The Hollywood Reporter Review

The Priest's Children (Svecenikova djeca): Karlovy Vary Review

Croatian director Vinko Bresan and playwright-composer Mate Matisic team up for a ribald comedy about a priest who tries to prick a hole in a village's preferred contraception method.

A zealous young priest tries to counter the plummeting birthrate in his picturesque Croatian parish with a rather unusual counter-contraception method in The Priest's Children, director VinkoBresan's smooth cinematic adaptation of the play by Mate Matisic.

Bresan and playwright and screenwriter-composer Matisic are two of Croatia's most consistent hit makers, both known for their often darkly comic material. They earlier collaborated on the screenplay of Bresan's 2008 title Will Not Stop There (based onMatisic's play The Woman Without a Body) and Matisic has also written the music for all of the director's movies. Their latest collaboration is one of their lightest (if not lightweight) efforts yet, even though it deals with quite a few serious issues.Playing mostly like you would expect from a Balkan comedy involving clergy and condoms, though with a more serious protagonist at its center, Bresan's fifth feature strikes a solid balance between the colorful villagers' group dynamics and the rather unusual journey of a serious but inexperienced man of the cloth who tries to practically apply the will of God and the rules of the Church. Already a huge hit in Croatia, this Karlovy Vary international premiere will penetrate the schedules of festivals not afraid of lighter fare and has an outside chance of theatrical pickups, especially in Eastern Europe.

Thirty-something Father Fabian (Kresimir Mikic) is assigned a new parish on a beautiful island off the Dalmatian coast, where he's supposed to take over from a much older colleague (ZdenkoBotic) who was immensely popular with the locals. This puts a lot of pressure on Fabian, whose relative inexperience is a source of amusement for audiences if not the villagers, who take his every word very seriously.

When the pious local kiosk salesman (Niksa Butijer) asks the priest advice about the surging number of condoms he sells during summer, Fabian comes up with a plan: secretly puncture all the prophylactics before they're sold. Condoms aren't supposed to be 100 percent safe anyway, Father Fabian seems to think, the Church opposes them and the slowly dying village is also in dire need of some new blood. The unlikely duo even manage to get the crazy local pharmacist (Drazen Kuhn) to sell the same punctured condoms and also swap his birth-control pills for innocent vitamins.

What follows is a ribald account of various mishaps, as supposedly innocent couplings (most of them off-screen) suddenly result in hasty weddings and unexpected babies and thus overtime for Father Fabian. The spike in births even makes international headlines and attracts tourists who hope the sudden explosion of fertility will rub off on them — a funny notion that's unfortunately allowed on a quick few scenes before being abandoned.

As in most Balkan comedies, there's a lot of crude humor involving sex; some innuendo about war-time behavior and the prerequisite guns that have to be drawn. Matisic even dares to include a couple of broad jabs at the Church, an institution that's been plagued with sex-related scandals of its own (co-producer and Serbian star Lazar Ristovski has a fun cameo as a bishop).

The villagers are mostly a group of stock characters brought to life by solid character actors, while Father Fabian is actually drawn as an almost fully rounded person, especially in the hospital scenes that bookend the action and the occasional glimpse in his mind (shot on a pristine-white studio set). This seriousness is what sets the film apart from other films involving priests and lewd behavior, and star Mikic (recently seen in Vegetarian Cannibal) thankfully plays it straight, thus becoming the pivotal calm center of the surrounding storm, even though it's mostly one of his own making.

Mirko Pivcevic's cinematography on the Alexa is crisp, even in the nighttime scenes, and beautifully showcases the seaside village, which adds further sheen to this polished production.

Venue: Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competition)
Production companies: Interfilm, Zilion Film
Cast: Kresimir Mikic, Niksa Butijer, Marija Skaricic, Drazen Kuhn, Jadranka Dokic, Lazar Ristovski, Goran Bogdan, Zdenko Botic, Filip Krizan
Director: Vinko Bresan
Screenwriter: Mate Matisic, based on his own play
Producer: Ivan Maloca
Co-producer: Lazar Ristovski
Director of photography: Mirko Pivcevic
Production designer: Damir Gabelica
Music: Mate Matisic
Costume designer: Zeljka Franulovic
Editor: Sandra Botica Bresan
Sales: Wide
No rating, 93 minutes