They have always been and they are still made, these gripping documentaries about people being arrested and sent to isolated islands for punishment. By the people in power. On this occasion, I remember several films on the camps on Makronissos in Greece, the best being one by Ilias Yannakakis and Evi Karabatsou from 2008. And now this important film from Croatia produced by the production company Factum, that has never hesitated to focus on controversial themes, untold stories from the past and the present. This time told by a granddaughter, who wants to know her family story. Starting point: Why was grandfather’s body full of scars?
It was not talked about, when he was alive. It was a taboo what happened in Yugoslavia during those years in the beginning of the 1950’es, when grandpa, ”an enemy of the state”, was away for four years. It took a generation to deal with it, it was the granddaughter, the film’s director, who wanted to bring the story to the world. Which became a painful journey in itself. She had to address her mother, her sister, her father and a couple of ”aunts and uncles”, who were also sent to the island and were close to Marijan, the grandpa.
The mother carries pain from her life. She has, to say the least,
problems with the control of her mood, she goes from being angry with her daughter, ”ask questions with warmth, this is not a theatre”, she shouts to her, being later very often in tears, when she talks about her parents and the silence that surrounded the past or she is the one, who goes with the daughter, Tiha, the director of the film, to the places, where the family lived. And to the island of torture at the end.
Tiha’s parents divorced, when she was four years old – why is it that relatives to people with a story as the one of my grandpa very often end up being divorced, she asks herself and the mother? Good question.
Does it sound like a sad film? It is, but there is also joy and happy moments conveyed through loads of private holiday photos from the Croatian coast. Grandpa, who died in 1992, was an important and caring person in the lives of Tiha and especially Lenka, her sister, who – like the mother – has moved away from Zagreb, away from the capital, where the power is and politics is decided.
In one of many moving scenes Lenka talks about how she regrets not having understood how important grandma was, when grandpa was alive. She was the one who kept it all together and prevented the nigtmares come out in daylight. But still there were the nightly screams from the sleeping room of grandpa.
What actually happened on the island is being told by aunts and uncles. Torture being performed on each other, how the days went along… Tiha asks questions and she gets answers. During the film she looks mostly unaffected but – and you ask yourself when it will happen – after the meeting with her father, she has to turn away from the camera, in tears.
It is an interview-based film and in between you think, if it had not been possible to arrange the visual side of the interviews a bit more elegant and cinematic, and maybe come up with the informative (wonderfully short) sequence about Tito and the break with USSR earlier in the film – anyway, what you get touches you and I almost agree with the mother saying towards the end to the daughter: The message of this film is that a deep wound can be healed.
Croatia, 2014, 75 mins.