Branko Schmidt’s Ungiven and Applause for Tito at 62nd Pula Film Festival’s Opening Night

The ruins of the Roman arena in Pula filled with professional attendees and local viewers on the Pula Film Festival’s opening night. Able to hold 12000 people, the arena was almost full. The festivities opened with speeches, fireworks, and a restored black and white documentary about the film festival from 1955. The audience laughed at footage of a rural man from the time leading his donkey through the streets of nearby Medulin, and they applauded when Tito appeared on screen. Most of them also stayed through the hour and a half screening of Branko Schmidt‘s Imena Višnje, translated as Ungiven, a slow-cinema reflection on the hardening of routine and habituated ways of interacting with one’s closest intimates.IMAG1291

Set in the crumbling home that an elderly Croat couple named Kata and Slavko (played by Nada Đurevska and Ivo Gregurević) return to after the war, the majority of the narrative is taken up by repetition. Within the changing seasons of a full year, Slavko repeatedly collects water from the stream and goes to the store to buy cooking supplies. Kata repeatedly complains of her aching legs  and increasingly shows signs of dementia. A shot of a plane flying overhead repeatedly interrupts these routines, possibly alluding to the speed of the technologically advanced world rushing by outside of the couple’s reach. Most attention goes to Slavko’s increasing frustration with Kata’s failures.

A grumpy patriarch whose explosive temper goes largely unchallenged by his wife, Slavko orders his wife to make coffee, store her photos on the wardrobe instead of under the bed, and so on. Invariably she fails to meet his standards, and he yells at her for the coffee being too strong, the bread being inadequately salted, the food being too sweet. Overall, his outbursts were difficult to watch. The early ones established the power dynamic of their relationship, but they became suffocating as their frequency increases and as he humiliates her in public. Kata seems unable to do anything right, from his point of view, and her dignity is repeatedly chipped away out through his response to her. Too late in the film, Kata’s dementia is revealed. Her mistakes are understood to be the result of her failing mental health, which confirms Slavko’s critique. When she wanders outside barefoot in winter, Slavko recognizes the extent of her condition and begins caring for her. His increasing concern and tenderness reveal a love for her previously imperceptible under the the patriarchal expressions of his hardened expectations and shortened temper.

Not an entirely successful film at the levels of pacing and plot, the film also proves too didactic to reach its artistic and philosophical aspirations. A literal translation of the film’s would yield The Name of the Cherry, in an echo of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. Early in the film, and in a display of poetry uncharacteristic to Slavko, he responds to her inquiries about what he read in the newspaper by saying that it spoke of how the water always remembers the shape of the glass, even when it is no longer contained within in. In many ways the film is addressing the different forms that loss takes, whether through the dilapidated state of their house, the boredom and agony produced by their suffocating interactions, and Kata’s failing health that the film concludes with. It shows the consequences of insufficient sensitivity in what amounts to anti-patriarchal morality tale about right relationship and the consequences of its lack.

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