The Prague Post Review

Movie review: The Priest's Children / Sveenikova djeca

A priest plays God in a small town on a Croatian island; hilarity ensues

 

Posted: July 10, 2013

By André Crous – Staff Writer 

Courtesy Photo

Having trouble sleeping like a baby. The former island priest feels some guilt for having meddled in the lives of his congregation.

Sveenikova djeca (The Priest's Children) is a visual feast and a subversive narrative treat full of humor that never outstays its welcome. It was screened in competition as part of the official selection at the recent Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and was one of the audience favorites, beaten by Alice Nellis' Revival at the eleventh hour.

Directed by acclaimed Croatian filmmaker Vinko Brešan and having a subversive priest at its core, the film ploughs the fraught but fertile soil of Bosnian-Croatian relations, including its religious component, but also opens with a rolling sequence of fourth-wall breaking that demonstrates Brešan's playfulness not only with his subject matter but also with the art of filmmaking itself.

The Priest's Children is one long confession – a flashback to the misdeeds of Father Florijan (Krešimir Miki), who is also our narrator, on a tiny island in the Adriatic Sea where he has been sent to eventually replace the aging Father Jakov. The misdeeds are multiple but mostly the same: Being frustrated at Father Jakov's lack of initiative to keep the population from dying out, Florijan begins a campaign of mass fertilization – by ensuring all the condoms sold at the tiny kiosk on the jetty and at the pharmacy are defective.

He is helped in this by the god-fearing purveyors of the little rubbers who, each for his own slightly different reasons, would prefer it if the condoms didn't stand in the way of population growth. However, actions have reactions, and before long foreign tourists are filling their beaches in the hope they will become fertile.

Defective condoms are no laughing matter – not only because people sometimes don't have the means to feed an extra mouth, but also because of venereal diseases – but the director maintains the humor while never dismissing these issues out of hand.

Florijan, whose profession means he is sworn to secrecy, uses his intimate knowledge of the townspeople (who, given the size of the town, know almost all of each other's secrets anyway) and their activities to promote, in his view, God's preferred outcome. But while God may have some plans, Florijan and the others on the island involved in this scheme of reproduction are simply not up to the task, which leads to some hilarious scenes of ineptitude along the way.  

At the start, Florijan's confession (the flashback) is presented very creatively, as he looks into the camera to tell us directly what he is/was up to. A few minutes later, there is a very surprising, Charlie Kaufman-esque moment when the young Father Šimun (Filip Kri~an), whom he confesses to in the present, pops up in the flashback to ask a question, momentarily conflating the past and the present. Unfortunately, Brešan doesn't find a way to keep up this sense of dynamism and spends the rest of the film entirely in the past, telling a straightforward story of farce set to a recognizably Balkan soundtrack, except for some quaint snippets that visually represent people's gossip, set in an anonymous location bathed in white light with no sound besides some heavy breathing and the unmistakable thuds of flesh pounding flesh.

The deliberately controversial, tongue-in-cheek title of the film very accurately suggests the tone of the production, and few will be left disappointed by the execution of this tough balancing act that takes on the Roman Catholic Church's position on contraception and even manages to address the issue of pedophilia in a serious way, having already laid the ground through comedy earlier on.

The Priest's Children has a central character with good intentions, whose frustration with the small island town leads him to some very questionable actions, as he effectively plays God with people's personal lives. However, we come to like him because he is naive and never succumbs to the temptation of having even greater power over his congregation. As long as we don't ponder the consequences of his reckless behavior too much, this will be a very gratifying motion picture.

The film has not yet been picked up for local distribution, and if it will be, it will almost certainly screen only in Croatian, with Czech subtitles. So make a note, and get hold of it once it is distributed on DVD abroad.

André Crous can be reached at

acrous@praguepost.com

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