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Kristijan Milić • Director

“I had to try to make a film like this”


- Cineuropa chatted to Croatian director Kristijan Milić in Pula about his third feature, Dead Fish, directing a non-genre film, and filming in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Kristijan Milić  • Director
(© Mirko Pivčević)

Kristijan Milić is one of the rare high-profile genre-film directors in Croatia. After his two previous genre pieces, the metaphysical war-horror The Living and the Dead and the war-actioner Number 55 [+see also:
film review
film profile
, Milić’s third feature, Dead Fish [+see also:
film review
interview: Kristijan Milić
film profile
, a Croatian-Bosnian co-production, is an Altman-esque, post-war drama shot in photogenic and symbolically powerful locations in the divided city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Cineuropa sat down with Milić at the Pula Film Festival, shortly before the Dead Fish world premiere.

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CineuropaThis is your first foray into the realm of drama after two genre movies. Croatian filmmakers usually do this the other way around. How did it feel to do something new, at a completely different tempo?
Kristijan Milić: At first, I thought it would be very difficult, but in the end, a filmmaker’s duty is to be accommodating to everything. I think it’s necessary to try to do different things and to find out what suits you best. I still think that other kind of cinema suits me better, but I had to try to make a film like this.

All three of your films share the same context of war, at least in the background. Is this a personal obsession of yours, or is it more a standard topic for Croatian cinema?
I think the war isn’t necessarily the topic of Croatian cinema. There are many Croatian films that deal with war, but there are also plenty that don’t. Even when they do, they do it in different ways, employing various techniques and touching on different aspects. But it is hard not to be obsessed by war, especially for someone who was in combat. It is not easy to forget, because you become, and stay, at least partially damaged after that kind of experience. Otherwise, regarding my obsessions, I have always been a fan of war films, long before I could imagine that the war would happen to me and to my country. On the other hand, I did not write any of the scripts for my films. Josip Mlakić, who wrote Dead Fish, also wrote The Living and the Dead, and he also wrote the source materials. Dead Fish is based on his collection of short stories, and The Living and the Dead was based on his novel. More parallels can be observed between these two films than between this and Number 55, which was written by another writer, Ivan Pavličić. Also, the war was different.

Mostar is one of the crucial places in terms of the war and post-war period, as it is one of the cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the former Yugoslavia that remained divided ethnically and geographically, even decades after the war. What did it feel like shooting in Mostar, and shooting Mostar itself?
I have to admit that it was good to shoot in Mostar, and the people on both sides of the river [the Neretva] were very fond of the crew. It was very pleasant; Mostar is a great place to make a film. But it was not originally intended for the story to take place there. In Mlakić’s novel, the location is Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje, which is in another part of Bosnia, so the code name for the film was Bosnian Short Cuts. Since one of the producers and actors in the film, Slaven Knezović, is from Mostar (Herzegovina), we decided to shoot there. The situation is similar, and the division is the same. Mostar is a slightly bigger city, though; we had a smaller town in mind, but it works somehow. 

The movie was shot in black and white. Was that a cinematic reference of some sort, like, for instance, the melancholy of Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show, or did you have other motives?
First, I thought that black and white was the right choice for this gloomy topic, and it could contribute more. It can be connected to different filmmakers, from Hitchcock to Jarmusch; Bogdanovich did not even cross my mind. But when we started doing it that way, we became aware of some similarities and homages, and we were highlighting them in the process. Then again, we also had purely practical reasons for the black-and-white photography: the story takes place in autumn, with all of those cranes flying above the city, and we were shooting during spring. It was impossible to shoot in colour, as the spring palette in Mostar is so different, so vivid and bright. It would have given a completely different impression. 

So how did you solve the problem of the cranes?
They were not shot. They were added in the post-production as a visual effect. 

Are you planning a new film? A return to genre, maybe?
My next film, The Wrath of God, will also be based on Mlakić’s novel and his script. It is definitely a genre piece, a thriller with a murderer as the main character. It still remains for us to see when it will be filmed and when it will get the approval of the Croatian Audiovisual Centre (HAVC) and other parties. In our country, the procedure takes a bit longer than we would like.

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