Press

CINEUROPA, France, Fabien Lemercier

Croatian director Pavo Marinkovic has made an amusing existentialist comedy bristling with sarcasm, starring Stjepan Peric and Drazen Kühn

“We live in a time of deep recession; the state coffers are empty. We pay war widows their pensions, but given that it’s been more than 20 years now, some of them are not widows any more.” This is the starting point for Ministry of Love, written and directed by Croatian director Pavo Marinkovic, an enjoyable, bittersweet comedy presented this week in the Eastern Selection section of the 17th Arras Film Festival.

And so we find ourselves at the heart of a new state entity dubbed the “Family Inspectorate”, which is tasked with uncovering these “happy widows”; this, of course, throws up a number of initial question marks (“You expect us to pay them a visit and check who they’re sleeping with?”; “But these are the widows of heroes!”), which are quickly swept under the carpet, as necessity dictates that one must work to earn a living! This is indeed the case for investigation team number 13, made up of Kreso (Stjepan Peric – who turned heads in Ivan-Goran Vitez’s Shooting Stars) and Josip Sikic (Drazen Kühn, the chemist from The Priest’s Children). The former, an erstwhile biologist disillusioned by his fruitless job hunt and finding himself in the midst of a latent marital crisis, has been given a foot in the door by his father-in-law and sets to work with minimal commitment, while the latter gets seriously stuck into the job with great tenacity, dreaming of a promotion one day, should he be successful.

Assigned to a provincial region, the motley team of two motors away from Zagreb in a spluttering red car that they have been provided with for the occasion, and they criss-cross the roads of deepest Croatia, on a hunt for dishonest widows. Kreso sabotages the first “hunt”, which he’s not the slightest bit interested in. But as they head off on more and more journeys, out of a sense of pride towards his family, he starts to get increasingly involved and proves to be incredibly inventive in his efforts to dupe the women whom the duo visit in order to establish whether they have been living with a new partner (be they male or female) for at least three years. Posing as an old comrade in arms, a health inspector, a statistical officer, a representative from a centre for sexual minorities’ rights, an insurance salesman… No ruse is off-limits as he strives to collar the offenders and earn himself a juicy bonus, the respect of his peers and prospects for promotion. But the hunt, peppered with lies and betrayal, will nevertheless instil a crisis of conscience in Kreso... 

This is a simple and effective film on the surface, thanks to the quality of its two lead actors, buoyed by a classic spirit of situation comedy created by this combination of mismatched personalities, and the farcical way it treats state "totalitarianism" and the acts carried out for the sake of the “common good”, shot through with absurdity and sheer ridiculousness. But Ministry of Love also sketches out a portrait of a man staring into the void and feeling hemmed in by social conformity (“Well done, you’ve saved the state money and earned some for your family!”), who is going against his true nature. Interspersing his tale with a dash of frustrated romanticism and flirting with the idea of including an explicit moral that is, at the end of the day, a very relative one – as everyone has their own secrets to hide – Pavo Marinkovic has made an accomplished comedy in much the same vein as his previous film, Love Life of a Gentle Coward.

Produced by Telefilm (which we also have to thank for Number 55, among other films), Ministry of Love was co-produced by the Czech Republic and received backing from Eurimages. Its international sales are being handled by British sales agent Starline Entertainment.

 

GLOBUS, Croatia, Daniel Rafaelić

Long time ago, just like in the famed Karas' curtain, I had a crucial moment with my granddad. We sat down on an ancient three seater sofa, the TV was showing the New Year's Eve program, my grandpa threw his arm around me and said:

"You know, there is only one important thing in your life..."

"Which one is that, Grandpa?"

"You should fuck young widows!"

"Young widows?!"

"Well, certainly not the old ones!!"

To my utmost surprise, a rather explicit story followed about how he made his living as an intimate friend of the Zagreb widows. They were young, eager and - they received veteran pensions. It was a paradise! What a shame it is no longer possible today - Granpa concluded.

I could not help but remember this conversation while I was watching as Stjepko Perić made love to Ecija Ojdanić in "Ministry of Love". It is a film in which young and desirable widows of the defenders live for years in extramarital relationships which they don't legalize - so their pensions don't get cancelled. The prompt government immediately forms a squad of the investigators who practically are forced to slip under people's sheets. "The widows are miserable - they should all get fucked"! - exclaims one of the main protagonists of the motion picture and soon after puts his words into action. And that action precisely - an unbelievably erotic chemistry between Stjepko and Ecija will literally scream from the screen and show that the director is very much familiar with the magic potion which makes us love the movies in the first place. And with this film the director Pavo Marinković, just like with the previous one - his directional debut as a director - again shows the direction where the Croatian cinema can qualitatively go. An intriguing story flavored with almost surreal but convincing snippets, brilliant actors, and above all smooth, clear and clean screenplay created a movie which will be gladly watched whenever shown.

Unfortunately, while today Croatian cinema is ruled by artiness and deflection from narration, Marinković's film will not receive a big support from the filmmakers community - and that is precisely why it should be supported. The characters you like, whose imagined dialogues do not seem like they just suffered a stroke, the characters who are real as much as a motion picture allows it, but at the same time fictitious enough to be liked precisely because they are fictitious - this is the charm of Marinković's movie. Marinković, which is obvious from this motion picture, belongs to those rare film directors intellectuals who, when they are not creating movies, read and think. This is the reason why this is one of those rare movies you can really flaunt abroad - in front, of course, those rare film festival selectors who still love a good film story. "A movie is a s good as much as its story is good!" - Howard Hawks once said. He would have definitely liked "Ministry of Love". Perhaps in some other, to us extremely vague dimension, Hawks and my grandpa right now rejoice at Marinković's film together.... one because of the other - and one because of himself.

THE PENCHANT JUDGE, India

“The absurdity and the sheer ridiculousness of the theme is exactly its selling point. The mismatched personalities and the comedy that arises from the bizarre situations these characters are placed in are a pleasure to watch. The performances of the lead actors are quality content. Final verdict: You'll love it. Go watch!”

DAVID FRANKLIN, filmmaker (As Far as the Eye Can See)

"Marinkovic mines a rich seam of bureaucratic absurdity for big, sexy laughs in this beautifully acted comic fantasy. It's Closely watched Trains meets Local Hero."

DECCAN CRONICLE, India, Aravind KS

“Pavo Marinkovic, no delegate of this edition of International Film Festival of Kerala can easily forget the name of this Croatian filmmaker whose film 'Ministry of Love' has got a thumping response at IFFK.
He is the Croatian master of comedy.”

LEE Sang-yong, Korea

"This film cleverly connects the reality of Croatia’s society and midlife crisis. Keeping the dignity and style as a social comedy, the film is also filled with satire and criticism. Kreso breaking away from the routine and falling in love is a great moment to show the paradox of life."