"It's a mosaic of unpleasant questions for current Croatian society"
by Vladan Petkovic
- Croatian director Rajko Grlić's 12th feature film, The Constitution, world-premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival, where it won its biggest accolade, the Grand Prize of the Americas.
Croatian director Rajko Grlić's 12th feature film, The Constitution [+see also:
interview: Rajko Grlić
film profile],world-premiered at the Montreal World Film Festival, where it won its biggest accolade, the Grand Prize of the Americas. The drama about the complex psychological and everyday problems of its odd characters directly addresses the current situation in Croatian society – especially its treatment of minorities (specifically, Serbs and homosexuals) and the resurgence of the extreme right on all levels of the political mainstream. Cineuropa spoke to Grlić ahead of the film's national release on 4 October, through distributor Blitz.
Cineuropa: The Constitution is probably your "most Prague" film in terms of style, and your "most Zagreb" film in spirit.
Rajko Grlić: I was born in Zagreb, and I studied film at FAMU in Prague. These two Central European cities have shaped me. Out of my 12 feature films, eight were set in Zagreb, and of course it shows in a story like this. The spirit of a city is like dust on a bottle of wine: it can be added manually, but the real dust, the one with actual weight that tells of the authenticity of the bottle, can accumulate only over time. It was exactly this period of my experience that I wanted to shape into the spirit of this film, this very intimate "love and hate" relationship with the place where I spent my youth. And, of course, with people who inhabit it today.
The film is coming out at a time when the extreme right-wing ideology is on the rise in Croatia. How did you and [co-writer and prominent liberal journalist] Ante Tomić work on the script, and did you make any changes over time?
Both Ante and I have had our fair share of experiences with intolerance. It was the main reason why I moved to the US, and for Ante, it resulted in several physical assaults in his hometown of Split. So we decided to try and articulate the experience through this story. We started working on it long before the current resurgence of the right wing started, with its revival of the Ustasha movement and "painful nationalism". But it was in the air. It was only a matter of time before someone like the current Minister of Culture [Zlatko Hasanbegović] would publicly, with great conviction, start invoking fascism and enforcing ideological blackballing.
So there was no need to adapt the story to the time. The time itself increasingly started to resemble our "fictional" story. This happened to me before with my film Charuga, in 1991, when the fictional story from the big screen became the reality on the TV screens.
The casting of Dejan Aćimović and Ksenija Marinković seems natural, but giving the role of the professor to Nebojša Glogovac was a bold decision.
Dejan's and Ksenija's roles were intended for them from the very beginning. For the role of the professor, it took me more than a year to find the right actor. I did a lot of auditions, but I never got near enough to picking one. A couple of great actors suffered because of my repeated calls back to rehearsals before I finally sent the script to Nebojša.
As a person, he is the polar opposite of his character on every level: through his habitus, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. It soon turned out that this apparently illogical casting would be a success. Despite all the differences, or maybe exactly because of them, he simply became this character, and it was wonderful working with him. A wise actor, a wise man. One does not go without the other.
The social critique in the film is very direct, but not simple nor one-sided. How did you achieve this delicate balance?
Ante and I constructed the basic story very quickly. Then we spent over two years carefully building the characters to be plausible. We tried to build three-dimensional characters out of people who see other people two-dimensionally. This is why every detail had to be carefully weighed, and every action and gesture of the characters had to be justified. It was the only way to put together a mosaic of such delicate and often unpleasant questions for our society, the mosaic of our current life in which both the historical "bad guys" and "good guys" have a right to dignity.