No One’s Son, Croatia’s Oscar selection

No One’s Son is the story of Ivan, a 36-year old ex-rock singer and a disillusioned war veteran who has lost both legs in the recent Croatian Homeland War. His father, Izidor, has been a well-known political prisoner in the former Yugoslavia, and he is now standing as an independent candidate for the Croatian Parliament. Then a face from the past re-appears: an impoverished Serbian refugee called Simo, who has recently returned to town. As an ex-communist official, Simo imprisoned Izidor decades ago. He knows certain facts about Izidor that could destroy his reputation and wreck his political campaign. Simo demands money in return for his silence and he also has a secret rendezvous with Ivan’s mother, Ana. Soon a long-buried secret surfaces – with huge repercussions for Ivan. He starts to provoke hard-line Croatians by singing Serbian nationalistic songs, daring them to kill him.

Arsen Anton Ostojic, the director of No One’s Son was born in Split, Croatia in 1965. He started making short films at the age of twelve, participating at various junior film festivals. At the age of fourteen his short film “The Stone Mason” was aired on TV as the best short by a teenager.  His 14-min. short film “The Bird Lover” successfully participated at 15 film festivals around the world. It was awarded the Audience Award at the Hamburg Short Film Festival in 1993 and Jury Award at the Schwenningen Film Festival in 1994.

Arsen’s 15-min., 35mm short film called “Life Drawing“, shot in New York in 2001, was screened at 10 film festivals around the world. In 2004 he wrote and directed a full-length feature film “A Wonderful Night in Split” starring rap singer Coolio, among others. The film was nominated for the Discovery-Fassbinder Award by the European Film Academy as the best first or second film in Europe in 2004; it was Croatian entry for the 78th Academy Awards. During 2007 and 2008 Arsen directed his second feature film “No One’s Son” based on a theater play by Mate Matisic, a well-known Croatian playwright. The film is expected to be released during the Summer of 2008.

Bijan Tehrani: When did you decide to make this film? Was it after seeing the play?
Arsen Ostojic: It was almost exactly three years ago when my producer approached me and told me that he had a draft of the script. A playwright first wrote the draft of a script, and then he wrote a play, which is an interesting thing because he is also a screenwriter and a playwright. He is very famous in Croatia. His name is Mate Matisic. So I read the script three years ago, and then at some point I decided to join the project. We started to work on the script, and then wrote the film. That is how this all started.

BT: This is a very dark story of what happened during the war. It is in some ways like Greek Mythology. What did you think of this aspect of Greek Mythology in the story?
AO: You are absolutely right. It does have this Greek mythology element…it is a tragedy. I always say that this is a tragedy, and let us not make any mistakes about it. But it also has a catharsis; people do respond well to the film. Many cried, and by its conclusion they feel they have gone through such extremes. In a way it is a comment on some situations in Croatia and the Balkans. Some things there are just tragic, and the consequences of war are always tragic. It is kind of a mirror to some elements currently within the Balkans.

BT: One issue that I think critics will have with the film is that there are too many coincidences happening in the same time in the story. But personally I believe that when you are at war, things of coincidence can happen much more frequently.
AO: Yes, well I don’t know exactly what coincidences you are referring to…

BT: Two characters both have the same relationship with the woman. We see that one character is actually not the son of the father who he is being raised with, but the son of this other guy…all of that together.
AO: Yes. Well, in every film you always try to bring all the elements together at the same time to make a dramatic structure. I also like to make everything happen in as short a time as possible to have more energy in the story. I don’t know if I would consider it a coincidence that things happen the way they do. This is the first comment that I have heard about it. It seems that the story works, and I am glad that this is the case. To answer more about the Greek elements: it is a story about fathers and sons and a story about life and death. So those are elements that resemble a Greek tragedy.

BT: Yes, it is like the tragedy of a man that has to do the same thing over and over every day. So this is such an amazing and interesting point in the film, when Ivan is the guy who has to do the same thing everyday. And he is imprisoned in his limitations and his own tragedy.
AO: Yes, correct. And also there is another element, which is that this tragedy goes from father to son. Ivan’s father is not sure whether his own father is his real father. Ivan obviously has a problem with his father. Ivan’s son will eventually lose his father and go to a far away place.. So this tragedy passes from one generation to another, and goes in circles.

BT: There is some incredible acting here by Alen Liveric, who plays Ivan. How did you work with him? Did you rehearse a lot, and work closely with him?
AO: Thank you. He really did a great job. He is a theater actor from a small town in Croatia. He didn’t have many film roles, but I knew him and knew how talented he was. We didn’t have many rehearsals, but we did talk a lot. He kind of got it from the very beginning. He was simply the right type for this very role.

BT: He has such energy as an actor. One can really feel his energy.
AO: Yea, exactly. Also, you should know that he actually sings the song in the movie. That is his real voice.

BT: You feel that his energy cannot be let out through running or walking. But he uses it with other things in his life, like singing.
AO: Correct. His acting is very physical as well. It is not just a matter of acting, but he uses all of his physical elements as well, his voice, his strength. When he is walking on his knees down the street; it wasn’t easy for him.

BT: I really admire that you don’t make any judgment on the characters. You show their flaws and their strengths, which is really great. You let it be seen that no one is really an angel or a demon, and ultimately leave the judgment to the audience. Sometimes it is really difficult to let the audience be the judge.
AO: Thank you. This is what I tried to do. I didn’t want to judge anyone. Everyone is human, and we all have our own problems. A Serbian refugee has his own tragedy, and even the father, who is a borderline-corrupt politician, is suffering as well. The mother suffers as well. They are all part of the society, and are going through hardships on the emotional level.

BT: Did you change anything on the set in terms of dialogue or scenes?
AO: Well, we had some scenes that we cut out. We focused more on the lead character, because that is the most important thing. So, yes, we shot some things that we eventually cut out. We didn’t change the dialogue during shooting. We did rehearsals, and changed things during that. During editing we decided to cut out some things, but didn’t change the order of scenes. I am always a proponent of a very strong structure, and I think it worked in this case.

BT: Yes, it has a very great structure. It is the structure of the very old tragedies, as I have said. You started your work making short films. How has this helped you as your career has progressed?
AO: In terms of getting a feature film, I have to admit, not much. I did a couple of shorts, and they were successful, but it was quite a few years between my shorts and my first feature. But was more important was that I was working on my craft, that I was learning how to make films, and working as an assistant director on many films. This is where my shorts really helped me.

BT: Are you planning to make a feature film in the U.S.?
AO: Yes, that is my goal. I hope that in the first half of next year I may be able to do a feature in the States. I have been developing a project, and it looks good. All I can say is that I am keeping my fingers crossed. You never know. It is a serious project, and I hope that we will have a chance to talk again after my first U.S. film.

BT: I understand that your film is representing Croatia at the upcoming Academy Awards. How do you feel about this opportunity?
AO: I made two feature films, and both were Croatian selections for Oscars. “A Wonderful Night in Split” was a candidate in 2006 for an Oscar, and now “No One’s Son”. Croatia is a small country, and it is hard to market films here. There are no distributors, and films that are made here have less chances of getting nominated. I hope that the Academy will recognize this project as a serious one.


About Author

Bijan Tehrani

Bijan Tehrani a film director, film critic and writer, works as editor in chief of Cinema Without Borders while teaching Language of Film and Film History at workshops nationwide. Bijan has won several awards in international film festivals and book fairs for his short films and children's books.

Leave A Reply