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Comedies, East European Cinema, Festivals and Conferences

BIFF 2012 #12 Bread and Circuses (Kruha in iger, Slovenia 2011)

The quizmaster and Mrs Novak tête-à-tête

This was the last of the six entries in Bradford’s ‘New European Features’ competition. I don’t expect it to figure highly in the judge’s considerations, but that does not mean that the film isn’t of interest. It’s a mainstream popular film – a form of broad social comedy with many familiar and universal elements. As such it’s exactly the kind of film I want to see.

I’m not sure if this is a significant trend but, like Adalbert’s Dream, the film focuses on the period just before the end of communist rule in the region. It’s 1987, the year before Slovenia began its move towards complete autonomy and away from the Yugoslavian federation. The Novak family, who live in the small town of Velenje, discover that they have been selected to appear on a TV quiz show in the capital Ljubljana. Mother and teenage daughter are keen but father and older student son are not. Nevertheless, the family travel to the capital, getting involved in a silly incident with two policemen (because they are in fancy dress for a carnival edition of the quiz) and then with the TV celebrity who comperes the programme. In some ways the conventional quiz show is transformed into a version of a daytime ‘talkshow’ as the contestants squabble amongst themselves.

Communist Yugoslavia was part of the non-aligned movement in the 1970s and Slovenia was possibly the most market-orientated part of the federation, so there is little mention of the socialist system directly in the film. More important is the perceived metropolitan bias of the TV professionals in the capital towards the working-class contestants from the sticks. There is also a clear generational conflict between the father who has celebrated 30 years working in a factory making TV sets and a son who wants to break away from what he sees as his father’s self-imposed sense of inferiority.

I enjoyed the film for what it was. The ‘official website‘ suggests that the film is “a comedy with a scent of nostalgia about socialistic Yugoslavia’s last breaths looking forward into brighter future days than they appear to be at the moment”.There is nothing surprising about the film and in a way it looks like a film that might have been made anywhere in Central Europe at the time when it is set – i.e. in the late 1980s.

Slovenia has a small population (2.0 million) so producing a perfectly acceptable mainstream film is an achievement in itself. Director Klemen Dvornik has considerable experience in TV but this was his first cinematic feature. The only other Slovenian film that I’ve seen was much more ambitious but arguably less successful. Having said that I’m not sure that Bread and Circuses would find an audience in the U.

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