In the latest episode, we remember Yugoslav and even Croatian classics, I decided to watch the legendary war melodrama shot in Zagreb by Slovenian France Štiglic. And more than 60 years after “The Ninth Circle” aka “Deveti Krug” was shot and premiered in the Cannes competition program (where he still had no chance besides Fellini’s masterpiece “La dolce vita”), it is still a monumental and important film in which visually and stylish Stiglitz found role models in Italian neorealism. It is one in a series of horrific and sad stories from World War II, and with “Don’t Turn Around, Son” by Branko Bauer, “The Ninth Circle” is perhaps a key war melodrama of Croatian and Yugoslav cinema. The screenplay was written by the famous Croatian screenwriter, writer and journalist Zora Dirnbach, who was originally a Jew from Osijek and partly contributed her own experiences from that terrible period to this shocking story.
The beginning of World War II and Zagreb and Croatia were under Nazi occupation. Following the example of the German Nazis, the Ustashas bought Jews and took them to camps, and in order to save a young Jew Ruth (then 16-year-old debutante Dušica Žegarac), daughter of longtime family friends, the Vojnović family from Zagreb organized her fictitious marriage to their student son Ivo (one of the first roles of the then 21-year-old Boris Dvornik). Although he is aware of how important this fictitious marriage is for Ruth’s fate, Ivo is not thrilled that he had to marry a teenager he only superficially knows. He is in a relationship with his peer Magda (also the debut role of the then 17-year-old Bebe Lončar), and his college colleagues are teasing him because he got married and even organizing a bachelor party to make fun of him.
Enraged that he could not have the life he wanted, Ivo would want to get rid of Ruth, which is not really a problem because Jews disappear every day at that time and are taken to Jasenovac or Auschwitz. And Ruth is clear that this fictitious marriage creates problems for Iva and she decides to run away from home, but in the meantime Ivo will realize that he really fell in love with the girl he forcibly married. But when he realizes that, it might be too late because Ruth has already been arrested and deported to the infamous Jasenovac, to the worst part of the camp, the so-called Ninth round. Although “The Ninth Circle” may seem archaic from today’s perspective, it is a powerful and compelling story that can easily be compared to almost all the best European neorealist films made in Europe in the 1950s.
He was “Ninth Circle” and nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in the company of classics such as Clouzot’s “La Verite”, Pontecorvo’s “Capo” dealing with similar themes, the legendary Mexican fantasy “Macario” and Bergman’s “Virgin Choice”. who was eventually awarded an Oscar. The “Ninth Circle” brilliantly shows the time of the Nazi occupation and the rule of the Ustashas in Zagreb, where the action takes place, and it is not even close to one of those agitprop films that were widely stamped in socialist countries at the time. Also, Dvornik and Žegarac are excellent in their roles as tragic lovers whose relationship may start cold, but after a while they will really fall in love with each other.
Although the love story between these two young people is in the foreground, Dirnbach and Štiglic masterfully presented historical circumstances. The situation in Zagreb is getting worse, until yesterday the best friends blamed each other for the authorities, and the Ustasha youth introduced order in the faculties and persecuted those who refused to join them. It is interesting that before and after, Stiglic mostly made classic partisan films, which in the meantime have sunk into complete oblivion. While, on the other hand, the restored “Ninth Circle” was screened at the Cannes Classic Festival sixty years later in the company of legendary films such as Antonioni’s “Adventure”, Godard’s “Until the Last Breath” and Wong Kar-wai’s “Mood for Love”. Rating 8/10.
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