Friday, 9 May 2014

Battle of Neretva.

On Neretva in occupied Europe, we have fought one of the most famous and most human battles – battle for saving the wounded. The fate of the revolution was at stake, and here the brotherhood and unity of our nations won’.[1]
The brave Partisan Army.
In the beginning of 1943 Hitler ordered the destruction of the free Partisan Republic of Yugoslavia. The German high command had become concerned about the possibility of an Allied landing in the Balkans. This was of particular concern due to the substantial resources they were extracting from Yugoslavia, including timber and copper. In the event of an Allied landing, resistance forces in Yugoslavia would be likely to interfere with German defensive operations as well as continued resource extraction. Hitler’s orders were to take no prisoners sparing neither the women nor children. The partisans and thousands of refugees, including the wounded and these sick with typhoid, left the city’s behind and begin a hazardous trek northward to the Bosnian Mountains. Their goal was to cross the treacherous Neretva gorge over the only bridge in an attempt to get to safety. Their trip was fraught with danger having to face German tanks and air force, Italian infantry, Chetnik Cavalry, disease and the natural elements. This mammoth exodus was an attempt to move a nation and its culture to beyond the iron grip of Germany and their allies and on to safety. Those that refused or could not join this gigantic migration were hung or shoot by the multinational force that was close on the heels of Tito’s brave partisans and his people.

Picasso's Film poster.
Based on a true story of WW2 that depicts the historically correct patriotic battles between the Yugoslavians and the combined enemy axis.[2] The first class cinematic depictions of this epic cross country flight and final battle was the most expensive motion picture ever made in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the seventh most expensive non-English movie ever produced. The budget for the extras alone would, I imagine, be able to finance a small modern day production! The movie has some familiar faces that European audiences will recognise including Yul Brynner as Viado the man in charge of the Engineers that booby trapped the roads and blow up the giant railway bridge over the Neretva River in Jablanica. A bridge that was actually blown up, rebuilt and blown up again but because of the excessive smoke coursed by the explosion the footage was never used, instead the scenes of the bridge being blown up that eventually ended up in the movie were shot using a small scale table size replica at a sound stage in Prague. We also have Orson Welles as the Senator in charge of the Chetnik’s, Curd Jürgen’s as General Lohring leader of the German High Command, Hardy Kruger as Colonel Kranzer head of the German ground forces and Franco Nero as Captain Michele Riva the Italian commander who deserts and joins the Partisans because of his hatred of the fascist regime. But the real stars of the film are the Yugoslavian and East European actors like the beautiful Sylva Koscina,[3] Segey Bandachuk, Lyubisa Sanadzic and Boris Dvornik, names that that you will not be quite so familiar with, but who make this movie totally convincing. 
The bridge.
The Croatian film director Veljko Bulajic who also wrote the screenplay directed the movie.[4] He is best known for directing state sponsored Yugoslav WW2 themed Partisan films and you can see why. The authentic battle scenes where the male and female partisans fight side by side must rank as some of the best ever filmed and certainly compare with modern WW2 films. I’m not always sure that the subtitles always allowed you to understand the subtleties of the story and the DVD transfer is a little lacking but this does not detract from a film that shows what state sponsorship of the film industry can produce. Watching the film you can’t help but wonder how man can do these things to each other?
Sylva Koscina.
See also Cinema Komunisto for further information on the Yugoslavian film industry.  

[1] Marshal Josip Broz Tito President of Yugoslavia 1953-1980
[2] Pablo Picasso created the poster for the film.
[3] Her English film debut was in 1964 when she co-starred along side Dirk Bogarde in the comedy Hot Enough for June.
[4] The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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