carrying sacks of hay, a woman comes up to Marko and reveals Rajka has already left, ahead of their scheduled meeting time. At a local restaurant, where patrons eat their soups silently to the eerily mechanical sound of dishware, utensils, and clacking cash registers as food trays move down the serving area like items on a conveyor belt—even the restaurants are little more than extensions of the factories—Marko encounters a man (Fabijan Šovagović) who supposedly knows him from somewhere, but can’t quite place where. Looking out the window in hopeless anticipation of Rajka, he recalls a romantic moment in which a beautiful frost-covered window is melted by Rajka’s warm breath; asked by Marko if she loves him, she simply smiles and fiddles around in the snow, as Mimica and Pinter set the scene with winsome views of abandoned, snow-covered construction sites and statues and melting icicles. (This flashback is noticeably tinted like the present-day, although this time the tint seems to serve a double purpose of representing the winter setting.)
The man introduces himself as Voltek, and invites Marko to follow him to a higher room within the restaurant building for something interesting that he can write about as a journalist. As they walk off, the present-day tint shifts from gray-blue to sepia, as though they were transitioning between the cold world of modern-day Zagreb and Voltek’s own little world; this sepia finally becomes a neutral gray as they arrive in Voltek’s room, which impressively houses a variety of birds from around the world. In a brief experimental interlude, Mimica rhythmically freeze-frames and cuts between close-ups of the birds’ frenetic movements to some sprightly waltz music by Prohaska, as though trying to highlight the inherent balletic qualities of their wing flaps and head cocks. Voltek then reveals that bird-keeping is actually just his hobby, and indeed he refuses to make money from it (for then it would no longer be fun)—a new concept, clearly, for the work-burdened Marko.
As Voltek shows Marko his most exotic specimens—in particular a bird that supposedly came from Hollywood by way of international contacts, perhaps a reflection of how Yugoslavia was normalizing its relations with America at this time—their conversation turns towards Marko’s only son Davor, who is not in school yet. So it is that Marko next visits Milade and Davor: Mimica leads into this section with a dramatic freeze-frame of the flapping Hollywood bird to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, comically evoking an unpleasant, terrible feeling associated with his ex-wife.
As the Bach music continues, Milade pours Marko some tea and smokes cigarettes with him, but outside of these formalities her interactions with Marko, Davor, and her servant Marica are remarkably cold; Davor himself is much more interactive towards Marko than he is towards his mother and legal custodian. Marko tries to hide their divorce from Davor, demanding that Milade keep an envelope of money from Davor’s sight (to which she responds that Davor should get used to it)—a 20.000-dinar payment that Marko gives to Milade every month per the terms of their divorce, as shown by a flashback to their divorce proceedings that, in a moment of bitter irony, is heralded by a near-match cut between Marko kissing Milade on Davor’s request and Marko whispering to Milade that their time to enter the court has come—and then telling Davor, when he asks why Marko isn’t always with them, that he is still too young to be told about it.
Marko takes Davor out on an excursion for the day, using a friend’s car that he had been asked to take to the serviceman’s; interwoven with these scenes are colorful memories of when Marko’s own father took him out for a day at a funfair. As Marko drives along, he recalls his father gifting him with a captain’s hat, after which he played with a ship’s wheel; in a similarly marine vein, Marko and Davor visit an exhibit of energetic seals at a zoo, with Pinter’s shaky, handheld cinematography following the seals around and creating the impression of a home movie. Mimica ends the scene with a freeze-frame, after which, fittingly enough, the two of them stand for a photo; just as the photo is taken, the film cuts away to how birds humorously flew out of the lens when Marko and his father tried taking a similar photo, with father and son ultimately taking a photo in a different setting. (The significant developments in photographic technology that took place between the early 1940s and the mid-1960s cannot be understated…)
At the serviceman’s, where Mimica and Pinter focus in on intricate, inhuman mechanical processes just as they had at the printing factory, Davor disappears even after being told to stay in the car; meanwhile, Marko is unable to get in contact with Rajka. As he searches for Davor amidst blinking headlights (which, it is briefly shown, have not changed from his youth) and cars being raised up, he stumbles upon a construction site that, surprisingly, is rather idyllic in contrast, if somewhat emblematic of the urban decay in parts of the city; he finds Davor, whom he embraces lovingly rather than reprimanding, and is asked by a well-dressed vagrant trapped in the site how to get out.
With the arrival of the evening, Zagreb becomes particularly vibrant: as traffic cops guide the busy cars and pedestrians make their way through the streets, basketball games are played and commentated on, concerts are performed, dentists operate on their patients, industrial workers continue repairing and drilling, and birds flutter through the city, among other activities. In the midst of all this, the now-alone Marko attends a dull board meeting that seems too concerned with finances to accomplish anything useful; at one point, he asks a colleague if today is Monday, with the careless reply being that it is Monday or Tuesday. More interesting to Mimica and Pinter is how the attendees deal with the tedium: cigarettes are lit and burned, a glass of sparkling water is drunken, windows are opened to alleviate the stuffy atmospshere, squares and fish are sketched on papers, and notes are folded, all as the clock keeps turning.
By 7 o’clock, the sun is setting solemnly, just as it always has; with the scene of Marko riding down the wheel-and-axle-girded elevator, the film briefly takes on a sunset-red tint. He tries inviting his colleague Boža to coffee, but Boža’s family is waiting for him; so it is that Marko must wander alone into the city’s storm of reflective windows, surfaces, and passing trams, all of which serve to distort and obscure whatever identity he has left, as the tint shifts back to gray-blue after another view of the perennial sunset.
Marko once again notices the similar perenniality of the city’s traffic lights as he makes his way to the phone booth in another failed attempt to contact Rajka. With this, Mimica heads into a musical interlude even more spectacular and poignant than the previous one in the afternoon, and the one sequence that is most obviously a continuation of his work in animation: to Arsen Dedić’s “Mora postojati to mjesto”, he showcases a series of blurred, refracted, and even abstracted views by Pinter of passerbys, passing headlights, folks standing outside windows, and city lights, serving as a hauntingly beautiful, almost distilled portrait of the coldness, impersonality, and loneliness of urban life amidst the darkening sunset. Marko comes upon a record store, recalling how it once housed contrastingly optimistic records by Ella Fitzgerald (Get Happy!) and Ray Charles (Have a Smile with Me); in a remarkable moment by sound editor Fedor Jeler or musical collaborator Lidija Jojić, Dedić’s song is interrupted by an intermixture of three songs, one by Fitzgerald and another by Louis Armstrong (singing “Someday You’ll Be Sorry”).
As Marko thinks briefly of Rajka who he has been unable to get in contact with, Mimica again uses the passerbys’ silhouettes as a transition to a memory of when young Marko, in a similar situation to the present-day, was left alone by his grandmother at a lake (signified by her red umbrella hanging from a barren tree); in contrast to Marko’s current lonely and nondescript identity, however, young Marko stood out in his bright sailor’s outfit and confident leadership, running up to a group of other children and playing “En Ten Tini” (the Serbo-Croatian “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”) with them. Through a particularly well-done cut back to the present that almost serves as a harsh wake-up call, a passing tram seems to wipe or steal the memory away for good as the sun disappears below the horizon at last; the past is past, and there is no use trying to return to it in the modern world.
This theme is further emphasized as Marko, while continuing to wander through the densely-layered, semi-abstract urban clutter, witnesses the demolition of an old building. He watches closely as the construction workers tear walls from their foundations by meticulously chaining them to cars, the strobing beacon lights of which serve as a continuous reminder of the dangerousness of the job. Even now, in spite of everything that has irrevocably changed and the reminders of the past that still stand, and in spite of the risks involved in further change, Zagreb continues to evolve, to be broken down and rebuilt; soon enough, perhaps, even the old traffic lights will be replaced.
Prohaska now underscores Marko’s wandering with a nervous, percussive jazz based on col legno sounds and piano, and soon Marko finds himself staring at posters plastered on a window; at first glance they seem to be film posters, but Marko (and Mimica and Pinter) is more interested in the posters featuring erotic scenes, ultimately flashing back to another sexually-charged memory with Milade and her lips as Prohaska’s jazz is joined by the sound of a sensual pan flute.
With Marko’s libidinous feelings satisfied, Prohaska’s score returns to more normal-sounding jazz, albeit even this becomes increasingly intense as Mimica, now moving beyond highlighting the mechanicality of the passing trams in itself, begins freeze-framing the blurred faces of various passengers, coupled with an unusually extended view of the high speed at which the tram moves; an alert-like beeping is then heard, and soon the film cuts to a silent pan up a photograph of a nuclear bomb exploding. It is clear that modern civilization’s inability to recognize humans as unique, invaluable persons in themselves is the last thing from actual progress; if anything, it has only accelerated humanity’s rush towards its own self-destruction, enabling as it did the rise of totalitarianism in 20th-century Europe.
At this point, however, Mimica also recognizes that it can be dangerous to romanticize the distant past, as even some earlier scenes in the film could be interpreted as doing, and that there are at least a few positive aspects to the modern mechanization of various jobs. Marko happens upon a group of men cruelly mistreating and abusing a horse who refuses to move from its position and move a carriage, ultimately leaving it out in an oncoming storm as they escape; the dubious morality of their actions is compounded by how the bystander next to Marko points out that carriages are apparently forbidden in the city. The horse-drivers, it seems, stubbornly cling to the old ways for the sake of an identity, even as they are pressured to utilize more modern, efficient, and humane ways of doing their business—indeed, even as the city around them continues to move on with its life, leaving them behind.
Marko takes cover beneath a building, whereupon a woman (Lada Milić) suddenly runs up and stands right next to him. This strange sensation, of a random woman almost snuggling onto him as they wait the dark rain out, causes Marko to remember Jacques Prévert’s poem “Barbara”, a truly poignant set of verses for the occasion. Mimica’s and Pinter’s ingenious use, throughout the film, of passing silhouettes as scene transitions takes on an elevated purpose here: the passing umbrellas romantically shift the film back and forth between the reminiscing Marko and the similarly pensive woman, eventually giving way to a closer view of her shadowy, hidden face as she stares back at Marko and, after a bit of further reflection, runs off back into the rain (which has not gotten any lighter, in spite of her peering up to see if it did).
Pinter zooms out on Marko to reveal, rather amusingly, that an old official has been standing next to him as well. The two men, both of whom seem to be lonely and alienated from the city around them, strike up a conversation; their discussion of how things have changed, what with the increasing popularity of Yugoslav basketball (as broadcast on a television next to them) or how the preponderance of new buildings has rendered the city unrecognizable to the old man, leads to the revelation that the official is a survivor of the Ustaša-run Jasenovac concentration camp. In his resistance to the Ustaša, he says, he saw a new life, more youthful and joyful.
Instead of a flashback to the old survivor’s resistance, the television begins broadcasting graphic archival footage of the Ustaša’s vicious brutality towards its victims, a reminder that their cruelty extended beyond Jasenovac—the survivor does not recognize the scenes at first—and that few others were lucky enough to survive. Marko explains that the footage is broadcast so that people do not forget, whereupon the survivor questions whether they could forget: if they did, it would be even scarier than the concentration camps themselves.
The rain has stopped, and the trams are still running: so it is that the official heads off, even in spite of Marko’s plea to have some coffee with him. Too often in the modern world, it seems that, once misfortune has passed, people simply move on with their lives without a second thought, even without necessarily forgetting that they have been through awful times. Only when the flow of modern life is interrupted does there exist the possibility for any kind of human contact—including, perhaps, a silent moment of enigmatic intimacy between two strangers waiting out the rain, or the discussion of one’s traumatic experiences with a sympathetic ear. It may be too painful to dwell on such memories, and simply going on as though nothing has happened may seem like the best way to cope; yet their shadows remain, casting their oppressive atmosphere over all.
Marko himself now re-enters the urban chaos once more and walks into the highly crowded café alone, having an espresso as rock music blares and a hucksterish man brags to his peers about Copernicus making a mistake. Once more, he tries getting in contact with Rajka, using the phone in the back of the establishment; as expected, she has yet to return home.
Yet, for the first time in what has surely been many months (if not years), Marko feels optimistic about where his life is headed. The brief, yet wistful encounter he had with the mysterious woman in the rain now brings about one last colorful fantasy in which the two of them meet again: he confides in the woman, whom he refers to as Barbara in a clear nod to the Prévert poem, that he feels like a traitor and does not know how to be cheerful. Barbara cheers him up by showing him the breaking news that a “General Contract” has been signed, much to the elation of the real-life populace; all the characters that Marko encountered over the course of his day are now gathered in celebration, amidst more whimsical backgrounds by Zvonimir Lončarić. It is a jubilant occasion in which it is declared that everything will solved like in picture books, reinforced by Arsen Dedić’s children’s song “Generalni ugovor” (General Contract); soon, Marko and Barbara make their way to the charming hot-air balloon that Marko had imagined earlier in the day, waiting just for them, as fireworks are launched and the real-life crowds applaud and cheer again. As the two prepare to fly off and travel the world, they wave goodbye to and thank various people who have played an important role in Marko’s life—among them Milade, Davor, Rajka, young Marko, his grandmother, the old official he met in the rain, and even a young woman who, as it touchingly turns out, is his long-forgotten mother. At last, Marko and Barbara depart high into the sky as Dedić exhorts everyone to move ahead and get in the cars, singing that a holiday without end is a wonderful scene; everyone is happy, indeed, as Mimica brings forth one final shot of a vast, impressive real-life crowd in rapturous applause.
Even with this optimistic outlook, for the current moment, at least, Marko remains stuck in his largely empty life, and the modern world remains set in its dehumanizing ways. Back at home, he treats himself to some milk, bread, and an apple, carrying them into the living room and then turning on his TV to find Rajka reporting the nightly news—all of which, from what Marko sees, pertains to modernization and its upsides and downsides, ranging from efforts to mechanize jobs in a fund-deficient wood-processing company to the difficulties of building new ships while paying the workers stimulatively. Strangely, after Rajka wishes the viewers good night, the television camera lingers on her for longer than it should; for several seconds, it almost seems as though Rajka is staring directly out at Marko with a knowing, somewhat intimidating smirk on her face.
As Marko heads off to sleep, he takes his uneaten apple with him; in bed, he lies sadly for some time and looks up at the ceiling before turning off his light. So it is that his day, and the film, ends with him retreating back into the land of his dreams, where, as one last pan through the dark reveals, apples can grow to be larger than life…and hope, perhaps, for a better future lies.
Through its exploration of Marko’s mind and experiences, and its delineation of the unique ambiences of the numerous settings he visits or recalls, Monday or Tuesday covers a remarkable range of subject matter pertaining to the modern human condition. We see lingering remnants of a collapsed empire, of an idyllic youth, of the traumatic ravages of war; the startlingly inhuman efficiency with which work is now done thanks to mechanization; the dense urban textures of the city; the enormous difficulty of maintaining relationships, even when they start out with great passion and beautiful memories; the desire to preserve one’s identity, even if it means engaging in difficult hobbies or sticking to outdated ways; the constant changing of the city into something different from the past; the looming threat of destruction in another world war—in short, just about everything that has resulted from or contributed to the dehumanization of modern society, of which Marko is a particular case study. To be sure, there are small glimmers of hope in the few truly human interactions Marko has over the course of his day, most notably the time he spends with his son Davor and his brief encounter with the woman while waiting the rain out; but these moments are all too rare in the midst of his alienation from the modern world.
Just as Prometheus had two years earlier, Monday or Tuesday received a well-deserved Big Golden Arena for Best Film at the Pula Film Festival, and Mimica himself received a Golden Arena for Best Director; Tomislav Pinter, too, received a Golden Arena for Best Cinematography for his work on both this landmark film and Zvonimir Berković’s Rondo. This would be the last time Mimica and Pinter collaborated; for his next film, Mimica would take his modernist approach even further, and towards that end he would surprisingly turn to a few older colleagues of his.
Kaja, I’ll Kill You! / Kaja, ubit ću te! (1967)
Fresh off of the success of Monday or Tuesday, Mimica quickly embarked on what would prove his most unorthodox film from a narrative and structural standpoint. Like Prometheus, this third film would be set in Dalmatia; unlike the earlier film’s fictional island of Viševica, however, the action here would take place in the real-life old town of Trogir. Moreover, whereas the earlier two films interwove a variety of past and present memories to convey a single main character’s complex identity as a person, this film would use Fascist Italy’s World War II-era occupation of the town as the starting point for a deeper study of the dehumanizing, corrupting power of evil in general.
Kaja, I’ll Kill You! was the last film in Mimica’s modernist trilogy, and also the first in a new trilogy in which Mimica explored the concept of evil as a seemingly irrational, yet inevitable consequence of human nature. The film, based on a novella by Kruno Quien and co-written by Mimica and Quien, is characterized almost entirely by the laid-back, ethnographic, nature-focused approach Mimica had taken in parts of Prometheus, an unusual creative decision given that it pertains to the destruction of Trogir’s idyllic and pleasant life by Fascist rule, and the titular murder that serves as the film’s climax is all the more sudden in this respect; the characters themselves are never truly developed as individuals, serving largely as symbols for the thematic drama at hand just as the abstract characters had in Mimica’s animated films. Still, it is a refreshing change from other Yugoslav films that dealt with the war, including Dušan Vukotić’s second live-action feature film Operation Stadium (Akcija stadion, 1977), which more often triumphantly played up the Partisans’ struggle and ultimate victory against the Axis and Ustaša forces.
As stated in the opening titles, the film was made (and shot on-location) with the help and cooperation of the citizens and municipal assembly of Trogir. The cinematographer was Frano Vodopivec, who was acknowledged as one of the best of his era alongside Tomislav Pinter, while the scenographer and costume designer was none other than Vladimir Tadej; both had collaborated with Mimica as far back as his very first film, In the Storm, in 1952. Zagreb animator Vladimir Hrs, who had been the animator of Vukotić’s classic Piccolo in 1959, was called upon as an additional decor painter. This time, Mimica took the additional step of relying almost entirely on diegetic sound and music, further enabling the film’s documentary portrait of historic life in Trogir and its ruin by the Fascists.
Mimica opens on a series of desolate views of the Fascist-decimated, seemingly emptied town of Trogir, darkened by the overcast weather. As the wind blows, spiders are left alone to form their webs outside windows that have been left open, old stone buildings gradually fall apart, and wooden shutters hang from their dilapidated hinges; the old town fool Ugo (Izet Hajdarhodžić) sings and dances alone amidst the ruins as Vodopivec, in one of several remarkable tracking shots, explores the deserted alleys where vegetation has begun to overtake the buildings. The wind becomes more intense, further eroding the buildings, and the stormy waves of the Adriatic crash violently against the town’s foundations as a lone seagull cries out. Vodopivec then explores a dark, abandoned house, eventually finding a series of windows with overgrown vegetation as birds sing peacefully; the humans may be gone, but the nature of Dalmatia remains active as ever.
Close-ups of fish and seahorses swimming around transition the film to where Trogir had been just months before, with children playing and running in the shallow waters of the beach as the bells of the Cathedral of St. Lawrence—the crown jewel of Trogir, and the epitome of its Catholic cultural heritage and history—chime out all through the sunlit town. Mimica and Vodopivec use the film’s opening credits as a pretext to lead us on a tour of the beautiful cathedral, underscored by sacred choral music.
Rain begins falling on the cobblestone streets, as the inhabitants take shelter beneath umbrellas and recesses of large buildings. The waves crash violently and forebodingly; two colleagues greet each other at the town gate before going their separate ways. As the cathedral bell tolls, a funeral procession makes its way through the arched alleys of the city, interspersed with close-ups of religious figures carved into the buildings’ stone walls; a pageant being held nearby, meanwhile, depicts the recently-deceased drunk Nikica (Husein Čokić) who must choose between the flower-crowned God and the horned Devil as a children’s choir sings hymns. The pageant serves as a mirror for the struggle between good and evil that will soon overtake Trogir; that it is not yet taken seriously, as evidenced by how Nikica cynically says he will join the one who gives him two salty sardines (causing both God and the Devil to blow raspberries at him, with the audience of men erupting in laughter), is a testament to the town’s historic peacefulness.
As the sky clears up, a procession of the city’s nobles is held in the town square, serving as an opportunity for them to meet and chat amidst the performance of a military band. Children play loudly at the cathedral’s entrance, heckling the nobles and a crotchety old man before running off into the alley, with some heading to buy candy at a shop owned by the kind-hearted Kaja (Zaim Muzaferija); the flowers are in bloom, birds are darting around in their cages, and shoemakers and net-weavers are at work. The children then come across the aforementioned town fool Ugo, who tries to shoo them off before giving into their demands for him to do his imitation of a storm and sing his song about pooping; the nobles ask Ugo why he has holes in his hat, to which he deliciously and curtly responds, after some deliberation, “so that cunts can wonder why.” At night, a fireworks display is held, serving as yet another opportunity for the townsfolk to mingle; all in all, life in Trogir seems carefree and easy.
The next day, a group of five male friends are huddled in a circle, singing an old Dalmatian love song as Kaja watches. The six are joined by a seventh companion, Piero (Uglješa Kojadinović), as they go siskin-hunting in the stone-covered hills where lichens proliferate on the trees, carrying cages and sticks and even an owl along in an effort to prepare a trap for the siskins by a pond; the younger men have vulgar fun throughout the excursion, yelling jokes and singing funny songs and telling bawdy goat anecdotes and farting, while Kaja tries to keep things serious. By sunset, as the plants blow gently in the evening breeze, enough siskins have gathered that the men run out of their hiding spot and grab as many as they can, impaling several of them with sticks for roasting.
Several other siskins are kept alive in a cage as the men feast on the roasted siskins and share a fiasco of wine with each other in front of an old church. The sun sets further, eventually hiding behind a large cloud, and some of the men sporadically break out in song; Piero, however, noticeably refuses to join in the singing, even when asked, and later he reacts by telling a bitter joke about how it may rain soon owing to how he “hears donkeys braying”. Even more forebodingly, one of the men recalls how, as a boy, he had a pet siskin, the death of which caused his mother to carelessly reveal to him that “The dead don’t come back, my son”—a stark, chilling observation that goes against the relatively jovial mood of the excursion and sums up the finality of death, which will soon become a crucial element of Trogir’s very ruin.
For the time being, life remains serene, and the days continue to pass by idly. Now back in Trogir, one of the men, Lovre, begins playing a Toselli piece on a violin as Mimica and Vodopivec regale us with another lyrical montage of traditional life—we see flowers, one view of which begins as a pan through a blurry, nostalgic canvas of colors before coming into focus, a woman obtaining water from an elaborately-carved old well, an old woman carrying a bundle of tree branches, a distant shot of children hanging out in an alley (Vodopivec’s camera tracking side-to-side on the view oneirically, almost like a slow pendulum), and more old women who prepare soups and balls of yarn. The setting sun gives the white flowers and buildings a particularly lovely lavender shade; an artistic rendering of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is lit up, taking on a heavenly glow, and another blurred, beautifully abstract collage comes into focus as the view outside the window of a woman carefully gutting a fish. At last, night falls upon the picture-postcard town as Lovre concludes his nocturne, with one of the other men kissing his hand adoringly.
The next day, the church bells chime out as usual, but something feels off: six of the men are gathered in a deserted area of the city, and by nighttime they are still there, perhaps having waited for the seventh (most likely Piero) to arrive, their silhouettes discernible only amidst the moonlit ground on which they stand; soon, even the moon itself is obscured by passing clouds. The day after, Lovre walks through a similarly dark and silent alley, with daylight barely visible; as he returns to where the town is bustling, he witnesses scenes of a butcher cutting up and weighing meat and ordering his assistant to kill a calf, followed by a passing seagull crying loudly. These reminders of humanity’s own mortality and place in the world prove too much for him, and he sees streams of blood pouring upwards from a hole in the wall before him before collapsing, with many passerbys coming over and helping him up.
The now-bedridden Lovre is taken care of by an aged but intensely religious woman named Mare (Jolanda Đačić), whose mind seems preoccupied with death: she reminisces on an apocryphal memory of how she met a miniature St. John while picking in a sage field and accidentally suffocated him by keeping him in a matchbox and filling it with cotton in an attempt to keep him warm, then says she heard Lovre’s deceased mother calling on him to join her tonight, and finally rambles about how the seagulls cried the same way when Lovre’s own father died. If Mimica comes off a little too interested in this woman, it is because he now juxtaposes her old, strongly Catholic ethos and view of death with the arrival of the black-shirted Fascist Italian occupiers, heralded by the sound of a military bugle in opposition to the preceding chimes of the church bells (which wake the recovering Lovre up in time to witness what has transpired).
Already, the Fascists’ strict demeanor is at odds with Trogir’s way of life; when Ugo tries coming up and making jocular conversation with them, he is rudely rebuked and hit on the head. Aside from this, however, at first they do not directly interfere with the townspeople, no doubt as a way of breeding complacency amongst them: the children still heckle the crotchety old man at the cathedral, run across the town loudly, and hang out in the alleys, and old women still go on rolling their balls of yarn. Even a uniformed Partisan soldier roams freely at the moment, showing another old woman and several children pictures of his family as a way of convincing them to support his cause; the church bells still ring out even as the Fascist troops march into the deserted town square and talk amongst themselves.
Things begin to change, however, as Kaja and his remaining four friends—one of whom is named Vinko—are gathered at Vinko and his sister’s house for dinner. Kaja does not sit down and eat at first, but tenderly sings back by the window to the nightly serenading of the cathedral’s children’s choir, in turn briefly provoking the other men into song; he then breaks bread for his friends “like fishermen”, in an unsubtle Biblical allusion reinforced by the sight of the roast fish on the table.
This is eventually compounded as Piero, who has been absent for some time, now enters in Fascist garb, revealing he has joined their ranks—even so, Kaja and his friends generously welcome him to dinner. As the children’s choir starts up again, Piero is once again invited to sing along, just as he had during the men’s siskin-hunting excursion—this time, however, he openly voices his hatred for the enduringly quaint sound of the choir, declaring that a new song should be sung in honor of the Fascists, and proceeds to enforce his leaders’ new curfew, breaking up the fellowship. As his former companions leave the house, the melancholy singing of the choir grows louder, and Vodopivec zooms in on an artistic rendering of the Last Supper: just as Judas betrayed Jesus and his disciples for the money of the chief priests, so too has Piero betrayed Kaja and his friends for a position amongst the Fascists.
Piero walks along the emptied streets of Trogir, its once-bright sunlight now dimmed by gray clouds drifting by. The Fascists have taken up residence in the old Duke’s Palace, lording over the town from within the arched windows of the balcony; in an extended scene that establishes their naked sadism, a commander walks over to the mirror and watches himself test his switch out to the sound of a tinkling music box, eventually swinging it around violently and gleefully as an old portrait of a noblewoman looks on worriedly. Satisfied, he resumes his vigil at the left-hand balcony window. Meanwhile, another commander sits at a table, smoking a cigarette and then standing up, all the while muttering that Tonko (one of the town’s nobles) will pay him as a run-down portrait of a nobleman looks on in futile resistance; he joins the other commander at the right-hand balcony window.
The Fascists’ ruthless obliteration of those who dare to openly resist them is next shown as the soldiers relentlessly pursue a man through Trogir’s dark, labyrinthine alleys. For a time, it looks as though he will successfully escape; unfortunately, however, one lazy Fascist is stationed right at the end and forces him to run back into the maze, alerting his fellow soldiers to the man’s presence. Ultimately, the man is cornered at a dead end and cries out as he is stabbed to death on the spot; blood drips from his dangling hand as the Fascists take his body, and the lazy one smiles knowing he has aided in killing a man.
Not even Trogir’s upper class is unaffected by Fascist rule. Three Fascists hang around in the deserted town square, the two commanders continuing their vigil from the balcony windows, as the nobleman Tonko (Antun Nalis) eats fish and complains about the low quality of the oil; this petty issue riles him up enough that he decides to go and complain to the Fascist administration, along the way rebuking one of their soldiers who tries to enforce the curfew as a brat (a Partisan solider, meanwhile, hides behind a wall, signifying the most effective resistance has gone underground). Both of these actions converge into a particularly sadistic humiliation on the Fascists’ part as, at the Duke’s Palace, they surround Tonko and force him to drink two glasses of castor oil (the music box is heard tinkling gaily once again); when he tries to refuse the second glass, he himself is referred to as a brat, with the soldier he had insulted as such smiling and nodding grimly. With no escape, Tonko has no choice but to engage in his formalities, declaring cheers to the Fascists as he downs the second glass, much to their callous laughter.
It is not long before the Fascists’ fundamental inclination towards evil leads to a further devolution of the rank-and-file’s humanity: they become dominated by an unhinged, barbaric, beastly hatred of anything perceived as good in this world. One dark, windy evening, Trogir’s statues and carvings stand in apprehension as seagulls cry loudly; the waves of the sea crash so violently that water begins to seep through the town’s foundations. The Fascists gather in front of the cathedral, and, cheering themselves loudly, engage in a tragicomically grotesque orgy of destruction and desecration against the town’s cultural heritage, viciously destroying the very soul of Trogir: they stab the cathedral’s walls and statues and even drag some of the latter from their foundations, sawing their heads off as they sing raucously, and then storm into the Duke’s Palace where they mockingly, drunkenly dance with the paintings of the nobles (yet again is the sadistic music box heard) before butting their heads through them, and finally joyously destroy and even defenestrate the books and furniture in the palace library to the sound of an anarchic organ, burning them all in a massive fire. They are interrupted by gunshots from their commander, who drives the beasts-in-Fascist-uniforms out by whipping them with his switch—and then smiles balefully at the vast destruction, with Vodopivec’s camera (in an unusual visual idea by Mimica that emphasizes the commander’s inhumanity) seamlessly panning between two different views of his crooked, rotten, nasty grin.
From a historical lens, the Fascists’ wholesale rape and pillage of Trogir’s identity is particularly ironic, as the extensive Venetian heritage left throughout Dalmatia was what many Italian nationalists used to justify Italy’s annexation of the region. Yet that is precisely the point: once evil has overtaken one’s mind and soul, it will not be bound by any constraints, moral or historical. It seeks only the destruction of all that is good and human, regardless of its origins, and the proliferation of its heartless, brutish cruelty by any means possible.
The next day, a massive Italian Army ceremony takes place in the town square to honor Trogir’s Fascists for their “service”, with their commander triumphantly barking at all the soldiers who are gathered to look at them—including the surviving, embittered lion statues in the cathedral, who evidently have not forgotten how they were violated the night before. It is at this point that a Partisan soldier who has been spying on the ceremony from atop a building is gunned down, and ominous black clouds hide the sun away—the Fascist domination of Trogir is almost complete.
In the midst of this, Kaja is alone in his abandoned shop, talking to his pet bird about how crazy the Fascists are as he prepares for a “mission” and jokingly decorates himself with an award. It is implied that he has ties to the resistance: he goes on a seemingly innocent excursion to a town elsewhere in Dalmatia that has not yet fallen victim to Fascist repression, obtaining a pair of binoculars from an antique store and using it to observe the thriving town life that has all but disappeared from Trogir. (The binoculars would no doubt also allow the remaining Partisans in Trogir to spy on Fascist activities from a distance, with no risk of being shot down…) On the bus trips to and from the town, Kaja draws attention to himself with his pleasantries, playing around and engaging in humorous banter and singing songs, at least one of which explicitly mentions a “comrade”, as well as using the binoculars—alas, it is only as Kaja exits the bus upon his return to Trogir that the driver is revealed to be a spy for the Fascists, his fierce eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror on which Vodopivec twice zooms in.
The church bells ring out one last time as the two Fascist commanders take up their positions at the balcony windows of the Duke’s Palace; this time, however, they are joined by their own superior (who takes up position in the middle window) and several of the younger Fascists in an important meeting, led off by their ritual of Roman salutes. Two whisperers take note of this unusual spectacle behind the shutters of their windows, with one of them trying to keep the other quiet lest the Fascists hear; in the palace’s music room, meanwhile, Piero spiritually prepares to kill Kaja, cutting a piece of black fabric and nailing it above Kaja on an old photograph of his ex-friends. He is then seen walking over to the balcony room and leading off a collective Roman salute himself, before setting out on his horrible deed: Kaja’s goodness has become a form of open resistance that the Fascists, in their all-consuming evil, cannot abide with any longer.
By this time, Trogir’s streets are deserted even by day; children are kept inside even when the curfew is not being enforced. Through the extended sequence of Piero walking through the empty town, it becomes uncomfortably obvious that he walks with a limp, with one of his boots squeaking every time it makes a step. It is perhaps in this physical imperfection, and the lack of self-esteem and social stigma it entails, that Piero’s ultimate motive for joining the Fascists can be found: having long been an outsider even in Kaja’s circle of friends, his active collaboration with the occupiers has given him a new rank and level of authority that, in his view, renders his deformity irrelevant. It matters not that he has begun losing his humanity in the process, or that he is going to kill one of his only true friends: for him, Fascism is a cause that, however diabolical its aims, has been willing to make good use of him, giving him power over a society in which he could never truly fit in.
In his shop, Kaja is busily engaged in miniature shipbuilding with his bird; outside, even the wind is silent. Piero at last arrives and enters, declaring twice that he’ll kill Kaja; in a testament to his kind-heartedness, Kaja asks his old friend to sit down as he plays with his pencil, brushing the threats off jokingly. Seagulls cry out as they fly past; suddenly, a single shot rings out through the town, catching the attention of a young lad who is ordered to sit back down at his table and scaring a lone dog in the streets. We see dramatic slow-motion footage of Kaja desperately clinging to life, bringing down the shelves and boxes behind him as he collapses; with the murder of Kaja, the last beacon of goodness left in Trogir, the town as a whole dies silently with him.
With this crime, Piero has finally lost any semblance left of his humanity. He is now a pure, inhuman Fascist, an unfeeling machine designed strictly to enforce the rules and commands of his masters, and to murder anyone who does not comply. At the town gate, he stands and stares at the stormy waves of the beach with no discernible emotion, whereupon one of his former friends suddenly arrives and, in a reprise of the meeting between two colleagues towards the beginning of the film, greets him casually. Piero does greet him back, and the two of them stand together for a while; but as the colleague gives Piero one last smile and starts to head off, he is shot and killed as well. The binoculars Piero confiscated from Kaja are shown to have dropped to the ground in the course of shooting his friend, a view almost emblematic of his cold, nihilistic instinct from now on to kill anyone who dares remind him that he was once human, regardless of the circumstances.
So it is that Trogir arrives at where it was at the very beginning of the film: a desolate, evil-devastated ghost town, where the lingering forces of nature gradually consume the remains of the peaceful civilization that once thrived in the town. The film closes on the old town fool Ugo, the only person left wandering the alleys, who walks towards us with curiosity and stretches himself; he is soon overcome with fear and hurries off into the distance, at last crying out heartrendingly as though he, too, has finally realized the ruin that has befallen the town—a ruin to which we have been witnesses.
In a 1969 New York Times review of the film, Mimica is quoted from a program note: “I wanted to make a film in which murder would not be a mere, bare custom, a simple ‘good morning,’ an everyday gesture, the origin of which we have forgotten . . . for death has become too common. Everything must be undertaken to restore its original charm of particularity. I would say there is a kind of inflation about the meaning and the fact of death.” For the old Trogir, as represented in the film, death was a natural and special progression into the afterlife, into Heaven or Hell; under the Fascists, meanwhile, death largely became the result of murder, the ultimate manifestation of their evil, itself the ultimate expression of the stark inhumanity that lurks within human nature. Their targeting of Trogir’s heritage and of Kaja, in particular, demonstrates how they used death as a way of wiping out the goodness of this world—a perverse impulse that should have never, under any circumstances, become acceptable or common.
Unfortunately, Kaja, I’ll Kill You! was not well-received by the Croatian public at the time; its poetic, yet deliberate meditation on how even an idyllic Dalmatian town could become a breeding ground for evil may have been too radical and inscrutable. The film notoriously caused an uproar upon its screening at the Pula Film Festival, with some of the audience whistling disapprovingly and throwing objects; Mimica himself was hit by a flying stone. Thus did Mimica’s experiments in cinematic modernism come to a memorably unpleasant end; while the passage of time and a reassessment by film critics has since vindicated Kaja as one of Mimica’s best films, never again would he go as far in demolishing traditional narrative structure in favor of a loose, gradually built-up mosaic of vignettes focusing on everyday life and its changes for the worse.
For more fascinating and invaluable insights on Kaja, its production, and the differences between Quien’s original novella, the screenplay, and the final film, as well as an extensive analysis of the film’s linguistics, please read this excellent scholarly article by Amir Kapetanović.
Incidentally, Mimica is still alive to this day, at the grand old age of 96; although he retired in 1981, his filmography remains among the most singular and important bodies of work in Yugoslav cinema. The other two films in his trilogy on evil would be 1969’s An Event (Događaj, from a short story by Anton Chekhov) and 1970’s The Fed One (Hranjenik), both of which signaled his shift to a more conventional mode of filmmaking but were nevertheless captivating and provocative in their own right; Frano Vodopivec continued to be his cinematographer on these two efforts. Afterwards, Mimica would direct two lavish historical epics in which he actively tried to depart from genre conventions—1975’s Anno Domini 1573 (Seljačka buna 1573) and 1981’s The Falcon (Banović Strahinja)—as well as 1978’s The Last Mission of Demolitions Man Cloud (Posljednji podvig diverzanta Oblaka), a final attempt at modern social criticism in which he radically had cinematographer Božidar Nikolić shoot every scene with a handheld camera to impart a sense of documentary realism. I may go back and write more in depth about these films someday; at the same time, however, I would be delighted if readers used these write-ups as a starting point for their own excursions into Mimica’s fascinating career.
Neither simply a cartoonist nor a filmmaker, Vladimir “Vlado” Kristl was one of the most eclectic and iconoclastic modern artists to come out of post-WWII Yugoslavia. Born in 1923, he studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb from 1942 to 1949, during which time he served with the Partisans as an agitprop artist. In 1951, Kristl joined the recently-founded artist collective EXAT 51, which advocated for abstract art, modern visual communication, and the synthesis of all fine arts—all in direct opposition to the socialist realism enforced throughout the Soviet bloc, from which Yugoslavia had split off in 1948. It was with EXAT 51 that, in March 1953, Kristl exhibited his (at the time strictly geometric) abstract paintings for the first time.
Even in his early years, Kristl made a name for himself as an unpredictable, uncompromising, fiery-tempered nonconformist who often came into conflict with others. In 1954, finding that Yugoslavia offered few opportunities to broaden his horizons, Kristl began traveling abroad, living successively in France, Belgium, and Chile; he supposedly organized a solo exhibition of his art in the latter country. Only in 1959 did he return to Yugoslavia: it seems he took notice of how Zagreb Film had begun attracting attention worldwide for the modernism of its cartoons, and wanted in on the studio accordingly.
Kristl’s tragically brief time at Zagreb Film may well have been the most artistically significant of the studio’s early years. According to Ron Holloway, the studio outside of Vukotić’s and Mimica’s units was in the midst of a dark period in which the management sought to keep a tight rein on the artists, fearing they would use their popularity to take over the company; accordingly, they appointed non-artists as “artistic directors” whose job was supposedly to find ideas and then have the actual cartoonists in the studio bring them to life.
Kristl was plunged into this contentious environment almost immediately, and—needless to say—he did not take it well. His first job was as the designer of 1959’s The Great Jewel Robbery (Krađa dragulja), conceived as a sequel to Vukotić’s masterpiece Concerto for Submachine Gun. Alas, the appointed and credited director of the cartoon was the short-lived Mladen Feman, a young and inexperienced graduate of the theatrical academy: it was inevitable that he and the highly-talented yet anarchistic Kristl, who was essentially being forced into subservience to a complete novice, would clash for the entirety of the production. As it stands, the finished film is of interest solely for the striking abstraction Kristl brings to the film’s design, layouts, and animation; otherwise, it is indeed an unmemorable follow-up to Concerto, lacking the original film’s strong directorial vision, dense symbolism, and intimate musical integration. (Zlatko Bourek, who was largely focused on Mimica’s films at this time, served as the background painter; Branislav Nemet, who would much later be the animator of the first and third seasons of the Slovene children’s TV series Bojan the Bear, was the credited animator.)
Scenes from The Great Jewel Robbery, Kristl’s first involvement at Zagreb.
La Peau de Chagrin / Šagrenska koža (1960)
Kristl’s strong-willed personality and fight for artistic freedom on The Great Jewel Robbery evidently resulted in his quick promotion to director shortly afterwards. Even then, however, he was not initially given the chance to shine on his own, but instead was assigned to work with another of the non-artist directors at the time, Ivo Vrbanić, on a short and largely dialogue-free adaptation of the great French writer Honoré de Balzac’s 1831 novel “La Peau de Chagrin”. Once again, Kristl found himself in constant conflict with Vrbanić; in the end, as Ron Holloway puts it, Vrbanić had little to do with the final film, and Kristl was infuriated to discover that he and Vrbanić were nevertheless billed as co-directors in the credits. Even discounting Vrbanić’s presence, however, and as excellent a film as it turned out to be—it is perhaps the best of Zagreb’s more dramatic, largely narrative-driven films—La Peau de Chagrin is still not Kristl’s film insofar as it was a collaborative effort between several key figures at the studio.
The screenplay, which preserves the drama of Balzac’s original story while losing much of the intricate social commentary and character development (understandably so, given the film’s length), was penned by Dragutin Vunak and Tomislav Butorac. Vunak was in fact one of Zagreb’s best non-artist idea-pitchers and directors, and he would be the only one from this period to stick around well into the studio’s later years; this was around the same time that Vunak called upon a friend of his and former colleague of Kristl’s from the EXAT 51 days, the future lumino-kinetic artist Aleksandar Srnec, to design the abstract experimental cartoon The Man and His Shadow (Čovjek i sjena), animated by Vladimir Jutriša. Butorac, meanwhile, had previously co-written the screenplay of Nikola Tanhofer’s acclaimed 1958 film H-8 with Zvonimir Berković.
Zvonimir Lončarić does a stellar job with the film’s highly stylized yet painterly backgrounds, ranging from the decidedly Fauvist-inspired cityscapes of Paris at night to the grubby building interiors that perfectly convey the decadence of the bourgeois materialism the story criticizes, to say nothing of the candy-colored, collage-like scenes in the park towards the climax of the film. The interiors are particularly unique: in addition to their dirty textures, disorderly layouts, and geometric decoration, their walls are often lined with torn-up newspapers (at one point there is even a couch constructed entirely of newspaper), a technique that the great designer Maurice Noble had previously used in Chuck Jones’s 1954 cartoon My Little Duckaroo.
Kristl’s Art Deco-influenced designs for Raphaël and Pauline, the story’s two main lovers, are not quite representative of his style, albeit the moderation does keep them recognizable enough as humans that the drama is still convincing: the grotesque aging that Raphaël goes through as a result of the titular shagreen skin is particularly well-executed. His sensibility at its purest comes through largely in certain stylistic flourishes that betray his modernist inclinations, most notably the total abstraction of certain elements in the story. The lethal, life-depleting shrinkage of the shagreen skin with each fulfillment of Raphaël’s desires is depicted as a red square that violently trembles as it shrinks; the incidental characters in the film are stripped down to the barest minima of lines and shapes, with some shots featuring only a few sparse dots and lines representing their faces, and their flight from a raving, unhinged Raphaël is represented as crowds of small brushstrokes scurrying down the grand steps of his estate.
Kristl also comes up with a few inspired moments of visual storytelling. Towards the beginning of the film, when Raphaël gambles away his last coin on a game of roulette, Kristl focuses on the rapid spinning of the wheel by engaging in a series of rapid cuts between numbers (or rows of numbers) crooked in several different directions. Shortly afterwards, as Raphaël contemplates committing suicide by jumping into the Seine, Kristl briefly cuts away to a bizarre scene of shapes falling from the sky onto a rooftop, as though the very world were collapsing before Raphaël’s eyes. Finally, at the film’s tragic end, Kristl poetically highlights the now-minuscule shagreen skin blowing off with the last of the autumn leaves, a clear representation of Raphaël’s life being taken away for good as Pauline breaks down in sobs.
Ultimately, however, the artist whose work is perhaps most responsible for the film’s impact is key animator Zlatko Grgić. By this time, he had already contributed significantly to Dušan Vukotić’s earlier films, but this was the film in which Grgić blossomed as a manic animator in his own right, with a penchant for incredibly fast, frenetic movement and stylized character acting; such animation was, of course, a perfect fit for the distinctive brand of Tex Avery-influenced comedy that would define Grgić’s oeuvre at large, including the first 13-episode series of Professor Balthazar (in particular the pilot film Inventor of Shoes, which Grgić animated entirely on his own) and his shorts Hot Stuff and Who Are We? for the National Film Board of Canada. (Incidentally, Don Arioli, who was Grgić’s collaborator on those NFBC shorts, also wrote five episodes of Professor Balthazar‘s second series around the same time as Hot Stuff; sadly, Grgić, Boris Kolar, and Ante Zaninović were no longer key-animating the Balthazar cartoons themselves by that time.) Yet this early effort demonstrates that Grgić’s style was also very well-suited for more dramatic purposes: the characters’ expressive gestures and actions, intensified by the disconcertingly rapid pace at which they are animated, powerfully convey the raw passion of their emotions as the story lurches towards its devastating conclusion.
Special credit must go to Miljenko Prohaska, whose charming orchestral score—Pauline’s singing in her introductory scene becomes a nice leitmotif, to boot—almost gives the film an old-fashioned Hollywood ambience in spite of its unusual graphic design. Prohaska was a prolific composer, conductor, and double bass player for several different ensembles and films (including, of course, the RTZ Dance Orchestra and Vatroslav Mimica’s Monday or Tuesday, respectively) over the course of his long career, and accordingly did not do much work for Zagreb Film; most of his scores for the studio’s cartoons were created around this time.
As a bonus, some screenshots from Dragutin Vunak’s The Man and His Shadow (also released 1960), designed by Vlado Kristl’s ex-EXAT 51 colleague Aleksandar Srnec.
Don Quixote / Don Kihot (1961)
Perhaps the brilliance of La Peau de Chagrin convinced Zagreb Film’s management to finally give Kristl what he had sought all along: an opportunity to create his own modernist animated film, with no interference from anyone else at the studio. That this sole film stands among the studio’s finest achievements is surely a testament to the ingenuity of Kristl’s singular vision: his daring attempt, by way of this film, to bring abstract art to life and create a radical, bold new form of communication through animation has lost none of its power, and remains astonishingly original—and, perhaps, inimitable—seen today.
Don Quixote, based loosely and thematically on Miguel de Cervantes’s classic novel of the same name, was Zagreb’s first true auteur film. In an unprecedented situation, Kristl handled every major artistic role on his own: he wrote the scenario, crafted all the abstract desert backgrounds, and drew all the key animation himself. The inbetweens were drawn by two newcomers to Zagreb (hired by Kristl himself for the film?), both of whom went on to play major roles at the studio—Ante Zaninović became a great filmmaker-animator in his own right, while Mirko Fodor became one of the studio’s main inbetweeners.
At heart, the film is something like a classic Looney Tune reinterpreted through a flattened, unrelentingly abstract, almost exhaustingly modernistic lens. Every sequence presents a new visual idea or composition: a shot taken on its own may not mean much, but Kristl’s careful structuring, skillful animation, and clever visual gags imbue the inscrutable designs with significant amounts of meaning. It is also autobiographical, in a sense: just as Kristl was an iconoclast who refused to bow to any authority but his own, so too does his indelibly bizarre interpretation of Cervantes’s epic, with its astoundingly geometric portrayals of the characters and slew of chaotic actions and events, play up the view that the Don was the ultimate anarchist in perpetual rebellion against a collectivist, authoritarian society.
The cartoon opens with a sardonic portrait of what appears to be an incompetent police state, underscored by the whirring, buzzing motors and oscillations of Branimir Sakač’s synthetic soundtrack. A husband and wife drive haphazardly along a dilapidated desert road in their minimalist cars, tailed by a group of six mustachioed, half-oval-nosed, square-shaped cops on bicycles who, led by their diminutive red-hatted chief, themselves struggle to maintain their formation; lagging behind them is a particularly intrepid cop who rides on a large, convoluted vehicle that sputters violently and constantly explodes into different machines and modes of transportation. In their gung-ho fervor, the police often go flying over the horizon as they enter or exit the flattened-perspective road; in due time, they are distracted by a car speeding past them in the opposite direction and even a descending airplane that stops in mid-air before crash-landing on the other side of the road, causing them to lose any sense of what they wanted to capture in the first place and scurry around in search of something else to chase. Ultimately, they give up and go back to riding in an ordered line, led by the chief; the lagging cop, meanwhile, is now himself being transformed by his explosive vehicle.
In an isolated region of the desert, where the sun is depicted as a color wheel that is further shaded black as time passes (perhaps an allusion to how sunlight contains the rainbow spectrum of colors!), ride a rectangular Don Quixote and a rotund Sancho Panza; perched upon the shapes that pass for their horse and donkey, they look and sound like ticking robots that have escaped from a laboratory, and now bob up and down to a peculiar rhythm as they move along (Sancho much more rapidly so than the Don, even shifting his position on the ground erratically). The Don’s madness is established by how, after tripping twice on the ground, he tries riding upside-down on the top of the frame, only for gravity to catch up and bring him down anyways; Sancho’s cowardice is established by how he flees, his back shattering to pieces as he does so (literally losing his composure!), after the impact of the Don’s landing releases an inconveniently-placed boulder that nearly smashes them. The Don decides he needs some nourishment after the incident, taking his hat off like a lid and pouring water into his head, whereupon it bawdily comes out through his horse (“AQUA DESTILATA”, a brief title card says); the replenishment is enough that he shrugs it off with his detached arms and briefly becomes an unhinged record player (as though testing his energy out) before setting off again.
A supply truck passes by on the road, scaring Sancho so badly that he bursts into a line of frightened sausages, but the Don’s curiosity is piqued such that he begins hiding out and watching the road; soon enough, the two of them are flushed with arousement at the sight of a romantic couple driving together. It is then, however, that the police chief from earlier starts following the couple with a much larger force of 16 cops; the enmity between the Don and the state becomes evident as the Don is provoked into belligerence, with the cops in turn becoming a large arrow charging forward at any cost. The Don disposes of the cops with great ease, dropping the majority of them off the screen at once with his line sword (and one or two at a time afterwards), but the chief surprisingly puts up a struggle against him—giving the romantic couple enough time to betray the Don to the rest of the cops, the inhumanity of the state forces and their supporters evident in how they communicate in beeps.
In an extended montage, the state ridiculously begins mobilizing all its forces against Don Quixote, with whistles and beeps being exchanged between the various chiefs and officers: cops assemble into large trucks and buses, firefighters climb ladders that extend beyond their limits (to the sound of a fanfare composed by Milko Kelemen) and keep an eye out while still riding on the fire truck, and numerous armies of soldiers run alongside the various trucks and fast-moving tanks. The Don and Sancho, meanwhile, are hiding out; when the Don raises his hat, unseen gunfire quickly reduces it to tatters, and the forces are alerted to the Don’s presence, intensifying the geometric parade-like pursuit of the military shapes.
In a brief gag, one of the firefighters’ high-rise ladders collapses in the middle of his reporting, albeit he does not notice and remains in mid-air until after he has stopped. Soon, cannons are raised and fired from trenches, serving little purpose other than to release black and white squared smoke, and the mobs of soldiers are ordered to make their way into warplanes, stampeding and falling all over themselves as they do so; in the end, the planes are so inundated that several soldiers find themselves standing on the wings even after they take off after Don Quixote, with many of them in turn falling to their deaths and some warplanes even collapsing entirely from the weight of the soldiers. (It is likely intentional that, viewed from the front as they are in this scene, the planes resemble cross-topped war graves.) In the midst of this military ineptitude, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza carry on as usual, scaling a dark mountain—but as it turns out, several cops and their vehicular formations have also been ascending the mountain from the other side, and in due time the Don and Sancho find themselves surrounded by swarms of cops and police trucks and numerous black brushstrokes (bystanders?) who have been alerted to their presence.
With no recourse left, and seemingly despairing and accepting defeat, the Don decides to take one last look at a photo album of his beloved Dulcinea, kissing it repeatedly. The album bizarrely consists of scrawled-upon press photos of actress Tamara Geva in her role as the tomboyish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska from the 1953 revival of George Bernard Shaw’s play Misalliance, and culminates in a grotesquely vandalized, mustachioed image of another tomboy actress (possibly Joan Crawford? the photo looks somewhat similar to her appearance in Johnny Guitar). This sudden arousement of the Don’s libido absurdly turns the tables on the state forces, who try to surrender.
Alas, this proves too late to calm the Don, who, in a reenactment of the most famous scene from the novel, now sees a windmill in the distance; the film cuts repeatedly between the aroused Don and warped, time-lapsed live-action footage and paintings of the turning windmill. Filled with passion for his beloved Dulcinea, he begins charging forth as the cops desperately try to flee the mountain, with several of them being piled up as the Don surges forward and many others falling off the mountain in their haste; a violent impact occurs as the Don strikes whatever he was charging towards off-screen.
All is silent in the desert, and Sancho and his donkey peek up from their hiding place, wondering what has happened as a solemn, almost funerary march (also composed by Milko Kelemen) begins playing. The film finally cuts away to the Don trudging away noisily, except he now rides upside-down as he had tried to do earlier in the film. It is unclear whether he has died with his spirit living on, or whether his perception of the world has been permanently damaged, or whether he has succeeded or failed in his mission and is simply walking off accordingly—nevertheless, this is the scene with which Kristl closes his unorthodox, even revolutionary take on the Knight of the Sad Countenance.
Few, if any, other cartoons produced at Zagreb Film after Don Quixote would ever go quite as far in terms of using audaciously abstract art as a cover for blatant anti-state symbolism. Regardless of its boldness, it is hard to imagine how Kristl could have stayed on board after producing such a radical film. However, his pioneering of the auteur approach, in which almost every role was handled by a single artist, proved to be a valuable step in the studio’s development, coinciding not only with the departures of the old guard (including Vukotić and Mimica themselves, in due time) but also with a turnover in management that resulted in a much more artist-friendly atmosphere: the predominance of a singular artist’s vision would come to define the best cartoons that emanated from Zagreb in the years to follow.
A year later, Kristl created a short live-action satire at Ljubljana’s Viba Film, The General (General i resni človek), in which he attempted to take the anarchist stance of Don Quixote even further: a prisoner, played by Kristl himself, inspires an insurrection against a general who resembles none other than Yugoslavia’s own President Tito. The film was banned, and Kristl, by now in serious trouble with the Yugoslav board of censors, emigrated to Germany, where he spent the rest of his career before passing away in 2004; he had vowed never to return to Zagreb alive, and it was a promise he kept even years later when the latter-day Zagreb animator Joško Marušić tried to convince him to return to attend Animafest Zagreb in the 1990s. He continued to be highly prolific as a painter and book author, as well as an experimental filmmaker; sadly, the only one of these films available for online viewing at the moment is 1965’s Autorennen. A good summation of Kristl’s life and career as a whole can be found here.