The Priest’s Children is the first film from Croatia in four years to play at the VIFF. The question is does it have what it takes to entertain? And also how would it fare for a film coming from Croatia?
The story is about Don Fabijan: a weary village priest. But he’s not just any weary priest. Don Fabijan was to be the next priest in line at the church on a Dalmatian island. However it’s not just about filling the shoes of a veteran priest who has become like a father figure to the islanders. It’s also dealing with the village’s declining population. The past year there were no births and eight deaths. There was even fear from the villagers that the island might be taken over by immigrants from Africa and China.
So Don Fabijan decides to do something in cooperation with Petar the news agent. He decides to pierce the condoms He sells. Every one. The scheme works well but limited. Yes, sex is more delightful but not as many babies have come. It’s then he decides to take it one step further by getting Marin the town chemist to substitute the birth control pills with vitamins. Soon the birth rate gets better and even marriages are performed. The island even attracts news attention from across the nation and visitors from around the world.
Unfortunately schemes do backfire. Even though the scheme is approved by everyone inside and even the bishop, problems arise. One woman is carrying a baby of her boyfriend who recently died in an accident. His parents lock her up to prevent her from getting an abortion. One baby is found abandoned at Marin’s doorstep. A father grows hostile upon marriage and fatherhood. Even a suicide among the villagers. The scheme had caused great strife amongst the village and major stress among the priests in the end. Don Fabijan himself has to confront the wrongs of the scheme. This paves the way to an ending of humorous but touching resolve.
One thing film festivals like to do is showcase films that put envelopes. I don’t know if this film would push a lot of envelopes upon release in North America but I’m sure this film would raise eyebrows in the director’s home country of Croatia. We shouldn’t forget that Croatia’s a highly-conservative country. It has a lot of mainstream traits in its society common with most of Europe but the country still holds tight to its Roman Catholic roots and still looks at the Church quite highly for the most part. Bresan steps on a lot of touchy ground here when he focuses on the Church, its anti-birth control message, even its scandals in other countries and the subject of Croatia’s declining population and national feeling of xenophobia. It’s a wonder how Croats would take to that film. It’s also a wonder how Catholics will take to such a film.
There’s also question about how such a film would boost the Croatian film industry. We should not forget that Croatia has been a nation independent of Yugoslavia for 22 years and is a country of 4.5 million people. It has an entertainment system that’s capable of holding its own inside Croatia but not well enough to cross over. In fact I heard one Croatian rock singer once say that there’s no current rock scene in Croatia.
As for film, Croatia’s okay for producing entertainment for their own country but there hasn’t been a film style or signature director that is able to give a signature definition to Croatian film. Vinko Bresan is one director that has been able to make a name for himself in Croatia with some crossover success in other countries. Two of his films were Croatia’s official entry for the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film category. For the record, no Croatian film has ever been nominated in that category nor has it made the nine-film Shortlist before nominations. He has received recognition for shelling out films that break taboos of society, especially Croatian society. His films range from comedies like 1999’s Marshall Tito’s Spirit and 2009’s Will Not End Here to dramas like 2004’s Witnesses. His films have done very well at the Croatian box office and have also won international awards at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, the Pula Film Festival and Witness was even a nominee for the Golden Bear at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival.
As for The Priest’s Children, this film earned a nomination at Karlovy Vary. It doesn’t hold the same buzz as some of Bresan’s more celebrated works as far as awards go. As for seeing the film myself, I found the film humorous, has some edginess and even looked like one that could rattle cages. However there were many comedic elements that I’ve seen in films past. Also I didn’t notice anything in terms of its edginess or its distinctiveness that really stood out. The acting was goos from actors like Kresimir Mikic, Niksa Butijer and Marija Skaricic but nothing that really stood out. I will sum the film up as good for Croatia but not really one to take film to a new level or make a big statement.
The Priest’s Children is a humorous film that’s entertaining but not too original and doesn’t really stand out too much. Nevertheless it is an added boost to the developing Croatian film industry and Croatia’s developing arts scene.