Maškarada (1971)

vt Masquerade
Yugoslavia / 88 minutes / color with brief bw / Viba, Kinematografi Dir: Bostjan Hladnik Pr: Boško Klobucar Scr: Vojko Duletic, B. Hladnika, Dušan Jovanovic Story: Vitomila Zupana Cine: Jure Pervanje Cast: Vida Jerman, Igor Galo, Blanka Jenko, Miha Baloh, Bojan Šetina, Rado Prajs, Iva Cadez, Miran Miljkovic, Tone Sojer, Bojan Tratnik, Tatjana Vovk, Crt Kanoni, Marjan Ferencak, Franjo Kumer, Branko Oman, Rok Lasan, Sonja Lamberšek, Miha Trpin, Lidija Turk.

Maskarada - 0 opener

High-school basketball player Luka (Galo) is having an affair with the much older, married Dina (Jerman), a liaison that’s apparently pretty well known to his team-mates, because she comes along to their every game and gazes yearningly at Luka from the stands. The pair meet in such romantic locales as the bottom of an empty swimming pool and, often in slow motion and to the sound of soft-porn-style music—in fact, a not-bad knockoff of “Je t’Aime, Moi non Plus”—do their stuff.

Maskarada - 1 Luka sees Dina eyeing him from the stands

Basketballer Luka (Igor Galo) sees Dina eyeing him lasciviously from the stands.

To her, their assignations seem all too short; in order that they can spend more time together, she arranges with stolid businessman husband Gantar (Baloh), a gun/hunting fanatic, that they should hire Luka as math tutor to their son Andrej (Šetina), who’s struggling with the subject.

It becomes pretty obvious to Gantar what’s going on between his wife and Luka, as it does to Andrej, who has developed a major crush on his tutor. One evening when Gantar makes his anger plain to Dina, she rushes off into the night and discovers Luka sleeping in the beach. Cue a particularly extended sequence of nudity and slo-mo plus lots of the hearty grins and conscientiously wholesome emanations of insouciance that you used to find in those old naturist-propaganda movies.

Maskarada - 2 Gantar is not oblivious to what's going on

Gantar (Miha Baloh) is not oblivious to what’s going on.

Maskarada - 2a Sadly, neither is Andrej

Sadly, neither is Andrej (Bojan Šetina).

When Andrej passes his exams, Gantar, by way of reward, throws a party at the house for Luka and all his friends—even though Luka warns him that his tribe is pretty “modern.” And so they prove: most of the guests spend their time at the party naked, and eventually it seems things degenerate into a near-orgy. Encouraged by Dina, Luka is, by way of camouflage, spending the evening with Petra (Jenko), a girl of his own age who has long been pursuing him.

Maskarada - 4 A guest (uncredited) at the wild'n'wacky party

 One of the guests (uncredited) at the wild’n’wacky party.

Tiring of Petra, Luka goes in search of Dina, only to find her in the midst of violent sex with Gantar. Gantar taunts Luka, there’s a fight, and Gantar goes flying. Disgusted with Dina, and not realizing that what he stumbled upon was an act of rape, Luka sets off on a long motorbike tour with Petra and, hey, there’s yet more naked alfresco romping, complete with the wholesome grins. Most priceless of all is perhaps the game of semi-nude leapfrog, complete with upside-down camerawork; it’s so Monkees that you keep expecting the pair of them to break into a rousing chorus of “Last Train to Clarksville.”

Maskarada - 5 Luka finds Dina in (as he thinks) flagrante delicto

 Luka finds Dina (Vida Jerman) in (as he thinks) flagrante delicto.

When he finally returns home, having determined that he’s fallen in love with Petra, Luka discovers Dina in mourning. Although she kept his involvement from the police, Gantar never arose after Luka knocked him down. She’s unwilling to tell the cops that Luka killed her husband . . . assuming, of course, that Luka abandons his young hussy and returns to Dina’s arms.

Of all the sequences in the movie, this is arguably the best-handled. Earlier the interactions between the pair, usually sexual, were between equals; now, as she briefly assumes total control over him, it’s very clear that she’s of an older generation—perhaps an irritated mother admonishing her wayward son—and that he doesn’t have much choice but to do what she tells him. He’s hers, at least briefly . . .

I must confess that the existence of arthouse cinema in early-1970s Yugoslavia was something that had escaped me entirely before I saw this movie. It’d be easy to dismiss it as soft porn (a couple of fleeting moments are more explicit than that), but clearly its aspirations aim higher. It’s just a pity that there’s such a gap between aspirations and execution. As an example of this, great play is made of Luka’s intellectual endowment being such that he thinks it’s aw shucks really wonderful that if you look out one side of the car the scenery goes from left to right whereas, if you look out the other, it goes from right to left; now we know where Deepak Chopra got some of his best lines. Mind you, it’s not Luka’s intellectual endowment that Dina seems particularly interested in.

Maskarada - 3 Dina and Luka do quite a lot of this

Dina (Vida Jerman) and Luka (Igor Galo) do quite a lot of this.

Although the situation is ripe for suspense—Gantar’s guns everywhere, a four-sided triangle (Luka, Andrej, Dina, Petra)—that suspense never really materializes, mainly because of the ineptitude of much else that’s going on. The bare-bottomed hippy party has too much of Monty Python about it (there’s a parrot in there too, but it’s very much alive), the slo-mo scenes are just made for derisive commentary (and in places reminiscent of that great Marty Feldman vehicle Every Home Should Have One [1970]: “Sand”), and even the subtitles add to the joy:

Luka: Dina, you’re terrific fish.

What bring us back down to earth and make us realize that, if this were real life, the circumstance would be not so hilarious after all are Andrej’s knowing eyes: time and again, just as we expect Maškarada to slide into complete self-lampoon, we see those eyes and suddenly everything becomes very disturbing. As far as I can easily ascertain, this was Šetina’s only screen role, and in many ways that’s not surprising: he’s pretty wooden except for those expressive eyes.

This may not be a good movie, but in its own small way it’s a piece of cinematic history: an arthouse movie out of Communist Eastern Europe (albeit Tito’s Yugoslavia rather than one of the more repressive nations), a movie born of a country that no longer exists. It was apparently a cause célèbre in its day in its native land; that it seems today not so much tame as risible is more the fault of time’s passage than, perhaps, of the movie itself.

Maybe.

Maskarada - closer

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8 thoughts on “Maškarada (1971)

  1. There were a few Yugoslav art-house films featuring sex and drugs (and quite often murder) then. The best-known was Dusan Makavejev’s WR-Mysteries of the Organism.

    • You’re absolutely right, of course. For some reason that movie has always lodged itself in my head as Czech rather than Yugoslav. I saw it on its London release, when everyone was amazed that such stuff could emanate from the communist world.

  2. Makavejev’s SWEET MOVIE with its lewd abandon and perversity is even more over the top than MYSTERIES, though I never counted myself as much of a fan of it. Sounds like this film was a forerunner of the more progressive Yugoslav cinema, and you have certainly extended the literature with this superlative piece here John. I’ve never crossed paths with the film myself.

    • I’ve never seen Sweet Movie and, at a guess never will! I haven’t much love for WR: Mysteries of the Organism, either. When I saw it on London release, me aged ~20, it was mainly a matter of looking out for the dirty bits. Years later, having learned a lot more about Reich and his very GOPish woo pseudoscience, I watched the movie again and thought its treatment of the subject matter pretty vacuous.

      Or, as you might say in them days, a bit gone.

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