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REVIEW: The Last Serb in Croatia (Posljednji Srbin u Hrvatskoj, 2019) March 27, 2019

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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Recent events in Christchurch were just another sad reminder how the ethnic and religious hatred can create tragic consequences even at places when nobody would expect them. So, it is refreshing to know that the exactly the same phenomenon – ethnic and religious intolerance – can be object of ridicule in films made in countries that made headlines by having their mutual hatred reach its tragic climax in form of wars and ethnic cleansing. Croatia and Serbia, two former Yugoslav republics that had fought long and bloody war in 1990s after the collapse of federation, now have film industries that co-operate in making joint films, some of them dealing with unpleasant subjects of Croat-Serb relations before, during and after the 1990s conflict. One of the few that took somewhat iconoclastic approach in that effort is The Last Serb in Croatia, 2019 science fiction comedy written and directed by Predrag Ličina.

The plot is set in near and unpleasantly plausible future. Negative macroeconomic and environmental trends continued both on global and national level and Croatia, which is supposed to one of the better-off parts of former Yugoslavia, is now practically bankrupt while the rest of the world fights for increasingly scarce resources like water. Croatian population is sharply divided into impoverished majority forced to beg on the streets and obscenely rich minority which includes nominal protagonist Mićo (played by Krešimir Mikić). He lacks excitement in life and can afford to be obsessed with series of cheap Croatian superhero films in which actress Franka Anić (played by Hristina Popović) plays protagonist Hrvojka Horvat. Chance to meet her is given due to sudden pandemic that turns Croatians into flesh-eating zombies. Mićo finds shelter in Zagreb hospital where he meets Franka and together with a group of survivors decides to travel towards depopulated areas near Bosnian border, where there are supposed to be safer from zombie hordes. There they find a family which, unlike their neighbours, was apparently unaffected by the epidemic. Soon it becomes apparent that members of ethnic Serb minority are immune and that their DNA might be the key for the antidote necessary to stop the global catastrophe.

The Last Serb in Croatia is the first feature film of Predrag Ličina, who, until this time, worked mostly on television. This is at times reflected in a script that tries very hard to stuff as much content as possible in relatively short running time, giving away author’s desire to put this rare film-making opportunity to maximum use. This can be felt both through fast tempo and jokes that make not only of Croats, Serbs and their respective national chauvinisms and ethinc stereotypes, but also deal with their troubled 20th Century past, ideological divides and uncertain future. Ličina’s humour is also directed at bigger picture, which includes other ethnic groups and states of former Yugoslavia, as well as what is euphemistically called “international community”. Not all of those jokes work and most of them would be completely lost to the audience unfamiliar to the history of this part of the world. Those that are familiar will, on the other hand, notice that the quality of jokes and script decreases in the second half, leaving impression that Ličina ran out of ideas. This is most evident in the “clever” twist at the very end that actually looks like a desperate and not particularly successful attempt to wrap up the story that was going nowhere.

On the other hand, Ličina’s work is satisfying from technical standpoint and his capable direction successfully hides lack of big budget. Rather diverse cast is also capable, although Mikić as nominal protagonist gets easily overshadowed by Serbian actress Hristina Popović, who excels in a role that, among other things, could be interpreted as a parody of Wonder Woman. Other members of cast are often wasted in thankless and underwritten roles; one such example could be Serbian actor Srđan Trifunović in a role of jingoistic US general that looks like a cheap parody of George C. Scott’s character in Dr. Strangelove, while another is famous Croatian singer Severina Kojić in a cameo role of clueless humanitarian activist. Despite these flaws, The Last Serb in Croatia could be commended as an imperfect but noble attempt to help different nations and communities to face their respective pasts through humour and perhaps finally start building something of a better future.

RATING: 5/10

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