Gangster of Love: A potential not fulfilled

Published by the Alternate Dream

Gangster of Love

Directed by Nebojsa Slijepcevic

Croatia, Germany, Romania | 2013 | 80 min

Many films prove to be much better than their directors but in what is probably a mixed of curse and blessing, the opposite seems to be true for Slijepcevic. By watching many strands in the film as well as talking to him after the film, I found the Croatian director to be very capable and thoughtful. But that potential remains mostly unfulfilled in this average comedy about a matchmaking agency in small town Croatia.

Some of the problems must be attributed to Slijepcevic’s lack of luck, that essential ingredient that documentary filmmakers are much reliant on compare to their cousins in the world of fiction cinema. Nedjeljko Babic, The matchmaker at the centre of the film, is an interesting enough character and the film full of funny little snippets. The director has focused on one of Babic’s clients, Maya, a Bulgarian immigrant in the country. But Maya’s story doesn’t happen to have enough dramatic material to form the centre of a compelling film. (Whatever they tell you to the contrary, documentaries, as much as fiction films, need such elements.)

Slijepcevic has tried to inject some social commentary to the film. We can clearly see that this is a Croatia in the aftermath of the disastrous collapse of Yugoslavian Titoist regime that was a gigantic step backwards for the region and engulfed it with nationalist flames. Babic is surprisingly progressive in his attitude toward foreigners, who are many of his clients, but the same is not true about many of his male clients. A man refuses to even consider a Bulgarian as wife. Many men are also non-accepting of Maya’s status as a single mother and her young son. Maya’s quest being at the centre of the film, Gangster of Love attempts to be a bitter-sweet treatment of post-war Croatia, its precarious life conditions and many regressive social attitudes that have took root. Intelligently put at different junctions in the film are signs of the reactionary elements that are now prevalent in Croatia: Bands of old ladies singing patriotic-religious anti-communist songs are a highlight. Slijepcevic told me that looking critically at the troubling nationalism in the country had indeed been one of his preoccupations when he was thinking about the project.

Gangster of Love is, as such, a smart film but one that can’t weave its narrative together in a way that is required for a great film. It is both bitter and sweet but its taste is never balanced. It ends up being not funny enough and not bitter enough.

I will still make a note to look for Slijepcevic’s next film.

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