What is happening in Croatia and Serbia today, this anti-civilization march of nationalists and the church, this extensive revision of the past and this silence which only a handful of brave journalists are resisting, must be attributed to the shameful reticence of the intelligentsia and their fear of resisting pernicious primitivism
In the 1990s he left for the US, escaping, as he calls it in his book „Untold Stories“(„Neispričane Priče“), „a black and white world on the edge of sanity where you can’t do anything normal“. In late September, the celebrated film director and screenwriter, Rajko Grlić came to Serbia and we used this opportunity to talk to him about his new film, the collaboration with the writer Ante Tomić, his book „Untold Stories“, the situation in culture in the former Yugoslav countries and many other topics.
You are making a new film called “Svemu Dođe Kraj” (“Everything has its End”). You experienced the end of Yugoslavia, the country where you were born. What kind of end do you expect now?
— The film, if it is made at all, will tell a story of a lawyer who, after spending twenty years in the service of a reputable citizen, tycoon, thief and murderer, who is very well-connected with the authorities, decided to say “no”, stopped working for him, publicly said what he thought of him and went against him. In short, it is a love story that questions whether it is possible to say “no” to power and money in this corrupt part of the world, and if one decides to do so, what are the consequences. As far as I’m concerned, I think it would be fitting for this to be the last film I ever direct. This “might happen” film bears this title for another reason; we believe that we should do something, speak up and stop putting up with those people who have so arrogantly usurped our lives.
In the book “Untold Stories” you write that after the premiere of your film “Ustav Republike Hrvatske” (“The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia”) you told Ante Tomić that it might be good if the two of you were to stop collaborating. What changed your mind and made you decide to work together with him on the new film?
— It was Ante Tomić, who is writing the screenplay with me, who changed my mind, both forcefully and mercifully. As it happens, during the making of my last three films – “Karaula” (“The Border Post”), “Neka Ostane Medju Nama” (“Just Between Us”) and “Ustav Republike Hrvatske” (“The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia”) – I kept repeating that the film I was doing at that moment was the last film I was ever going to do. So, I made three “last ever” films. I never declared any of them “the very last” so that everyone can have some pity on this old film director, but because I truly believed that I would no longer have the stamina to go through a three- or four-yearlong cycle of making a film in this part of the world. The worst part of this cycle is the one that lasts a year or maybe two during which you need to raise funds in at least four or five countries in order to make a small, low-budget film.
Many things divide and connect Croatia and Serbia, including filmmaking. The number of film collaborations and co-productions is on the up. What do you think of that? Do you think that we are in the same predicament since we both have very small funds allocated to culture?
— One of the common characteristics of the countries that were created following the disintegration of Yugoslavia is that they simply do not care about culture. They don’t need culture, to say the least. Big money can’t be “supervised” in culture and you can’t engage in nepotism in culture. Ministries of culture exist to control state-run institutions of culture, more or less, and to prevent unnecessary scandals from occurring in the so-called free market. In short, they keep writers, directors, painters, journalists and others under scrutiny with the help of money which is so scarce in culture with the funds allocated to culture being the smallest in Europe. On the other hand, the tradition of cooperation, especially in the segment of film, goes far back in the past. We are also connected by what was a rather small and now an even smaller country, almost the same language and the opportunity to choose the best from the wide cast of actors and filmmakers regardless of their “nation, state and religion”. This used to be called “an inter-republic cooperation” and nowadays it’s “an international cooperation” from which “minority co-productions” originate. The film “Karaula” I did in 2005 was the first such co-production of all ex-Yugoslav countries since the war. In short, poverty and the language unite us and ensure that the films we make have a much wider local market. This resembles collaboration that is so successfully cultivated by the Scandinavians.
Speaking of your book that came out last year, I wonder what made you put your life and observations on the paper.
— In the past thirty years, since moving to America, I have been writing various notes, stories, portraits and observations in my notepad. In early days, I called it “My Top 100 Best Movies I Will Never Make”. So, I accumulated a bunch of stories; some based on real events, some derived from imagination, stories from others, as well as from my own life. In short, everything the writer writes in the hope that one day he would need these notes to work on a new project. The notes were never intended to become a book. These were just little snippets of life that could, at best, one day show my grandchildren what their grandfather went through, what he did and what he didn’t do. A few years ago, I read them to Ante Tomić, a writer I’ve been writing scripts with for about fifteen years. Ante decided that I had to publish them, gave them to Marina Vujčić, a writer and editor at Henacom in Zagreb, who, after reading them, decided that she would publish them, with or without my consent. I had a weak character, they played on my ego and the book came out. Soon, Belgrade-based Laguna published it. Judging by the number of copies they printed, they were quite serious about it.
Why did you decide against the original title “Kako Izvaditi Čep iz Grlića Boce” (“How To Remove A Bottle Cork”)?
— That’s again the aforementioned Ante Tomić’s fault. He claimed (and he wasn’t the only one) that nobody would buy a book with that title. Since Ante is the most popular Croatian writer, I believed him. Now, I regret not using that title, but it’s too late. To top it all off, the title is untranslatable in the English language without a detailed explanation of the play of words here – my surname Grlić means “bottleneck” in English.
You said about your departure for the US – “I did not save my self permanently, but you are permanently damaged”. Did you change your mind in the meantime? Can we save our respective countries?
— If you take a closer look at how politicians in these countries have been diligently working on inciting national hatred and intolerance of everything else that is different in the last thirty years and how they use the cheapest vehicle there is – nationalist populism – for rousing the masses, i.e. to win election, then you have to ask yourself if anyone in this furnace can stay “normal”. Of course, it can, but it’s a damn tough job. Enormous energy must be invested for a person and their loved ones to remain unpolluted. I told myself that I did not permanently save myself, especially since I split my time between Croatia and America half-half. “Saving oneself” is very difficult, almost impossible at times, for those who are constantly hateful.
You were mentioned in the 1984 “White Book” as one of the Yugoslav intellectuals that were branded “ideological enemies”. What do you think of today’s intellectuals and their activities in the 1990s?
— Yes, I made it to the White Book; this infamous list of Yugoslav intellectuals who were branded “enemies in culture”. I was equally proud of being included in the list of the cultural enemies of Croatia too, after the country gained independence. Perseverance, in my case, is clearly rewarded. In the 1990s, especially in Serbia, a large number of writers from that list, almost overnight, started swimming in the nationalist waters, with many becoming the militant voice of nationalism. I have to admit that this was a huge disappointment for me. While fighting against “anti-freedom”, they embarked on an even worse path and publicly called for war. Croatian intellectuals did the same, albeit a bit quieter. Everything in Croatia is done a bit quieter anyway. Croatia, however, was under attack until it came time to divide Bosnia and Herzegovina. They wholeheartedly supported the great nationalists, believing that they were helping to defend their country and that when the war was over, they would be able to peacefully terminate the Faustian bargain they made with the authorities. But, as we know, it is hard to get out of such a contract. What is happening in Croatia and Serbia today, this anti-civilization march of nationalists and the church, this extensive revision of the past and this silence which only a handful of brave journalists are resisting must be attributed to the shameful reticence of the intelligentsia and their fear of resisting pernicious primitivism. In conclusion of depicting this unfortunately not overly optimistic situation, I would like to say that that is the main reason for so many educated people leaving this area. They do not want to live in such an atmosphere.