Tomislav Radić: What Iva Recorded (Što je Iva snimila 21. listopada, 2003, 2005)

reviewed by Petra Belković Taylor © 2011


what iva recordedBy documenting the daily life of a post-communist, postwar Croatian family, Tomislav Radić’s award winning film,[1] What Iva Recorded (2005), manages to take the pulse of the changing life of Zagreb at the start of the 21st century. His main aid in this endeavor is the technique of found footage. By putting the camera into the hands of fifteen-year-old Iva (a character played by Maša Mati Prodan), he leads us to believe that we are watching a home video made of “what Iva finds interesting.” This allows the director to disappear even further behind the scenes and to conceal the fictive nature of the film, leaving the audience with the sense of observing brute reality. It also enables him to capitalize on a fortunate side effect of the documentary approach: to record more than what is intended, capturing people’s lives and conversations in their original impurity, full of telling slips and symbols. The film therefore functions on two closely related levels: both as portrayal of a family trying to navigate its own dysfunction, and as an exploration of the rich milieu of verbal and nonverbal signs and symbols that reflect the struggle of a Croatian society in transition.

what iva recordedWhile Radić manages to capture a fair amount of cultural and psychological complexity, much of it can easily remain hidden to the foreign eye. The online English reviews reflect such oversights.[2] Although generally favorable towards the film and taken by its charm, acting performances and camera work, as well as the director’s keen eye, American reviewers are often disappointed that the movie doesn’t seem to “go anywhere,” that it “falls flat” towards the end, or that it lacks some of the anticipated depth. What the same reviews fail to note, however, is the script’s reliance on references embedded in verbal and non-verbal aspects of the script, i.e. the characters' mannerisms, accents, patterns of speech and seemingly unimportant minor conversations. In fact, Radić’s dialogues, further improvised by the excellent acting cast, sound quite natural to the native ear and are perceived very much as a rendering of private conversations one has heard or been a part of before. In this case the English reviewers’ complaints are perhaps best attributed to their distance from the movie’s dialogue, first by virtue of the language barrier and then by the translation subtitles. Faced with the problem of fast, improvised, and idiomatic dialogue, the translators opted to translate phrases selectively, often creating new sentences in place of partial phrasing, and producing for the English speaker a sense of the general meaning and direction of the conversation rather than of the subtle nuances found in the repetitions, hesitations, and cultural references. If we are to ascribe the lack of depth to what is lost in this particular translation, the reviewers may justifiably feel, therefore, that they are missing what for now remains between the lines.

what iva recordedBut for those initiated into the culture, what operates between the lines in this movie is arguably that which is most poignant and uncomfortably honest. In the very opening scene of the film Radić makes sure to point out that the action takes place in one of Zagreb’s wealthy neighborhoods, such as Pantovčak or Tuškanac. The view from the balcony and the architecture style of the “urban villa” betray the setting. Throughout Zagreb’s 19th and 20th century, these neighborhoods have hosted the wealthy and the famous, and most of all perhaps, those favored by the various power regimes that passed through the country. Therefore, according to popular folklore, since the war in the 1990s they received yet another brand of inhabitant: those who rose to economic, political, or even underworld power during and after the war, exploiting the circumstances of a country that yet once again found itself in transition. The father’s (Božo), accent betrays him as not from Zagreb, and possibly as one of “those.” Božo (played by Ivo Gregurević) is most likely from a rural area, perhaps from Herzegovina, the ethnically mostly Croatian part of Bosnia and Herzegovina notorious in contemporary folklore for extreme Croat nationalism and ties to organized crime. The mother (Željka), who is played by Anja Šovagović, has a distinctly Zagrebian accent. And the resulting associations in the mind of the audience are unmistakable: the husband and wife are most likely brought together by their interest in material goods and status. He is likely looking for new status in the capital of the country, which includes a good-looking woman from a good family, and she, a single mother is aspiring to keep her life style and live up to her bourgeois reputation.

what iva recordedAs the film progresses these stereotypes are confirmed and supported. Božo thinks mostly of his German guest, Mr. Hoffner (played by Karl Menrad), and what he hopes will be a lucrative business contract with him, while Željka worries about her appearance and her marital unhappiness as reflected in her half-hearted efforts to prepare for Iva’s birthday dinner at which Mr. Hoffner, not Iva, is to be the star. Željka’s absentminded preparations further increase the tension between the couple and contribute to the escalating family discord as some guests begin to show, others cancel, Hoffner is quite late, and the food is not what Božo had asked that it be.

But as the movie progresses, these stereotypes begin to break down and the more philosophical side of Radić’s project takes precedence. Before exploring this further however, we should mention one other important character, Željka’s brother, Darko (played by Boris Svrtan), who is the only other invited dinner guest to attend. As a starving, free-spirited artist type, acquainted with Zagreb’s bohemian counter-culture and critical of mainstream conservatism, Darko represents yet another social layer of city and family structure. Within the family he represents a more unruly, but at the same time more infantile element. And within the city, he belongs to the liberal stratum that prides itself on its critical distance from the dominant class’s suspect accomplishments. Apparently relaxed and non-judgmental, he nevertheless enters the scene singing a song referring to the Ustasha military group (a Croatian faction of the WWII fascist movement that created the notorious marionette fascist Independent State of Croatia), which Božo rightly understands as being sung for his benefit. Božo later asks, “You didn’t need to bring that up. Fascist! Do you really mean that?” but Darko’s answer is never direct. His best answer is a type of excuse: “Well, that is what you are. You ban everything that you don’t like!” Here Darko’s ambivalence about the shifting political situation is revealed. Whether out of respect for his sister’s family, or perhaps out of fear, apathy, lack of power or evidence, and finally out of sheer dependence on Božo from whom he frequently borrows money, Darko is unable to follow through with his criticism. The interaction between Darko and Božo therefore captures the conflicting elements of a country in transition—both feel out of place and carry a level of animosity for the other—but both also find themselves in a peculiar symbiotic relationship.

what iva recordedWhile most of the movie works to build the national stereotypes, the last brief portion, which reads very much as a fictive ending to a documentary film, unravels them. Božo is revealed not as a conniving businessman, but as fearful, naïve, and concerned about his family’s financial stability. Željka is revealed as surprisingly devoted and honest, and ultimately as interested more in Božo himself than in wealth. And even Iva’s fears, reflected in the long camera shots of her mother dancing with Hoffner and in her own earlier rejection of Božo as a father figure, are somewhat assuaged. Characters lost in their societal and familial roles suddenly meet their human selves, and while they do not ride off into the sunset, exhausted, embracing one another, they do make their way to the bedroom. Gently and compassionately the director puts himself on the side of these tired people, and gives them and their society a break—for now.

It could be said that this movie plays with a number of established stereotypes and boundaries: between the fictive and documentary, amateur and professional, private and public, central and peripheral.  Nevertheless, it leaves one dichotomy less explored: that of foreign and domestic. From the first mention of his name, Mr. Hoffner is an elusive outsider who is to be wooed for the sake of financial gain. After he is late to the dinner, he comports himself in a superficially polite manner, condescends to Božo and his business skill, and finally proceeds to confirm his image as untrustworthy and exploitative. His humanity is never revealed and he ends up rather as the proverbial scapegoat. Hoffner’s character failures bring the family together, and only against them is Božo able to act with resolve and self-confidence. Hoffner exits the film in a similarly symbolic fashion, riding away in a speeding taxi with an angry local (Božo) running after him.

what iva recordedWhile most reviews do not seem disturbed by the one-dimensionality of Mr. Hoffner’s character, they do find fault with what they see as a “flat” and anticlimactic ending. Mr. Hoffner drives off, Božo tears up the contracts of the business deal he was to have with him, finally gives some of his attention to Iva, and then, followed by Iva’s camera, slowly walks off into the bedroom with Željka. This presentation of the events leaves an important question unresolved: have the characters grown and taken charge of their lives, or have they merely resigned themselves to accepting what life deigns to give them? The ambivalent ending, however, is typical for Radić (see, for example, his last movie, Three Stories About Sleeplessness (Tri priče o nespavanju, 2008). Especially because we never hear the characters’ inner thoughts, it is possible to interpret the events (Božo tearing up the contracts and walking into the bedroom with Željka), as either recourse to routine survival or evidence of a hopeful self-realization. The ending is a type of psychological illusion, and Radić seems to know that in order to capture reality he must leave the door open for both possibilities.  

Petra Belković Taylor


Notes

1] The film won The Grand Golden Arena award for best film at the Pula Film Festival in 2005. It also won the Golden Arena award for best director (Tomislav Radić) and best actress (Anja Šovagović), as well as the Croatian Film Critics’ Society’s Oktavijan award. The same year it also won the Fipresci Prize, awarded by the International Federation of Film Critics, at the Ljubljana International Film Festival.

2] For examples, amongst others, see: Bill Gibron’s review and Trent Daniels interesting review


What Iva Recorded (Što je Iva snimila 21. listopada 2003), Croatia, 2005
Color, 92 min.
Director: Tomislav Radić
Script: Tomislav Radić and Ognjen Sviličić
Cinematography: Vedran Samanović
Art Director: Ivica Trpčić
Sound Editor: Gordan Fučkar
Production Manager: Tihomir Stivičić
Editing: Kruno Kušec
Cast: Anja Šovagović-Despot, Ivo Gregurević, Boris Svrtan, Maša Mati Prodan, Barbara Prpić, Karl Menrad
Production Company: Korus, Croatian Radiotelevision

 

Tomislav Radić: What Iva Recorded (Što je Iva snimila 21. listopada, 2003, 2005)

reviewed by Petra Belković Taylor © 2011

Updated: 20 Apr 11