Finally, I can write that – a great offshoot of Croatian cinematography, an excellent and original film that perfectly builds the image of our society and system on a micro level. A system that has already completely fallen apart, but no one wants to say it out loud, and a system that doesn’t work, and feature film debutant Sonja Tarokić shows precisely what it looks like using the example of the assembly hall of a primary school in Zagreb. “Zbornica” is a film that may seem chaotic at first because we have countless characters and new faces that the new school teacher Anamarija (Marina Redžepović) meets. Everyone is constantly talking in the same voice, everything is full of noises, noises, echoes, and to give the film a completely realistic character, it was filmed with a hand-held camera that (mostly) follows Anamarija.
And that modern confusion and struggle in the assembly hall is briefly interrupted by ethno music and recognizable images of Podravka naïves that adorn the school building and which, we will understand until the end, seem to symbolize the naivety of a woman who would like to change something. And although I don’t know first-hand what the life of a school choir looks like, I have the impression that this film shows it well. This meeting of different characters who should nominally cooperate for the benefit of the collective and the students, but often, after all, as in all large collectives, it can turn into fireworks of vanities, conflicts, subverting each other, creating clans or at least gossiping behind the back.
We first meet Anamarija as a woman in her thirties full of enthusiasm. After years of working on substitutes, for a certain period, she was finally accepted permanently and she is full of will and enthusiasm to make the school a better place. However, it will soon become clear to her that the relations between the collective are quite tense and tricky, that there are a lot of sensitive egos and that there is a strong struggle between many dominant characters. Anamarija does not want to get involved in these games at first, but tries to do her job as best as she can, naively believing that her ideas and solutions will be accepted because they are good and of high quality. But, it will soon become clear to her that it is not going exactly like that and some of her ideas will lead to conflicts among the teachers.
And the story meanders brilliantly among interesting characters, among countless subplots and subplots, among petty and insidious and even those open conflicts between people. There is also the director of Vedran (Nives Ivanković in another of her typical roles), who initially seems ready to support Anamarija’s ideas, but she is still a woman for whom the most important thing is the outward impression, the perception that everything works, and the problems are pushed under the carpet. However, Anamarija will get into a major conflict with the eccentric and paranoid history teacher in the sixties, Siniša (Stojan Matavulj), whom the whole choir avoids so as not to enter into a conflict with him.
The problem will arise when one of the students posts a video from Sinisa’s class on YouTube, in which he blathers nonsense and blurts out some of his conspiracy theories, how everyone screwed him, how he is being followed and how he is a victim. Anamarija will initially try to solve the problems with Sinisa in a nice and civilized way, but when she realizes that it is not going that way, she will decide to report him to the agency. And when the inspection arrives at the school, only then will it become clear to her that she has caused a big problem for everyone, because it is obvious that it is better for everyone to avoid problems and bad things, not touch them and pretend they don’t exist.
Anamarija will find herself in a situation where she remains alone in this fight against windmills and will find herself in a dilemma – to sacrifice her ideals, attitudes and integrity and start behaving like the rest of the collective. Or she will end up completely rejected and bullied by the rest of the team, practically like Siniša. And although Tarokić decided to place her story in the school assembly, it would work in any similar group because everything we see here is essentially the way our society functions. A society and a system in which people are underpaid, often frustrated and overwhelmed with work and who over the years have completely given up on everything knowing that it is absolutely impossible to change anything. A system in which no one wants to expose themselves and those who do nothing are protected, while those who try something usually get screwed.
A society in which everyone complains that nothing is right, and no one does anything to change it, because essentially the conformist chaos in which people have learned to swim suits the majority. It is a great picture of an apathetic society that, the saddest thing of all, has completely given up on the desire to change things for the better and has stopped trying to change anything. Watching this film, one has to wonder when this reverse evolution will finally stop in us, in which only the worst, obedient weaklings, sleazeballs and sycophants progress, while those who have capacity, knowledge and integrity run away regardless. Fully deserved, “Zbornica” triumphed in the selection for Croatian film of the year and won awards and recognitions at many world festivals.