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PULA 2019

Review: Extracurricular

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- Ivan-Goran Vitez's third feature is a tense hostage thriller with sharp political commentary built in

Review: Extracurricular
Željko Königsknecht in Extracurricular

The films of Ivan-Goran Vitez are always thought-provoking and laced with irony as well as sharp social commentary, from his student films and shorts to his work on TV series and on his features. After his intriguing mix of woods slasher, politically incorrect comedy and social drama in Forest Creatures [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ivan Goran Vitez
film profile
]
(2010) and the World War II-themed satire Shooting Stars [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(2015), Vitez has written and directed his third feature, Extracurricular [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
. A socially charged genre piece set around a hostage crisis in a school, the film also opens an array of social issues relevant to contemporary Croatia. It premiered in the national competition of the Pula Film Festival (13-21 July) and, as a competently executed genre piece, should see a regular theatrical distribution in the near future.

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Vitez dedicated just the right amount of time to exposition before events are set in motion. He opens the film with a parallel montage of a man wrapping up a gift and a woman dropping of her daughter at school on a very special day, set against the tension-building soundtrack written by Jelenko Hodak. The young girl, named Ana (first-timer Frida Jakšić), is celebrating her ninth birthday, and the school just got a brand-new gym thanks to the project of the town's corrupt mayor (veteran stage and TV actor Željko Königsknecht) and the "fortunate" timing of elections just around the corner.

Vlado Mladinić (Milivoj Beader), the man we saw wrapping the gift, is planning to spend the day with Ana, who is his daughter. After his first attempt at taking her out of class fails due to the intervention of the school staff, he comes back with plan B: a hunting rifle in one hand and a cake in the other. A divorced, desperate man left behind by society, Vlado does a desperate thing: he takes Ana's class hostage. As the situation develops, a number of interested parties join in, so to speak. Besides the kids' parents and the police, there is also the mayor, who seeks a political angle, and the fame-hungry journalist from the local online newspaper, who tries to control a situation that repeatedly gets out of control.

Vitez, by contrast, manages to maintain perfect control over the material for most of the film’s duration — not an easy task, since his ambitious script juggles a lot of characters, each with their own well-established points of view and agendas. Thanks to the director’s precise direction and good sense of timing, his characters are rather evenly developed and do not overstay their welcome on the screen. The casting choices are also interesting and seem deliberate, as most of the actors in both the main and the supporting cast play against their usual type. Cinematographer Lutvo Mekić does a very good job and the editing by Ivana Rogić is faultless.

Slight problems occur in the film’s conclusion. The ending itself could be a little tighter and better motivated, with some of the plot threads simply getting lost on the way. It feels as though the writer-director has simply tried to touch on too many social issues — such as education, the judicial and political system in Croatia, its endemic corruption, the country’s history of war, diverging parenting methods, the rise of right-wing rhetoric in public discourse, and so on. This was more of an issue in Vitez's previous films, however; here, this profusion of topics does not take as much of a toll on the film, since Extracurricular remains a good, well-paced and precisely executed genre piece.

Extracurricular is an entirely Croatian production, produced by Interfilm with the help of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC).

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