WHEN A RESPECTED ARTIST SPEAKS
Hrvatsko Slovo Newspaper, Croatia
Writen by Zoran Vukman
Translated by Hilda M. Foley
There are very few film and literary authors in Croatia who have energetically in the last ten years taken the bull by the horn in regard to these challenges. It seems we have to wait for the arrival of the new, young generation, having among them some courageous and gifted authors uninfected with the Yugoslav syndrome and unencumbered with ideological layers. In Croatia, gifted Croatians have a difficult time. If they do not attach themselves to the reigning clans, they can be geniuses, but they will not succeed. Brenda Brkusic, American film producer of Croatian descent, is one of these authors we have been waiting for: young, gifted and brave.
Contemporary Croatia is still not able to confront itself with the truth regarding its time under communism. Its leftist and liberal intellectual elite have been for years silently suppressing the crimes of Titoism. Amnesia and silence reign whenever the times when people used to disappear overnight are mentioned. In the first decade after WWII, the communists destroyed the flower of the Croatian elite, decimating this nation. The unspoken about amnesty which the communist criminals received was followed by the attempt to falsify history. Yet the one thing that prevents Croatia's examination of its conscience is the intellectual opportunism reigning in the public and the media. No one wants to dig into an area which many shun. No one wants to dwell into themes that are unpopular and unwanted in the media under the scrutiny of the post-communist left. It does not want to touch its own dirt, because it would reveal the lies and deceit of an intolerant world view. All its redesigned myths would fall apart like paper totem poles, like the myth of Tito being a positive historical personage creating socialism "with a human face". There are very few film and literary authors in Croatia who have energetically in the last ten years taken the bull by the horn in regard to these challenges.
It seems we have to wait for the arrival of the new, young generation, having among them some courageous and gifted authors uninfected with the Yugoslav syndrome and unencumbered with ideological layers. In Croatia, gifted Croatians have a difficult time. If they do not attach themselves to the reigning clans, they can be geniuses, but they will not succeed.
Brenda Brkusic, American film producer of Croatian descent, is one of these authors we have been waiting for: young, gifted and brave. She filmed the documentary "Freedom from Despair" in which without ambiguity she clearly and factually passes judgment on Yugoslav communism as an inhumane and repressive system. It is a very mature and dynamic documentary, with the foundation being the life of her father Kruno Brkusic, who in his youth fled from the lack of freedom in Yugoslavia to freedom in America. Brenda presented this tale without exaggeration, honestly and sincerely, with the author's courage which is imposing, but which is also without any ideology and propaganda. She gave through her personal dimension a very vivid presentation of a totalitarian time, the darkest sides of a system which mercilessly trampled human rights. Brenda Brkusic did not hesitate to emphasize the main culprit for such a predicament: Josip Broz Tito.
Fear, Ingratiation and Absence
The instinct has been developed among Croatian intellectuals for political opportunism, as they express opinions without opinions, and leave everything unanswered or in contradiction, and therefore even Tito can be figured as a benign autocrat instead of a communist dictator. Therefore, her author's directness and unconventionality is for these people like a punch in the eye. The dynamic personnel of Brenda's film, in which there are alternate acted and documentary scenes, and dialogue with a number of witnesses as well as relevant intellectuals and politicians, such as Dr. Jerry Blaskovich, Michael McAdams and American Congressmen of Croatian descent D. Kucinich and J. Radanovich, shows that the author has a very inspired directorial approach, that she achieved dramatic tension and rhythm, which even after one and one half hours time does not leave the viewer unmoved. Not only did she master her film profession, it is also obvious that she is a very gifted young film director, as she as a 23-year old made a mature and serious film for which even older colleagues in this domain could be envious.
The great value of this film is in the fact that Brenda shows through intimate, warm and human dimension, that through the personal can be shown the universal, and how the political dimension of a destiny can be pictured and inhumanity and repression can be revealed without falling into ideology and propaganda. At the same time, this tale is a strong, honest and reproachful judgment of communism and Yugoslavia. The point is, conditionally said, of a political film without a political vision, but for the paradox to be even more interesting, one can notice that this is an "unpolitical" film about a sensitive political theme! From what ever angle one looks, one has to honestly admit that the author has approached this theme without ambiguity and that she touched an area from which many flee and which is still taboo with the post communist left. Their adherents, transformed into democrats, believe that in time all this will be forgotten and that their totalitarian consciousness will fade. Therefore it is not surprising that the Croatian media received Brenda's first film with indifference and coolness. It is fortunate that Ms. Brkusic has an American film diploma because if she were a gifted Croatian born and matured in Croatia, the critics such as Jurica Pavicic would have buried her forever. This way, the dwarfish, clannish enviers cannot harm her. We can only look forward to her ascent and wishing her a brilliant career.
"False" democrats as critics
Jurica Pavicic in his column "News from Lilliput" (Could it be that this Lilliputian thinks of himself as Gulliver?) wrote about Brenda's film out of context, even though he is a film critic and could above all critique the film professionally, Pavicic fell into his usual pseudo-intellectual unwindings, which are actually the expressions of his ideology and ideological intolerance. Even though he wrote several obvious insinuations and lies, Jutarnji List refused to print Brenda Brkusic's reply! Among other things, Pavicic insinuates that in one instance the film supposedly shows a car on which a "U" is prominently displayed on the license plate. The fact is it was a total coincidence - the ninety-year old Bozo Ukas led the film crew to a mass grave and were on the way given a ride by two local young men in their car. Pavicic fantasizes that the ninety-year old man drove the car with the letter "U", and his sense of smell is grotesquely unmistaken like some police hounds. This only goes to show what occupies a film critic in Croatia and to what degree he lives by his paranoia and informers' passion. Pavicic is at his most ideological when he tries to present this film as the subjective and biased view from the Diaspora (Croatians living outside of Croatia), which is quite incorrect, because facts regarding a regime are not things of a subjective nature and viewpoints, but are simply facts. Brenda Brkusic has especially courageously and openly spoken out about the disreputable UDBA (Yugoslav Secret Police), yet she is too young to know that adherents of this criminal organization still live in Croatia, even if not in a distinct operative sense, but in a psychological and mental one. Besides, with what do these comrades occupy themselves if not in search of the letter "U" where it is only the ordinary letter of the alphabet? In the film "Freedom from Despair" we can see stirring scenes from the Homeland war - scenes for which there is an attempt to have them removed from our collective memory. There is an attempt to bring up the new Croatian generation in such a way that they do not even get the opportunity to see the truth of recent Croatian history. Therefore, Brenda Brkusic's mission is important - that the young speak out about the themes from which they are being dissuaded. That they speak out the truth about Croatia, and that they do not allow themselves to be fettered with complexes of all kinds. Because the future always belongs to the gifted and brave.