Any list of the most important European film-makers under 40 which omits the name of Igor Bezinović (1983) deserves throwing straight into the bin. Indeed, there’s an argument for saying that the Rijeka-born Croatian should be near the top of any such list, so singular a body of work has he been quietly accumulating over the past eight years—as showcased here in PAFF’s two-programme selection.
He was still studying Film & TV Directing at Zagreb University’s Academy of Dramatic Art when he made the 19-minute Above-Average (Natprosječan), which was the highest rated Croatian film by audience votes at the city’s prestigious ZagrebDox festival.
His short works—usually examining social issues resulting from the reactionary policies of Croatia’s HDZ-dominated 2003-11 coalitions—quickly became a fixture at film-festivals across the former Yugoslavia. Obtaining the wider international exposure he amply deserves has taken a little longer, however.
Abroad, he’s best known for 2012’s Blockade (Blokada), chronicling the students’ occupation of Zagreb University in 2009; a work of ’embedded’ reportage hailed as an “extraordinary achievement” by a jury at the Jihlava documentary festival in the Czech Republic. It’s no coincidence that this, the most widely-screened of Bezinović’s films, should also be by some way the longest at 93 minutes.
The international structures of cinema have long been stacked against those who work in short formats, and the fact that Bezinović’s output is mainly documentary, often made for television, unapologetically left-of-centre (in what some might dub an “old-school” way), occasionally adventurous in its ‘experimental’ touches, hails from a relatively “unfashionable” cinema-nation and is frequently very funny has meant that his oeuvre remains of relatively marginal renown.
Thankfully, things are looking up. Bezinović has been drawing increasing attention from English-language reviewers and earlier this year his (so-far) masterpiece—Veruda: A Film About Bojan (Veruda: Film o Bojanu, 2014)—was screened to considerable acclaim in a festival at Palm Springs, California. The intimate study of a charismatic young Pula criminal determined to go straight, Veruda can here be assessed alongside Bezinović’s newest effort A Short Family Film (Kratki obiteljski film), which adopts a different slant on similar themes of wrongdoing and rehabilitation.
Both films encapsulate Bezinović’s beguilingly offhand, unpretentiously direct approach to his chosen medium, his palpable curiosity—let’s call it a very healthy nosiness—about human character and social behaviour, the ease at which he invariably puts his subjects, and that crucial streak of deadpan humour that runs irresistibly through his filmography like an enlivening stream of Pelinkovac.