Watching ourselves in the mirror
by Vladan Petkovic
29/09/2008 - Zrinko Ogresta's films are often described as stories about human tragedies. In Red Dust (1999, in official competition Venice; Best Film at Haifa, Rome and Flagstaff) he focuses on a good-hearted boxer in undeserved troubles. In Here (2004, winner of the Special Jury Award at Karlovy Vary; Best Film at Milan and Denver; Critics Award at Montpellier) he watches various characters struggle in a similar mire of transition.
In Behind the Glass [film focus] (official competition entry at Karlovy Vary and an Audience Award at the Motovun Film Festival) Ogresta concentrates on a love triangle between successful architect Nikola (Leon Lucev), his colleague and mistress Ana (Darija Lorenci) and wife Maja (Jadranka Djokic). Nikola is torn between his two women, his mistress of six years who is waiting for a divorce, and a wife aware of his infidelity. He is moreover having trouble at work with his corrupted partner.
The film is also a social commentary of the time and the country - Croatia in a later phase of transition. Just like Red Dust focused on the situation before and after the war in the former Yugoslavia, and Here dealt with the early years of the transition, Behind the Glass concentrates on human suffering within the context of modern Croatian society’s upper middle class.
As the title suggests, we are watching the characters from a distance, and can’t help feeling that the director created his heroes’ lives to then let them live them on their own, left to circumstances and accidents. There is a backup to this approach to characters and the story in the form of a leit-motif - a poisonous algae that has accidentally been released from an aquarium in Monaco and spread throughout the Mediterranean, destroying all other marine vegetation.
"This is my most personal film, not in the sense that it is autobiographical, although there are some elements of that kind, but that it bares my inner feelings and view of life," says Ogresta. "We are all in hands of a higher force, call it providence or God, and sometimes it is something that we cannot escape, however hard we try. I believe anyone can recognize him or herself in one of these three characters."
Almost as voyeurs we watch as Nikola, Maja and Ana live in a constant, very human struggle for love and belonging. Cinematograper Davorin Gecl, who collaborated with Ogresta on both Red Dust and Here, works with two cameras for the first time and shows us their life through windows, cracks in half-open doors and mirrors.
And always from a distance, except when concentrating on Lucev's eyes in the rear-view mirror of his car. Those are the only instances when the spectator feels directly connected to the main character, as opposed to his two women and family. However, this approach in no way lessens the feeling that any of us could get into this kind of situation, if we have not been there already.
The film's production values are on par with current European cinema, which also represents an overall move forward in Croatian production. Out of seven films in competition at this year’s national Pula Film Festival, only two were below standard.
Behind the Glass stands out as the Croatian film of the year, which shows a bright side in the sense of final product and a dark side in terms of the filmmaking situation in the territory. However, festival prospects are bright: the film has been invited to a string of festivals, including Cairo, Goteburg, Denver and Ghent.