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REVIEW: What a Country! (Koja je ovo država!, 2018) February 14, 2019

Posted by Dragan Antulov in Film Reviews.
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Some filmmakers become successful not because they are particularly talented, but because they have the perfect timing. One of such filmmakers is Croatian director Vinko Brešan who built reputation by breaking Croatian taboos with films being made and released in the most opportune time. In 1996, just as the war has ended, he treated this grim and traumatic subject with humour instead of pathos in How the War Started on My Island. In 1999, just as the rule of first Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was nearing its end, Brešan’s comedy Marshal became allegory for similarities between Tudjman and Yugoslav Communist leader Tito. In 2003 Brešan was the first Croatian filmmaker to deal with even more controversial subject of Croatian war crimes. His latest film, 2018 comedy-drama What a Country!, in many ways returns to those themes.

The film is structured about three connected plots, each of them connected with Croatia’s traumatic past. Protagonist of the first story, played by Nikaš Butijer, is Croatian Army general hounded by suicidal thoughts and visions of soldiers who died under his command during the war. The second story deals with government minister, played by Kristijan Mikić, who visits prison only to inexplicably locks himself up in a special museum-like cell dedicated to Croatian patriots, including Tudjman, who were incarcerated during Yugoslav rule. Third story deals with an elderly man (played by Lazar Ristovski) who, with the group of friends, steals coffin with Tudjman’s remains. All those crises are dealt by Croatian government, led by prime minister (played by Sebastian Cavazza) and president (played by Daniel Olbrychski) whose main mission is to prevent potentially devastating scandal.

What a Country! has won some of the critics with non-linear narrative structure and blurred lines between protagonists’ dreams and reality, which was apparently enough for art film credentials. The structure seems to be this film’s strongest element, with stories connected in an ingenious and interesting way, and not only by similar themes and protagonists who, each in his own way, face reality of a country which is so different from the vision they fought and made sacrifices for many years ago. What a Country! also benefits from a very good cast, with actors coming from foreign countries like Slovenia, Serbia or Poland, yet playing Croatian characters with great ease.

Unfortunately, the form itself is not enough to compensate for the lack of proper content. Sad realities of contemporary Croatia, which are supposed to bother protagonists, are never properly addressed nor explained for non-Croatian audience. Even worse is the lack of humour in the film which is supposed to be (and is advertised) as comedy. There are some clever and interesting jokes, but they are often misplaced or their impact dulled by poor pacing. Some, including the segment featuring Serbian and Bosnian characters, look like they were forcefully inserted into What a Country for political reason or in the weak attempt to broaden the potential appeal of this film outside Croatian borders. This film tries to asks some important and unpleasant questions about Croatia, but also tries even harder not to find any meaningful or useful answer.

RATING: 4/10