St. George Slays the Dragon

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Saint George Slays the Dragon
Plakat-azdaha.jpg
Directed by Srđan Dragojević
Produced by Dušan Kovačević
Lazar Ristovski
Srđan Dragojević
Milko Josifov
Biljana Prvanović
Written by Dušan Kovačević
Starring Lazar Ristovski
Milutin Milošević
Nataša Janjić
Bora Todorović
Dragan Nikolić
Milena Dravić
Zoran Cvijanović
Branislav Lečić
Music by Aleksandar Ranđelović
Cinematography Dušan Joksimović
Distributed by Sinears (Serbia)
Wild Bunch (globally)
Release date(s) March 11, 2009 (Serbia)
Running time 150 min.
Language Serbian
Budget 5 million[1] (estimated)
Box office $325,265 (Serbia) [2]

St. George Slays the Dragon (Serbian: Свети Георгије убива аждаху, Sveti Georgije ubiva aždahu) is a Serbian World War I drama directed by Srđan Dragojević and written by Dušan Kovačević. The movie premiered on March 11, 2009.[3]

With a budget of around €5 million,[1] it was one of the most expensive Serbian movie productions to date. Some of the funds have been donated by the governments of Serbia (€1.55 million) and Republika Srpska (€750,000) who deemed the movie to be of national importance.

Kovačević's script is based on his 1984 theater play that was staged to great success in Belgrade's Atelje 212 and Novi Sad's Serbian National Theatre.

Plot[edit]

The movie starts with the Kingdom of Serbia, as part of the Balkan League, battling the remaining Turkish occupiers during the First Balkan War in 1912 and ends with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and the crucial Battle of Cer, the first allied victory in World War I. It is largely set in and around a small village by the Sava river at Serbia's border with Austria-Hungary.

The village is deeply divided between able-bodied men that are potential army recruits and the many disabled veterans from the previous Balkan wars; there is bitter animosity between the two groups, who do not intermingle much with each other even though they live in the same village.

The movie's central theme is a love triangle between the village gendarme Đorđe, his wife Katarina and the young disabled war veteran Gavrilo who was previously engaged to Katarina before he went to war and lost his arm in battle, and with the arm partly also his lust for life. Even though Katarina in the meantime married Đorđe, she still has affection for Gavrilo, which is a source of friction between the two.

At the onset of World War I, all able-bodied men in the village are recruited for combat. Left in the village are only women, children and disabled veterans from previous Balkan wars. Rumours start circulating that the invalids in the village are trying to take advantage of the situation by making their moves on the women in the village – the wives and sisters of the recruited men. These rumours reach the villagers at the frontlines, and in order to prevent mutiny the army staff decides to recruit the invalids as well and send them to the front line.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Director Srđan Dragojević planned to make a movie based on Kovačević's play for a long time. He already started pre-production in 1998 under the regime of Slobodan Milošević and then once again in 2001 when he shopped the story around by offering it to the new government under prime minister Zoran Đinđić,[4] but due to lack of funds and political support both attempts were ultimately abandoned.[5][6] Things changed under the next cabinet of Vojislav Koštunica as the movie got approved funding and went into production.

The movie's production company was an entity called "Sveti Georgije ubiva aždahu" – a one-off company registered and set up for the purposes of this film by the following companies: Zillion Film (production house owned by Lazar Ristovski),[7] Yodi Movie Craftsman (owned by Zoran Cvijanović and Milko Josifov), Delirium Film (owned by Srđan Dragojević), and Maslačak Film (owned by Biljana Prvanović). The co-producers are Oskar Film from Banja Luka and Camera from Bulgaria.

In addition to the governments of Serbia (under prime minister Koštunica and cultural minister Dragan Kojadinović) and Republika Srpska (under prime minister Milorad Dodik) that donated the total of €2.25 million, the movie's funding came from Eurimages fund that contributed €400,000, Serbian Ministry of Culture, and the Executive Council of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina.[8]

The movie had 92 shooting days (50 of them night shoots) throughout the summer and fall of 2007 on locations in Serbia, Republika Srpska, and Bulgaria.[6] The shooting began on July 18, 2007 and wrapped on December 5, 2007.[8] For the shooting in Serbia, an entire village was built in early 20th century style in South Banat District near Deliblatska Peščara with full and detailed interiors done by cinematographer Miljen "Kreka" Kljaković.[9] In Republika Srpska, the shooting took place in Omarska near Prijedor where the Battle of Cer was recreated.[10]

Controversy[edit]

Originally cast for the role of young war cripple Gavrilo was Sergej Trifunović. However, as the film was about to go into production, a row over creative issues erupted between him and Lazar Ristovski, one of the film's producers who also plays the role of Đorđe the gendarme.[11] This resulted in Trifunović effectively being fired from the movie and young Milutin Milošević cast instead for the role of Gavrilo.

Towards the end of shooting, the movie's cinematographer Miljen "Kreka" Kljaković walked off the set, reportedly over not being paid in full the agreed upon amount in his contract.[8]

Bosnian Muslim human rights groups strongly protested the choice of Omarska for filming some scenes in the film, as Omarska was a site of a notorious Serb controlled internment camp for Bosniaks, Croats and other non-Serbs.[citation needed]

Reaction[edit]

The movie provoked a reaction from the opposition Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) that accused it of "falsifying facts".[12] Dramaturgist Radoslav Pavlović, an SNS member, complained about the historical liberties taken by the film's creators, namely the depiction of the crippled veterans being recruited for battle - an event of which there's no historical proof.[12]

Historian Predrag J. Marković listed the film as an example of "auto-chauvinism", a term he described as "the hatred of one's own people". Marković added: "Terrible damage has been inflicted with this project, which ate up enormous resources of both Serbia and Republika Srpska in order to portray Serbian soldiers as freakish monsters and Serb people as immoral scum. This may be legitimate under the licence of artistic freedom, but it's unfathomable that the state would financially support a film like that. It's another example that when it comes to us (the Serbs), the only lasting ideologies are stupidity and negligence".[13]

Critical reception[edit]

Serbia[edit]

Released in mid March 2009 in Serbia and Republika Srpska (March 11 in Belgrade, March 12th in Banja Luka, and March 13 in Niš) to much media coverage, the movie received mostly lukewarm reviews. Many of the reviewers underscored the opinion that the finished product failed to live up to the hype that surrounded it.[14][15]

After two weeks of theatrical release, the film sold 67,032 admission tickets in Serbia.[16] By the end of its theatrical run in Serbia, the film sold 125,000 admission tickets,[17] grossing $325,265 in the country,[18] all of which was far less than expected.[19]

Other[edit]

Recent Western critical reviews have been a bit more positive.

After seeing it at the 2009 Montreal World Film Festival, Variety's Dennis Harvey penned a lukewarm review, somewhat praising Dragojević for "directing the noisy, sprawling tale in colorful, confident fashion, at times recalling the rambunctious grotesquerie of Emir Kusturica's Underground (a more successful Kovačević adaptation, also starring Ristovski)" while pointing out that the whole thing still "seems schematic rather than felt" and identifying the movie's biggest problem to be its central romance, which is "neither convincing nor appealing".[20]

Stephen Farber writing for Reuters, says, "As the film morphs into a penetrating anti-war drama, it becomes considerably more potent. Director Srdjan Dragojevic, who made Pretty Village, Pretty Flame in 1996, demonstrates undeniable talent. The battle scenes capture the chaos and brutality of trench warfare, and the finale builds a mournful power. Cinematography is rich, and the score adds to the movie's impact. Although it's easy to grow impatient during St. George's early scenes, the haunting conclusion stays with you."[21]

The film was selected as the Serbian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 82nd Academy Awards, but it did not make the final shortlist.

Notes[edit]

  • The movie St. George Shoots the Dragon is based on a highly acclaimed theatre play of the same name written in 1984 by Dušan Kovačević, who also wrote the movie's screenplay.[22]
  • Dušan Kovačević claims that the movie is based on a true story that was allegedly told to him by his grandfather Cvetko Kovačević, who, as a young boy at the onset of World War I, transported wounded and killed soldiers with an oxcart to a field hospital set up near the city of Šabac during the Battle of Cer.[22] However, there is no historical proof for Kovačević's claims that disabled people had been recruited and sent to the frontlines in Serbia during the First World War.
  • The working English title of the movie was a literal translation of the Serbian title; St. George Slays the Dragon. It was subsequently altered to reflect a scene where one character calls for Saint George to shoot at and sink an Austrian patrol boat on the Sava river.[23]
  • Zoran Tucić, storyboard artist of the film, is the notable Serbian and Yugoslav graphic novel author, architect and illustrator.

TV miniseries[edit]

Radio Television of Serbia will broadcast a six-part TV miniseries based on the movie after the movie premiere, as part of marking the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I.[22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]