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Saturday, March 21, 2009

A "Dr." between two fronts! (SPOILER ALERT)

In the very cold winter of 1961-1962, during the height of the Cold War between the USA, under president JFK, and the USSR, under secretary-general Nikita Kroetjov, Marisa Mell accepted an essential part in a movie called “Dr”. Nothing extraordinary except that the movie was shot in “Yugoslavia”, ruled by marshall Josip Tito. After World War II, Yugoslavia was the only country in Eastern Europe outside direct Soviet control. The liberation from the German Nazis had been achieved, not by the Soviet Red Army, but by a local communist partisan movement, whose members subsequently occupied major military and police posts. The head of the partisan movement, Josip Tito, had been trained in Moscow. Though a Russian-trained communist, he refused to be a Soviet puppet. In 1947-1948, Tito made it clear to the Soviet Union that Yugoslavia would not subordinate her economy to that of the Soviet Union. The Soviets immediately ordered her satellites in Eastern Europe to stop their trade with Yugoslavia. Next they tried to create conflicts among the Yugoslav Communist Party leaders. When all these failed, then Soviet leader secretary-general Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Cominform. The “Communist Information Bureau” had as task, not only to spread communist propaganda to all European countries, but also to co-ordinate the activities of the member communist parties in their struggle against “Anglo-American imperialism”. The conflict between Yugoslavia and Russia led to a great fear among the western nations that in the near future, Russia would use force to “unseat” the government of Yugoslavia and if that was successful, Russia would even order the Red Army to advance into western Europe. Fortunately that did never happen! One of the reasons was that Yugoslav development was assisted by Western aid from the United States and the World Bank. In 1954, Yugoslavia even igned a Balkan Pact for mutual self-defense with Greece and Turkey, both by then members of NATO. Marshalll Tito kept his independence by maintaining ties with both the West and a de-Stalinized Russia. Beginning in the middle 1950s Tito used his so-called "Policy of Nonalignment" to find support outside either Cold War camp. The expansion of trade among the nonaligned states added economic support to political mutual aid. The result was a Yugoslav state that had a Communist regime but was not a Soviet satellite; a socialist economy but not a command economy and a distinctive but influential foreign policy of neutrality, in which the Cold War itself rather than either Super-Power was defined as the enemy. It was in this atmosphere during the winter of 1961-1962 that the young still aspiring Austrian actress accepted the role of “Klara”. During the production of this movie, Marisa Mell was living in the Austrian capital of Vienna. Just like Yugoslavia, Austria was a neutral country but it had a lot to endure of the Cold War being situated on the border of two philosphies: capitalism versus communism. Vienna was therefor a hot spot for spy activities between western and eastern spies and playground for fortune hunters, adventurers, prostitutes... all best portrayed in the classic Orson Welles movie "The Third Man" from a novel by Graham Green. So it was not strange that the producers of "Dr" choose Marisa Mell to play a major central part in their movie! She was from an neutral country Austria in the Cold War conflict. She spoke German as the role required and had also affinity with the Yugoslav culture as a neighbouring country of Austria. Country borders are artifical and family relations do not stop at them so there was a great interaction between citizens of both countries. Last but not least, she had played the role of "Alka" in 1960 in the German movie "Am Galgen hängt die Liebe". In this drama set in 1944 on a Greek mountainside, Greek partisans are fighting German troops when an elderly couple agrees to give a desperate partisan refuge. When the shoe is on the other foot and two German soldiers seek asylum with the same couple, they also shelter them. Marisa Mell played the daughter of the elderly couple in this story and makes quite an impression with her performance! Due to its subject of German soldiers and partisans in connection to their own partisan history, this movie must have been well known at the time in Yugoslavia and the name Marisa Mell had to ring some bells when the producers were casting the part of Klara. The movie was made by the Yugoslavian production and film distribution company Avala Film with seat in Beograd. Under state control they produced about 400 movies from 1947 untill 2000, sometimes in coproduction with European or American companies resulting in films like the 1989 horror film "Beyond the Door III" or the 1997 Brad Pitt starrer "The Dark Side of the Sun". The film was shot in black and white while the main cast spoke Serbo-Croatian, Marisa Mell spoke only German with the exception of a few words in Serbo-Croatian. The film runs for 87 minutes and was directed by a then 40 year old female director Soja Jovanovic. She was the first female director in Yugoslavia and this was her fourth film. After this movie, she made a couple more and but eventually became a full-time director of television series and movies in her home country untill her death in 2002 at the age of 80. As mentioned the cast was mainly constituted of actors of Serbo-Croatian origin except for another German speaking actor Hans Nielsen. Hans Nielsen has a filmography of more than 135 films, among them two Edgar Wallace movies "Die Tür mit dem 7 Schlössern" and "Das Indische Tuch". In this movie he played a German professor of philosophy from Heidelberg and his part is nothing more than a glorified cameo role, probably casted to attract a possible German distribution deal! He died at the age of 54 in 1965 from bone cancer. Another star became after this production famous in Europe and the US namely the actress Beba Loncar. She played the role of the young daughter of the house "Slavka Cvijovic". After this film, Beba Loncar was picked up by German and Italian film producers and relocated to Italy, just like Marisa Mell did in 1965. Together they made in that same year another movie "Casanova 70" with Marcello Mastorianni. Her career lasted more than 40 years untill 1982 with more than 50 movies on her resumé. When the Italian movie industry collapsed around that period due to the rise of commercial television and very bad movie productions she found it was time to retire and devote her life more to her family. Since then she has not disappeared from the public eye but leads a normal low profile life, is very proud of her career and is often interviewed for television and newspapers in Italy and her country Yugoslavia. Looking at the cast today, it strikes one that, from all the cast members playing a major part in the movie, there are only two actors still alive today 47 years after its production! They are Beba Loncar and her film brother "Dr. Milorad Cvijovic" played by Velimir Zivojinovic. He is now 76 years old and had after this movie a rather stellar career, what very few American actors can top, with more than 270 roles behind his name. And even today at his age, he still is working in the industry with two films in production for 2009. "Dr" is based on a comedy theater play written by Branislav Nusic, a Serbian novelist, playwright, satirist, essayist and founder of modern rhetoric in Serbia. Watching this movie you called easily detect its theater origin. The story is build around several acts, not the classic American story structure, but it comes quite close and the set of the movie is almost an identical adaptation of the theater setting. As a viewer you get several times the impression that you as an audience are following a theater play instead of a genuine story written for a movie! (For pictures see my previous "Dr"-entry). The story: It is the harsh cold winter of 1961-1962 in the suburbs of Beograd. All the streets are snowed under except around the mansion of the industrialist Zivota Cvijovic who lives with his wife, son, daughter and a sexy dressed maid who tries to do the housekeeping. The movie opens during the dark early morning hours when the son comes back home from a night out in town and has bought some pretzels for breakfast. He arrives at the villa with his oldtimer during the first hours of the morning when the sun is coming up. Upon entering the house he meets his younger sister who is already active in the library reading a book on the top of a library ladder showing more than the book to the audience. From this scene we know that this is not a typical Eastern Europe communist family or story! The entire movie is rather strange in its build up for a regular family living in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The son drives an American oldtimer, lives with his parents and sister in an American looking mansion, has a scarcely dressed maid who is trying to seduce him, his father is a very wealthy industrialist (for example he opens several times during the story his wallet filled with big notes to give them to other characters; he donates a roast piglet in the middle of winter to an elderly women...), drinks expensive European and American alcohol, has books by Shakespeare in his library as a cover up for the bar hidden behind the books, his parents and friends are dressed like America in the 30's and dance the Foxtrot and Charleston when giving a party! It is as if their world and the whole story as such is placed in a bubble out of the hard day to day reality, which it probably is remembering the hardship that the common people had to endure under a (semi) communism regime if you didn't belong to the party elite! The first half of the movie is a build up for the central plot which really starts when Marisa Mell (as Klara) shows up on the door step with a little boy. Then the confusion starts. Klara is looking for her husband Dr. Milorad Cvijovic to present him his son! She makes acquitance with the parents of the title character. When she finally meets the son, she is stunned to see that the man before her is not the man she married in Heidelberg, Germany during his studies to become a doctor of philosophy. How can that be? The next hour of the movie is a search for answers how this confusion got started. Klara is taken by Dr Milorad on a quest finding some of these answers! She goes to a conference with him, to a nightclub where a gypsy women is singing two traditional songs, to the house of a friend and finally back home where the parents are giving a party for the son and his future wife, the daughter of the minister of transport. After again a lot of running around and even a kidnapping of Klara by the mistress of the house, the confusion is solved. It seems that during his student time the son of the house did "not" study in Heidelberg but has sent his poor best friend to do the studies and exams for him in exchange for a good payment. So Klara fell in love and married the pauper student and not the son of a wealthy industrialist. At the height of the party, the pauper friend declares his love for Slavka, the daughter of the house, which enrages Klara. But in the end, all is well that end's well: Milorad falls in love with Klara and she with him although he is no doctor anymore but still the wealthy son of an industrialst. His sister Slavka gets to marry the man of her dreams although he is poor but has the title of doctor of philosophy. Conclusion: Love and an academic degree can not be bought, not even in a (semi) communist country like Yugoslavia! Watching this movie you see immediately the influence of German movies from that time like the Edgar Wallace, family or heimat films. All these movies have the same structure, build up and camera angles. They project a wholesome view of life where, although there may be some trouble or confusion, everything will come out fine in the end. In the beginning of the sixties, not many people had television or those who had could only receive a few networks! So an evening out meant always going to the movies and later diner or dancing. These kind of movies got made by the buck load and are all interchangeable and mostly nothing special. What makes this movie special is, as mentioned, that the movie got lost for more than 45 years and has a very young Marisa Mell in the cast. The appearance of Marisa Mell is also quite the opposite of the women you get to see a few years later when she started living in Italy. She is a very classic dressed German women! Later she would become more open, more a women of the world. So living in Rome does change one's appearance! The movie can be ordered from this distributor in Yugoslavia:

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