YU-Qwest's Movie Special Interest Group
``Decline of the Century''
Searing Movie Sums Up Generations of Yugoslav Hell
By ALISON SMALE
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ Lordan Zafranovic, a prominent moviemaker
in what was Yugoslavia, has produced a searing work of art about the war
has torn apart his country. It is a measure of the tragedy that his film
never play there.
``Decline of the Century'' manages to say much about the cycles
of violence and amnesia endemic to Balkan and human history with scant
reference to the current war.
Of the movie's three hours and 15 minutes, just the
epilogue contains footage from the war that erupted in 1991, the year
Zafranovic left his native Croatia.
Like many intellectuals from former
Yugoslavia, stripped of
audience and identity, Zafranovic has spent two years wandering Europe.
Deprived of funding in the intensely nationalistic, authoritarian
President Franjo Tudjman, Zafranovic scraped together money from
exiles to finish what he calls his testimonial.
The result is a shattering collation of
rare footage from
Croatia's World War II Ustasha fascism, the 1986 war crimes trial of
Interior Minister Andrija Artukovic after his extradition from the
States and scenes from earlier Zafranovic movies about Yugoslavia.
The black-and-white World War II scenes
portend the horror displayed in TV footage of the past two years.
This collage is then pierced with shots of
the sea and
extraordinary light of Zafranovic's native Dalmatian coast, or the
Nuremberg trials and Nazi concentration camps to produce a Dostoyevskian
condemnation of evil.
A brooding narrative mulls over the
role of media in the brutal 20th century.
At the film's premiere at the Vienna Film
most spectators were exiles from former Yugoslavia. They lavished praise
on Zafranovic. But none believed the movie _ which is most critical
of Croats, but also of Serbs, communists and all humanity _ will
play in Croatia, Bosnia or Serbia.
Zafranovic uncovered hidden film footage
while pursuing his movie project.
``Many young Zagreb people don't even know
that Zagreb was
bombed by the Allies. New generations must know history,'' said
Zafranovic, who screened more than 200,000 feet of documentary
Among his most stunning discoveries was
footage of Croats
in the 1940s destroying a Zagreb synagogue. Zafranovic found the shots in
rejected outtakes. ``Even the Ustasha regime,'' he said with a
smile, ``was afraid to show this scene.''
He recognizes that the film is ``very
troubling and painful for
Croats in some parts.'' But, as his narrative makes clear, this was
a personal quest. As a Croat, Zafranovic had no choice but to
examine Croatia's fascism and the alliance with Adolf Hitler.
One particularly telling scene is a
visit to Hitler by
Ustasha leader Ante Pavelic in the waning months of World War II. The two
grin and chat. The narrative intones: ``Ante Pavelic was Hitler's
last ally. And what happened to him? He lived out his days
peacefully in Italy, Latin America and Spain.''
Zafranovic, 49, embarked on his project in
1988, with the
backing of then-Croatian TV _ now controlled by a hardline Tudjman
ally _ and vital access to Zagreb film archives.
When war broke out in 1991, he had to
leave. A former
student of the late Elmar Klos at Prague's famous film school, Zafranovic
completed the work in Prague, where the movie is showing this
Despite his virtual exile, Zafranovic
insists his will to battle nationalist politicians is not broken.
``When I left, some people think it
meant I gave up fighting,''
he said. ``On the contrary I don't lose hope. ... I can fight, now
that I've got something behind me.''
But the movie repeatedly stresses the
nature of violence and evil, only to end with a deeply pessimistic blank
``One government leads to another,
said. ``You'll note that I show a military parade held in Zagreb ... 15
days before the fascist regime collapsed. At least as many people
greet the partisans two weeks later. I asked myself, were they the
``Then came the Communist regime, which I
in my previous films. Now, there is a new cycle of violence. Are we
really condemned in advance to live such a life?''