Interview with Pavo Marinković

Like the main protagonist of your film, Lordan Zafranović, you also lived in Prague. Was it in Prague that you meat Lordan for the first time? Do you remember the meeting and how you felt about him?

When I moved to Prague in 2008, I was not so eager to meet Lordan. His public image was very bad in Croatia. For me, this was not a big issue but I just did not think we have much in common. He seemed so different. But Croatian actor Slobodan Milovanović, a friend who also played in both of my feature films, and who also lives in Prague, started to meet Lordan. Two of them became good friends. So, Slobo encouraged me to get acquainted to Lordan, and I saw a huge respect from an intelligent and sensitive guy - and Slobo is surely one of these. At the same time I became curious. Slobo was arranging a meeting for 2 months, and several times we were not we didn't meet. When I finally stopped asking Slobo, where this coffee should take place, I went to have a fast meal in McDonald’s in Nové Butovice where I lived. And there, in the same McDonald’s I saw a guy who looked exactly like Lordan. So I approached him and then we agreed to have a coffee together one day. After that at least twice a month, Slobo, Lordan and I were having coffee together and talking about film and politics. For me - which was partly a surprise, Lordan did not look like an exclusive guy. He had a strong opinion, but he was completely allowing me a different opinion. I was sure I was not talking with an autocratic monster or communist fanatic, but with a guy who knows how to discuss and who knows how to accept different opinions. At the same time - I was sure I am not talking with a fake - Lordan is an artist. This was also questioned in Croatia - in media there were lots of articles where he was introduced as a fake person and as a fake artist. And this was not true. Although I really did not agree with lots of things his thoughts and judgements... I started to enjoy our coffees.

When did you decide to make a film about him and how did he react when you approached him?

I have always been very interested in the scandal which followed "An Occupation in 26 Pictures". It was the first big film debate I can remember. I was 11-12 years and the scandal was making me aware of party artists, their dilemmas, opening some ethical questions in the mind of a young boy who has been raised in intellectual, anti-communist environment. You know, my father was a university professor of philosophy who could have made a much better career had he agreed to join the official ideology. So the scandal has a smell of something personal. 

And the scandal was prolonged till the mid 80s. The film publicist Ivo Škrabalo wrote a book, 6-7 years after "Occupation" had opened, called "Između publike i države" ("Beetwen Audience and State") which was an official history of the Croatian cinema. The book had been accused of being nationalistic and superficial, of not being thorough but encyclopaediac. Škarabalo wrote a disastrous passage on Zafranović and "Occupation". The Party reacted, of course. At that time, I was preparing for the entrance exam at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Zagreb. So, you can say I was followed by this scandal. This second part of the scandal is not in the film because professor Škrabalo died before we started shooting and it seemed repetitive and everything about it we threw out even before the first rough cut. But, what I wanted to say - "Occupation" followed my maturing from my 11th year, till my film studies. So, when I met Lordan, and after all these years I started to understand his motifs which were very human indeed...good or bad, but human, I did not see him as a regime monster any more.

He was the only real loser of all Croatian directors after 1991.

Having the strong conflict between two sides with very human arguments in which I was emotionally involved - that meant I had a theme for a film.  Of course, I asked Lordan for cooperation, and when he agreed, I applied for the funding - not before. And to tell the truth I was not sure if the other side, Polimac, Kuljiš, late Škrabalo would like to be involved. I think Lordan agreed to be a part of the film because he trusted me, but also to get a chance to tell everyone the story from his point of view. He was warned by me that I do not have the intention to make  a documentary which will glorify him. And I liked his reaction.

Your and Lordan political (and not only political) opinions differ a lot but you said several times that in a way, you understand Lordan and feel closer to him then you do to some of your other countrymen who stand on the same side of the political spectrum as you. Why is that?

Billy Wilder once said that things he can forgive people most is - political stand. He was, this is well known, a good friend of Charles Lindbergh despite some attitudes Linderbergh embraced. Although I was raised not to like communists I had lots of friends with communist background. In pre-war Zagreb, we didn't care much who came from socialist, pro-Titoistic families and who came from the petit bourgeois background. I never shared Lordan's political views, our only similarity is that we are both southerners. He comes from a working class socialist Split family, my father's roots are island aristocracy. So we share a similar mentality and this is maybe the reason we communicate well. The other reason is that we spent parts of our life abroad, so we share the problems and can understand each other. Although we often act from very different points of views. 

Concerning morality I have been warned several times that it's not advisable to be in Lordan's company and that he did bad things in the past. But, I have seen that lots of bad things have been done in Croatia, and in Croatian film industry now. Most of these people who sell themselves as slightly left liberal figures are usually mediocre egoists who would do everything, even worse things than he did, just to protect their own interests. They are holding together, protecting lack of their talent, sitting in commissions and creating policy of mediocracy. And Lordan, at least, is not a mediocre guy in any respect. So, it is very human to find a disillusionate Titoist more interesting then the limited careerists whose political stands are more similar to mine.

Have you changed your opinions on Lordan's films after you had to watch them several times again and again to make your movie?

I didn’t watch every films 5 times like a maniac. It also wouldn't be good, it would be a wrong preparation. I watched his famous trilogy once again (Occupation, Fall of Italy, Midnight Bells) and I watched his first 2 films for the first time. And I watched some shorts and "Decline of the Century" for the first time. I have a huge respect for Lordan's visual style. He is superior to other Croatian directors. For myself, and I am a writer turned director, it is much more interesting to be with "visual guys" like Zafranović. I can learn from them more than from so called writer-directors.

But I am not personally close to his kind of cinema. It is very serious with almost no humor. But I learned to appreciate it. Actually, "Midnight Bells" was dramaturgically the best one of the trilogy but had problems in the acting performances. I think "Fall of Italy" is a very good film, the best one, with excellent casting decisions, wonderfully shot and the most universal. "Occupation" was a film to shock, to remind everyone that here is a very talented guy who is going to have a great future. The problem with ageing of these films is the same problem some Italian films have. If Visconti's "Damned" or "Ludwig" age well, I suppose, Lordan's film also age well. I personally did not like "Ludwig" at all, but some critics on the recent Prague screening were screaming from enthusiasm. But, when I compare Visconti and David Lean, 2 directors who were making their films in the same era, and were both trying to be ellegant - my favourite is of course David Lean. 

Documentary films only rarely turn out exactly the way the director intents at the beginning of the process of the birth of his film. How big were the changes in your case and are you sorry some of the things you wanted to have in the film are - for various reasons - not there?

The first idea was to make a film around the scandal and its consequences on lives of its participants. But the story of a scandal once told became more repetitive then we thought. So, we realized the film will be better if the story of a scandal is just a turning point in something else - in Lordan's life, just its strongest episode. So we constructed a story around Lordan, and the motifs, demons and dilemmas he was fighting with - his whole life. Like - rise and fall of one talent. Naturally it would maybe be better if we could daily accompany Lordan in his cardiac treatment, or in looking for producers, or visits to his hypnotizer in his attempts to stop smoking... Like we follow him all day in different situations. But it was impossible to make it like this. He did not want to stop smoking, didn't want to shoot more then 3 days in a row... 

In the editing process, I imagined I was working on a "mockumentary" of a guy who never existed, like the guitar player Emmet Ray in Woody Allen's "Sweet and Lowdown". And from the material we shot we tried to make the best possible film, of course, following what really happened - but I was trying to treat all the characters as fictional characters.

Have you interviewed everyone you wanted to or has someone said no?

Some people refused to be part of the film. Some said he was an asshole but they didnot want to say it publicly. Some had died before I interviewed them, like professor Škrabalo. And surely I would like to have in film - Ivica Račan, the late Croatian Prime Minister who was the Communist Party ideologist at the beginning of the 80s. So, I had to re-write the story - and with the characters who were available. At one point, I said - enough of interviewing - I have too many characters and I have to cut them from the movie. So, some interesting people have only minor role in the film although they deserved more...but I could not afford it because the film would be too long and too confusing.

How do you think your film will be accepted in Croatian where Lordan is still for many influential people persona non grata?

I think intelligent and true liberal people will mostly like the film. But of course some will have prejudices: Like that the film has been made to clean Lordan's public image. I am not afraid of reception in Croatia. I hoped to be honest in the film, impartial....surely there will be some bad press. Some people might be offended not to be "cast" in the movie, some people might ask themselves why we shot in the Zoo etc. And also, do not forget - the film establishment in Croatia is happy that Lordan is not working there. He is their competition, so I do not think they will welcome this project. Keep in mind - Lordan was supported almost by none from among his colleagues and that is for me the most and biggest shame of all. He made some mistakes but as an artist someone should have shown some solidarity. For me, it is also important how film correspondents with the foreign audience, and we will see it now after our first festival screenings.

Do you think Lordan will make his dream film? The one he talks about towards the end of your documentary, the one without mistakes, without compromises?

I wish him to make it, but time is his enemy. He is used to different production conditions. First of all he has to start to work again with Mirko Kovač, his perfect collaborator, and start to make stories with realistic budgets. Then, he has a chance. Otherwise, I am afraid, he won't be able to make it.