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REVIEW: The Eight Commissioner (Osmi povjerenik, 2018) January 31, 2018

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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A Film Review

Copyright Dragan Antulov 2018

Good literature usually doesn’t translate into good films. Success in such endeavour is even less likely when it comes to Croatian films. Sometimes it is due to issues relating specifically to Croatian cinema or society and sometimes it could be result of certain contents that get lost in translation, no pun intended. One of such examples could be found in The Eight Commissioner, 2018 film directed by Ivan Salaj.

The film is based on eponymous 2003 novel by Renato Baretić, which was celebrated as one of the greatest if not the greatest work of Croatian 21st Century literature. The protagonist, played by Frano Mašković, is Siniša Mesjak, young, ambitious and succesful politician groomed to be next mayor of Zagreb. His career comes crashing down after being caught in nasty sex and drugs scandal and the prime minister, played by Stojan Matavulj, decides to send him as far from spotlight as possible. The best option happens to be Trećić, insulated island in Adriatic Sea whose inhabitants failed to set up local government according to Croatian laws. Mesjak is sent there as commissioner in order to run local affairs and organise first elections. Even before the arrival Mesjak sees there is something odd about the island where seven of his predecessors failed in such task. The island is not covered by cell signal and doesn’t have Internet connection, while the locals speak incomprehensible local dialect. Thankfully, Mesjak gets help in the form of Tonino Smeraldić, played by Borko Perić, kind-hearted epileptic youth who works as his translator, guide and assistant. The commissioner gradually discovers the island’s secrets and wins hearts and minds of islanders, while, in the process, he begins to get fond of the place.

Two elements that were responsible for original novel’s success – political satire and linguistics – probably wouldn’t work well among non-Croatian audiences. In Croatia, however, there would be some issues with the plot and characters not corresponding well with present-day economic and political realities (somewhat different than in 2003 when the original novel was written). For this combination of comedy and drama more inspiration could be found in Northern Exposure, mainly through its portrayal of insulated but charming little community and series of lovable quirky characters, both locals and outsiders. Unfortunately, if Salaj indeed had plans to turn his film into Croatian version of popular TV show, it didn’t work well.

The acting is, for the most part, good, especially in the case of Perić, who had shown great talent for comedy. Mašković, who is supposed to be the straight man of comedy duo, lacks chemistry and , furthermore, lacks even the basic charm to win viewers’ sympathies for his character of failed politician – arguably the most despised profession in today’s Croatia. The bigger, and more important issues, is in the film’s structure and pacing. Salaj tries to stuff too much material in his film, including some delightful experiments with magic realism that, among other things, make The Eight Commissioner the first Croatian film to feature Australian Aboriginal character. His efforts, however, mostly add to the epic length of 139 minutes – rather unusual for Croatian cinema – and many scenes, especially in the beginning, are painfully overlong or unecessary. It is likely that The Eight Commissioner would have worked much better if made as miniseries instead of feature film. While the film has some bright spots, they aren’t enough to compensate its flaws or prevent it from being one big missed opportunity.

RATING: 5/10

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