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The Recollection Thief (2007) November 10, 2009

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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(KRADLJIVAC USPOMENA)

A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2009

Croatian cinema in 2000s – due to various political and economic reasons – is generally in better shape than in 1990s. “Generally”, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that Croatian audience won’t be spared from the cinematic monstrosities that gave national film industry such a bad name in previous decade. One of such examples is THE RECOLLECTION THIEF, 2007 spy thriller directed by Vicko Ruić.

Plot of the film is based on 2003 novel by Dino Milinović, former Croatian diplomat who also co-wrote the script with Vicko Ruić. It begins in Autumn of 1999, in a time when Croatia had to deal with fatal illness and imminent death of its first president Franjo Tudjman. Protagonist is Gawain Skok (played by Nikša Kušelj), war veteran deeply traumatised by his experiences during the Battle of Vukovar and forced to earn his living as an agent in one of many intelligence services of Tudjman’s Croatia. He is given the task of investigating mysterious disappearance of Juraj Fran Krsto Križanić (played by Sven Medvešek), Croatian diplomat in Paris. During his investigation, Skok uncovers many dirty secrets of Croatian intelligence community and also tries to exorcise his own personal demons.

THE RECOLLECTION THIEF was supposed to be one of the more interesting and intriguing films made in contemporary Croatia. Although not the first one to deal with 1990s war – almost all Croatian films made in past two decades dealt, directly or indirectly, with that subject – it was the first one to explicitly portray some of its shady political background. That included the use of certain real – and rather controversial – historical characters which are unnamed yet quite recognisable in the best tradition of roman a clef. Another broken taboo is portrayal of factional struggles within Tudjman’s party – hardline nationalists and former extremist political emigres on one and former Communists and Yugoslav loyalists on the other side – which found its reflection in inter-service rivalries within intelligence community.

Unfortunately, the intriguing subject was ruined by director Vicko Ruić, filmmaker who showed that he hadn’t learned a thing after fiasco of his 1996 debut NAUSIKAJA. Just like in that film, Ruić in THE RECOLLECTION THIEF showed utter lack of sense for pacing or talent to tell any meaningful story. Most of the film is made of flashbacks that are nearly always incomprehensible, despite Ruić’s attempts to navigate viewers with the use of titles that indicate different year. Some of those flashbacks – like the one set in 1971, during the crushing of Croatian Spring – don’t serve any purpose, apart from reminding Croatian audience of national traumas. Incoherent flashbacks, bad editing and weak pacing destroy any sense of suspense and mystery, and even some scenes that are supposed to be thriller-like look cheap. The acting – apart from few honourable exceptions, like Ivo Gregurević in the role of late defence minister – is mostly bad, making audience care very little about characters.

Viewers, who might have been attracted to this film because of its ground-breaking subject, would soon regret their curiosity. Even Croatian audience, which has some previous knowledge about certain events, characters and situations portrayed in this film, will have problems in connecting the dots. Foreign audience, which doesn’t know or care about finer details of post-Communist history of Southeastern Europe, will be at complete loss. Because of that, THE RECOLLECTION THIEF, despite its relatively short 100 minutes and despite relatively short budget, looks very much like the embodiment of a popular phrase “epic failure”.

RATING: 2/10

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