Recensione: The Holy Family
- Il secondo lungometraggio di finzione di Vlatka Vorkapić, incentrato sul tema dei non detti familiari, è piacevole da guardare, ma rimane un melodramma d'epoca abbastanza prevedibile
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Back in 2012/13, the debut fiction feature by Vlatka Vorkapić, Sonja and the Bull [+leggi anche:
scheda film], became a smash hit at the Croatian box office with just under 100,000 admissions. After that, she went on to direct documentaries like Delayed Revolution (2015) and Our Daily Water (2018), while also taking part in omnibus projects, such as Transmania (A Twisted Game) [+leggi anche:
scheda film] (2016). A decade after her biggest success, Vorkapić is back with a period romantic drama called The Holy Family. After the world premiere took place at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival in October, it has just been released in theatres in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, courtesy of Duplicato Media.
The plot is set in the Croatian eastern flatland region of Slavonia in the 1960s, then part of socialist Yugoslavia. Our protagonist, Janja (Luna Pilić), is a seasonal worker from Bosnia who comes to Slavonia at harvest time. Her first encounter with the village and its culture is her visit to a shop managed by Communist Party representative Milan (Aleksandar Cvjetković) and operated by his wife, Nota (Judita Franković Brdar), whose family used to own the store before the war. Janja stares at some sweets in a glass jar, probably seeing them for the first time in her life, and since she cannot afford any of them, Nota gives her some for free.
Soon enough, Janja gets selected by the village’s richest land owner, Marko (Serbian thesp Nikola Đuričko), who has a reputation as a well-meaning, soft boss who does not press workers too much and rather enjoys his jovial lifestyle. When Janja proves to be a hard worker and an honest person, Marko gets the idea to arrange a marriage between her and his only son, Iva (Ivan Čuić), much to the disapproval of his wife and the young man’s mother, the snobbish religious fanatic Ana (Anita Matić Delić).
At first, this might seem like a stroke of good luck for poor Janja, but she is not heading for a fairy-tale ending. The villagers look down on her, and Iva does not seem happy from the get-go, spending his time drinking with his friends or going hunting at night, instead of showing his wife any affection. Also, it turns out that Marko is not that well-meaning or jovial after all, but rather predatory when it comes to younger women. Other family secrets slowly come to light, and in order to survive, Janja has to forge alliances with different members of the household at different times.
The cinematography by Filip Tot channels the mood of the film from a pastoral aura early on to darker tones later, while the editing by Ivor Šonje is meticulous, especially during the wedding-party centrepiece, which gets some horror-like undertones added to it. The ensemble cast does some fine work, but the actors with more star power (such as Đuričko and Franković Brdar) make their characters appear meatier with more ease. Although the script for The Holy Family is an original work by the filmmaker and Slavica Šnur, the film itself seems like an adaptation of a rather conservative novel. Having said that, the old-fashioned flavour of it makes it seem rich in detail and handsome, especially in the visual department. The soundtrack, consisting mainly of lascivious, folksy songs, also adds to that feeling.
Vorkapić obviously knows how to juggle all of these details and draw the viewer’s attention to them. The trouble is that she is not that apt at handling the characters’ secrets any better than they do, dosing them out until it’s time for the revelation, making the whole story quite predictable, and even causing the titular metaphor to fall flat. In the end, The Holy Family is a handsomely packaged piece of confectionary.
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