Zivi i mrtvi (The Living and the Dead) (2007)
Director: Kristijan Milic.
Starring: Filip Sovagovic (Tomo / Martin), Velibor Topic (Vijali), Slaven Knezovic (Coro), Marinko Prga (Mali), Borko Peric (Robe), Miro Barnjak (Ivo), Bozidar Oreskovic (Zapovjednik), Enes Vejzovic (Ferid / Vojnik ABIH u kolibi), Izudin Bajrovic (Stojan), Ljubomir Jurkovic (Semin), Robert Roklicer (Satnik Dane Boro), Zvonko Zecevic (Natporucnik Knez), Dragan Suvak (Streljani Partizan), Nino Soric (Pejo), Nermin Omic (Masni / Domobran).
Bosnian Croat Army defends its homeland in the Yugoslavian Civil War
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film. Curse words spelled out.
Bosnia, 1993. Two Croatian men in civilian clothing are shooting a Tokarev pistol at the bust statue of a man. [The TT-30 pistol (aka, the 7.62 mm Tokarev self-loading pistol model 1930) is a Russian semi-automatic pistol developed in the early 1930s by Fedor Tokarev as a service pistol for the Soviet military to replace the Nagant M1895 revolver that had been in use since Tsarist times, though it never fully replaced the M1895.] The bullets just ricochet off the bust. So they turn to a shotgun and blast away at the statue. The blast knocks the statue down.
A soldier comes out of the building and complains that they are trying to have a meeting inside and to cut out the shooting. A new soldier arrives and goes inside the building. His name is Vialli and he is welcomed in and told to have a seat. He looks like a tough guy. The man in charge introduces Vialli to Ivo. Ivo will be the position commander.
A group of men are now seated with the commander at a long table. The commander asks has anyone been to the the hunter's cabin position? Only one man raises his hand. The commander says: "Well, now you'll all be there. It's one of our most important positions against the Serbs." Furthermore, fighting with the Muslims could begin anytime here in town. So the men might be at the cabin position for a while.
After the meeting, Ivo says he's uneasy with the new guy Vialli. The commander says Viallie grew up in Germany and used to be a boxer there. Vialli is like a pit bull, when he's chained, he's good. "When he breaks free, shit hits the fan." As a fighter, Vialli is one of the best and can come in handy.
Flashback. WWII. It's a cold rainy day. A Croatian officer comes out and tells the men to move it. A fez-capped Ferid hesitates and the officer tells him the order included Ferid too. An army buddy says to the officer that last night Ferid found out his entire family died of typhoid. Another army buddy, Martin, tells the Lieutenant that he doesn't think Ferid is together enough for fighting. The Lieutenant says that decision is not up to him. "All the locals must go because they know the area." The Ustasha are the ones in command. [The Ustasha was a Croatian fascist and terrorist organization which was active before and during World War II, whose members were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of citizens of Yugoslavia, particularly Serbs.]
Bosnia, 1943. Captain Dane Boro introduces himself to the men. "An Ustasha captain! And don't you ever forget that!" He says he's a real tough bastard. Their mission for the day is to destroy a small group of communists.
By truck, the men reach a farm. Ferid tells one of his buddies that the Ustasha treats them like shit. At night the men are dropped off and the truck goes back to base.
Back to the present. The Croatians are being transported to the hunter's cabin position in a van. The guy with the Mohawk haircut, Mali, tells his friend Coro that he feels sick. That turns out to just be a hoax Mali wanted play on the young guy, Bratislav. They get through a Bosnian checkpoint. The guys reach the cabin. Some of them start sharpening their knives. To show the youngest guy how tough he is, Vialli uses his sharpened knife to cut his wrist slightly so that it bleeds. The young fellow just turns away from him. At night they see the fighting going on down below them. Ivo says he called and their men are pulling out. One fellow, named Tomo, says: "Fight the Serbs, fight the Muslims. Who's next?" Ivo replies: "Hell, Tomo. That's how it is." A weapon's dump blows up in the town below.
The men are going to be moving out, but first, Vialli sets booby traps for the Serbians in the hunter's cabin. When he's through, Ivo tells the men that they are going to a village and the key thing is to get around the Serbian positions quickly. Ivo calls into headquarters, but a Serbian picks up. He tells the Croatians: "Bloody Ustashas, go fuck yourselves!'
Viallie is the first to move out. When they get to the village they see that a bunch of villagers have been massacred.
Flashback to 1943. The Croatians settle down for the night. On the first watch, Ferid tells Martin to follow him. Below them the two men see the campfires of the communists. Martin tells Ferid not to tell anyone about this because the officers will make them go over there. Martin says they are partisans. Ferid wants Martin and Stojan to run away with him in the morning. Martin asks where is he going to run to? Ferid says anywhere.
Back to the present. The young fellow Berislav tells Tomo that there is someone out there. Tomo tells the fellow to just leave him alone. The young soldier insists that Tomo get up. He shows Tomo what Ferid showed Martin. But this time, Tomo says he will go check it out. Tomo sees three men at a fire, but he goes back and says he didn't see anything. Ivo comes by and asks the men if they have seen anything and they say no.
Rifle shots are heard by the Croatians. Vialli says those were his shots. The village of Crne Voda is about two or three hours away.
Flashback. In the morning, the men report that Ferid is gone. Captain Boro sends two men out to find Ferid. He wants the two to search all the way to Crne Voda. It doesn't take long for Martin and Stojan to find Ferid. They tell him to make up a story for Boro. Tell Boro that he went to relieve himself and he saw five or six huge boars in the woods. He shot at them. He got lost. Stojan warns Ferid: "Ferid, if you fuck this up, we are all screwed."
All of a sudden the men hear the sound of rifle bolts being moved. Then Ferid is hit and goes down. Stojan goes to help Ferid and he is wounded in the head by a bullet. So now two men are down. Only Martin is left to fight. Martin takes all three rifles and retreats as fast as he can.
Back to the present. Vialli says he's going to check out the area because where they are now, they are sitting ducks. The other guys say there's not a single Turk for miles around. Vialli comes directly over to Mohawk Mali and asks the man if he is screwing with him? Mohawk says: "Never."
Ivo comes back from relieving himself and scolds his men. He says he could hear them a mile away and he could also smell the pot that they were smoking. Everyone blames the pot on Berislav and Ivo tells the young fellow shame on him.
The men move out. Ivo says they will pick up Vialli along the way, but Vialli finds them first. He indicates to them that they are walking through a mine field. Vialli finds the trip wires and puts white ribbons on them. That makes it a lot easier for the others, but Berislav freezes up and can't walk it. So Tomo has to go back and carry him through the mine field.
Flashback. Boro is burying three of his men. A prisoner is brought in and Boro tells one of his soldiers to shoot the man. It takes the soldier so long that the other officer with his pistol shoots the prisoner through the head. Martin helps dig the four graves.
Back to the present. Three of the men go out to check on the smoke arising ahead of them. Vialli goes first again. The smoke is coming up from a farm house. Vialli sees two Serbian soldiers outside, but thinks there may be some more inside. He and Tomo will go closer while Coro covers them. The two front men sneak up on the men. Coro shoots the sentry and the other men finish everyone off. Tomo goes into the bushes to throw up. He then signals to his buddies to come on up and join them.
The men that were killed were Muslims. It's raining outside, so the men decide to stay under cover here for the night.
Flashback. Martin is told to set the hut and stable on fire. He does so.
Back to the present. Bratislav wakes up in the morning and checks for any enemy soldiers. In the woods he hears a noise and fires. He has killed Ivo, their commander. The men start digging the grave to put the body in. Bratislav thinks he sees Ivo in the woods just staring at him. So the young man starts walking toward the woods. He steps on a mine and is killed.
Flashback. One of the Croatian soldiers imagines he sees Ferid in the woods just staring at him. Just then the ambush set for the Croatians starts. The Captain is hit in the leg and goes down. A soldier or two go down also. The Captain is able to shoot two enemy soldiers down with his sub-machine gun. An enemy soldiers kicks the Captain in the face and he is knocked out. They pull him into the woods with them.
Back to the present. At night, Vialli says they're going too slow. They stop to discuss the matter and find themselves in an ambush.
Flashback. The fight still continues. Someone yells out: "Ustachas come and get him!"
Back to the present. The fight continues. Someone yells out: "Ustachas." Mohawk Mali stands up yelling some insult back at the enemy and he gets shot. Vialli gets behind an enemy soldier and knifes him to death. He returns to his men. He tells them that there's no use in retreating because the enemy are surrounding them. Coro stays behind and Vialli and Tomo move to other positions.
Flashback. It's night time. Martin and another man are moving their positions, while the other Ustasha officer stays put. If they get lost, there are to meet up on top.
Back to the present. The two front men kill two enemy soldiers.
Flashback. The Ustasha officer and Martin meet up on top of the hill. Martin goes to look for the other man. He finds the man, but he's dead. He goes back to tell the officer. The officer tells Martin that his father died somewhere on this ground, the Graveyard Field.
Back to the present. Vialli says he will set mines out all around their area.
Flashback. The next morning arrives. The Ustasha officer has already been wounded. He is manning the machine gun. The enemy are coming for them. He tells Martin to make a run for it, while he holds them off. Martin runs. The machinegun just keeps rattling off its bullets.
Back to the present. Vialli says they will cross through the graveyard up here.
Flashback. Martin reaches the graveyard.
Back to the present. Coro says they used to play near the graveyard when they were kids. Vialli and his men now move out.
Flashback. Martin imagines he sees the faces of men that have died around him.
Back to the present. In the graveyard Coro fires at someone. Then he is shot down from behind. It's so dark in the graveyard that it's almost impossible to tell who is shooting and who is dying. Vialli is still alive and so is a wounded comrade Tomo. Now Vialli imagines he sees the ghosts of dead men who fought in WWII. And then he sees his modern dead comrades among the dead of WWII. Tomo dies. Vialli is the only man left from his unit. He holds his pistol up to his right temple.
The point of the movie is that in the 1993 civil war in the Balkans, Croatia was in the same situation faced by the Croatians in the 1943 Balkans civil war during World War II. It was as if the Croats and the Balkans had made no progress in the 50 years between 1943 and 1993. When Tito was in charge of the Balkans in the nation known as Yugoslavia, the old ethnic hatreds were suppressed and in places like Sarajevo the different ethnic groups lived together without killing each other. There was a certain amount of tolerance that reigned in Yugoslavia. But after Tito, the old ethnic hatreds emerged again. The ethnic genocide of 1943 re-emerged in 1993, as if Tito never really existed. In one sense, the Balkans after Tito resumed the fighting of World War II. The ashes of ethnic hatred simmered in those 50 years and as soon as the damper (Tito) was removed, all the ethnic hatreds flared up again out of the ashes.
The film continually switches between 1943 and 1993 in Croatia, showing how similar the two situations are. The scenes compare the two periods showing that nothing has really changed for Croatia. The ethnic cleansing of 1943 is right there in 1993. The fighting of 1943 is still there in 1993. The whole movie makes the critical point that the ethnic groups in the Balkans really made no progress in ethnic group toleration. With Tito gone, the same hatreds just popped up again and ethnic cleansing and genocide just resumed where it was in 1943.
The constant switching back and forth can be confusing at times. So it helps to know before watching the film that constantly the two different groups of men are shown to be so alike each other. In fact, the place of battle turns out to be the same ground fought for in 1943 as in 1993.
The film is an anti-war movie and an anti-ethnic hatred movie. As if to say: Will human beings never learn anything?
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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