Vol 1, No 18
25 October 1999

L E T T E R S:
Let Them Eat Cake

Further comments on Snjezana Tribuson's Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer

Hrvoje Turkovic

It was fun to read Cream-cake Nationalism, your review of Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer (Three Men of Melita Zganjer, 1998), since Snjezana Tribuson, the director of the film, is my wife.

I have two remarks concerning two of your statements in the review. Firstly, "nationalism" (or "cream-cake nationalism") does not characterize the main characters. They do not show the slightest trace of nationalist obsessions, or of national self-consciousness. The "Croatian cake" label is something that is forced upon them (not on Melita, but on Janko, the baker) by the television crew in the cooking scene. Actually, the mention of "Croatian cake" was meant as a light satire on the primitive bent of HTV's (Croatian Television) "patriotism" (ie nationalism), and it was actually perceived as a parody of it by the Croatian public.

Secondly, your assumption that the film was written off by the male public does not stand up to the facts, at least not in Croatia. Although at the beginning of the theatrical run of the film in Croatia, there were lot of women present, and they reacted louder than the male public responsive (at least that was our impression), later on the film's audience was equally distributed among both sexes.

My wife was approached (in the streets, shops, hotels... we are a small country) equally by female and male viewers, offering their praise for the film. The film had the highest attendance rates of all Croatian films last year, and was also in the upper half of the general attendance of all films (more then 30,000 - poor attendance by pre-war standards, but quite high by present-day standards). Such attendance figures could not be achieved by a strictly female public.

I do not have a ready explanation for the equal reception of Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer by female and male audiences, but the fact that my first reaction to your statement on the film being female-specific was one of surprise is significant.

My impression is (and this is not supported by any research) that the cinema- and theatre-going public in Croatia is evenly mixed, with no predominance of one gender over the other in attendance, both overall and in any one particular case. I am not sure why it is so, but relying on intuition (or perhaps prejudices), it may be that the cinema or theatre is still the place to "go out in public," and a prevalent custom is to go to the theatre with someone; for females that is mostly in company of males, although this is not obligatory. It is a patriarchal custom, still alive, although not strictly applied any more.

This is in distinct contrast with television. Although I do not know any research connected with gender differences among TV audiences in Croatia, it is "general knowledge" that some programmes - soap operas, for example - are more consistently (although not exclusively) watched by females, and other programmes - soccer matches, for example - are mainly followed by male audiences.

Now, Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer was meant to be mostly about female characters and about male-female relationships, but that does not imply it was meant for a female audience alone. Snjezana is not inclined to view films as "female" or "male," and she was aiming for anybody who likes fun and humour, regardless of their sex. And it seems that Croatian audiences, of both sexes, crave good national humorous films. Well-made Croatian comedies or humorous films do have a relatively high attendance compared with other kinds of films: for example, Vinko Bresan's comedy Kako je poceo rat na mojem otoku (How the War Started on My Island, 1996) was a hilarious hit which received over 300,000 viewers in a year, at a time when American blockbusters usually had around 90,000 viewers; and the recent Krsto Papic black comedy, Kad mrtvaci pjevaju (When the Dead Sing, 1998), attracted over 20,000 viewers, competing with Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer more than any other Croatian film.

In light of my denial of a gender split in Croatian cinema-going, you might ask why the female public was more responsive at the beginning of the film's run in Croatia. This was may be connected with the fact that female audiences tend not to be embarrassed by their love of soap operas, and they are not reluctant to display their reactions. Men here tend to either dismiss TV soap operas as trash or hide the fact that they are attracted by them. But, the soap opera theme is gently caricatured and foregrounded as it is parodicly and explicitly applied to the real life of the film's main character as an "ideal life program." The fact that the soap opera aspect of Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer is thematised made it, I guess, acceptable to anyone - both to soap opera fans and to those who despise soap operas and who like to see them parodied.

Hrvoje Turkovic, 25 October 1999

The author is the Editor-in-Chief of Hrvatski filmski ljetopis.



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