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Metastaze (2009) September 6, 2009

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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History can be ironic even in the case of Croatian cinema. In 1990s, the lost decade of Croatian film, Osijek-born director Branko Schmidt used to be embodiment of everything wrong in this country’s film industry. He was widely perceived as regime filmmaker, creating government-sponsored works that presented state-sanctioned “truths” of Tudjman’s Croatia without much talent or connection with reality. In 2009 all that changed with METASTAZE, a new, “hip”, “different” and “edgy” film that won initially sceptical critics and received Golden Arena of Pula, Croatian equivalent of Oscar.

Script by Ognjen Sviličić, based on well-received novel by Ivo Balenović, describes everyday lives of four men in contemporary Zagreb. All of them share fanatical devotion to local soccer club NK Dinamo, as well as lack of any future. Their lives revolve around Dinamo’s matches and large quantities of alcohol, sometimes accompanied by drugs or outbursts of nonsensical violence. Kizo (played by Robert Ugrina) appears unaware that drinking ruined his liver, skinhead Krpa (played by Rene Bitorajac) regularly abuses his wife while Dejo (played by Rakan Rushaidat) tries to finance his heroin habit by cross-border drug smuggling deal. The only one who tries to put his life in order is Filip (played by Franjo Dijak). He returned to Zagreb from Spanish drug rehabilitation commune and tries to get a job before his neighbourhood friends manage to bring him to old ways.

METASTAZE was advertised as “Croatian TRAINSPOTTING”. There are plenty of reasons to compare those two films. Both feature realistic portrayal of post-industrial urban underclass stuck in vicious cycle of poverty, substance abuse and violence. Even the characters of Renton and Begbie have their equivalent in characters of Filip and Krpa. However, there are some major differences – Schmidt’s film lacks humour, “cool” soundtrack or any element that would make his characters and situations pleasing to audience. As a result, METASTAZE is deeply unpleasant experience, especially to those Croatian viewers more than aware that the unsympathetic characters and situations on the screen are not that far from unsympathetic characters and situations they might encounter in their real lives.

Another thing that makes METASTAZE different from TRAINSPOTTING is the context of 1990s Yugoslav wars and its consequences – the “metastases” in original title. Guns are silent, Croatia is independent and “normal” country, but many of those affected by those “years of pride and glory” can’t adapt to prosaic peacetime reality. Patriotism is distilled into most virulent forms of right-wing chauvinism and justification for vicious street thuggery. The film tries to make this point sometimes too obvious by displaying Dejo’s Serb ethnicity and suggesting that his heroin habit originated in frustrating failure to be “one of the guys”. Crime that was rampant during war years is, however, still there and the criminals don’t care about ethnicity – when it comes to smuggling heroin, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks work together just like they did during Yugoslav days of “Brotherhood and Unity”.

Schmidt makes this depressing picture somewhat bearable by making METASTAZE short. Thus he leaves less opportunity for audience to notice some of film’s flaws. One of them is unrealistically thick Serb accent by Dejo’s father, played by Predrag “Pedjo” Vušović, one of them). Another is in some convenient plot details that diminish suspension of disbelief, especially towards the end. Schmidt, on the other hand, directs in a way that emphasises realism, with a lot of steadycam, genuine Zagreb locations and dialogues filled with too much profanity – so different from gentle, theatrical displays of verbal culture in average 1990s Croatian film. The acting is, unlike most of Croatian films in previous decade, superb, with Rene Bitorajac excelling in the role of detestable sociopath.

The result is mostly satisfying that could do wonders for Schmidt’s reputation and serve as a good sign of Croatian cinema standards being raised. On the other hand, those who were fortunate not to live in 1990s Croatia won’t be able to get many of its finer details or understand why it is so good.

RATING: 7/10

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