Film director Boštjan Hladnik died

09. June 2006
On 30th May Boštjan Hladnik, one of the greatest Slovenian

Boštjan Hladnik was born in Kranj on 30 January, 1929. In 1935 his family moved to Ljubljana, where he soon became an avid moviegoer, regularly visiting all Ljubljana's cinemas, particularly the Matica cinema.

In 1947 he purchased, a 35-mm projector from the owner of Matica, Pavle Jesih, and set up a movie house in his own home. The same year he also bought an 8-mm camera and took a course in amateur film shooting given by Janez Korenčan from Triglav Film.

His first amateur film, Girl in the Mountains (1947) was awarded at the amateur film festival in Salerno (1952).

After completing seconding school, he first enrolled in the study of art history, then (1949) transferred to the Academy of Performing Arts. The students of the Film Department listened to lectures in film theory and history, but the rest of their courses were combined with those of the Drama Department. Practical work - shooting films - was not in the study programme. His graduation work - the direction of Strindberg's play, Miss Julia was awarded first prize at the international festival in Erlangen (1953).

He continued his film education at the IDHEC school in Paris (1957-60). As assistant director and director trainee, he participated in the production of films by Claude Chabrol (Les Cousins/Cousins, 1959; A Double Tour, 1959; Les Bonnes Femmes/Good Women, 1960), Philippe de Brocca (Les Jeux d'amour/Love Games, 1960) and Robert Siodmak (Katia, 1960).

There are cineastes all over the world, including Slovenia, who make a great many films, but many of these leave no traces in the minds of viewers, nor in national cinematography, let alone film history and esthetics. And there are cineastes who create something big, leave a trace in the minds of individuals and in history, with a single film. Such is Boštjan Hladnik, whose very first film, Dancing in the Rain (1961), not only managed to catch the moment of modernism in European film, but to place Slovenian cinematography on an equal level.

In the early sixties, Dancing in the Rain had quite a "shocking" effect on Slovene cinematography, and was perceived (though not completely) as a "dark" film. This is a "black melodrama" depicting persons who always fail, whether in love, art or in life itself. The film allows no illusory solutions, but is nevertheless most remembered for the dreams which gave one of the loveliest female figures in the history of Slovene film - the sublime image of red-haired Maruša.

Yet Boštjan Hladnik did not dwell on this obscure vision, but manifested his amazing originality and creativity in every new film. In Sand Castle (1962), a light, wandering comedy grows into a tormenting melodrama in which two rivals are not as "blindly in love" as they are incapable of perceiving the mental wound of an attractive girl on the run. And if, in this film, the "sand castle", as a symbol of illusory freedom, collapses on the crags of reality, then Hladnik has, in his subsequent films, afforded his heroes more solid walls of freedom which seemed to rise high above reality.

His films began to acquire more playful and even fantastic forms, as if he discovered that the desire for a different life can only be realized in film as the desire for a different film. In Sun's Scream (1968), it appears as if the "homeland" of this film is the pop-art kingdom of consumable products, governed by the laws of pleasure and of universal, and thus also sexual, "consumption". In other words, he has shown that the discovery of a new form in film is also a way of making a film "before its time", if, at the moment of its creation, it doesn't appear to have any connection with "its" time.

A similar film is Masquerade, which "shocking" not only because of its moral and sexual perversities or the obviousness of its "cheap" genre, but primarily because it "unmasked" something which some Slovene filmmakers so resented in their country at the time - the fact that the country itself was beginning to resemble the Masquerade.

Most of Hladnik's films (altogether seven, plus two made in Germany) do not attempt to be realistic, nor does the "socially critical" White Grasses attempt to respond to reality, but rather how to surprise and astound it.

Hladnik's "film principle" is probably best reflected in film Killing me Softly (1979), whose ending reveals that everything viewed so far was merely the fantasy of a film character. But this "awakening to reality" is consonant with the final sequence of the film, as it is perceived by the cineaste (and by his film character), as a form of fantasizing.