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Thursday, May 23, 2024

A Director Hires Kevin Spacey to Play a Balkan Leader So That His Image Will Be Improved

A hagiographic movie about the stern former leader of a little nation in the Balkans was not going to be a smashing success at the box office anywhere in the world. But the film’s director, a former water polo champion turned darling of right-wing Croatian cinema, came up with an innovative idea to create some buzz: he selected Kevin Spacey as the film’s lead actor.

In spite of the fact that Hollywood has, for the most part, shunned Kevin Spacey in the wake of allegations of sexual assault made against him, expelling the 63-year-old from its roster of bankable talent and removing him from projects that were already in development, the star of “House of Cards” is featured prominently in a new film that pays tribute to a nationalist leader who is viewed by some as a dangerous bigot.

A leader who is venerated by supporters as a Balkan George Washington but hated by adversaries as an ethnonationalist fanatic, Franjo Tudjman is honoured in this video that runs for a total of ninety minutes. In the month of February, the film “Once Upon a Time in Croatia” will be made available to the general public for viewing in Croatia. The film will also be shown in other countries, including the United States.

The director, Jakov Sedlar, who is 70 years old, admitted in an interview that in Croatia, many people, particularly young people, do not care much about Mr. Tudjman. Mr. Tudjman was a highly polarising authoritarian figure who the historian Tony Judt described as “one of the more egregiously unattractive” leaders to emerge in the early 1990s from the rubble of Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was formerly a part.

According to the filmmaker, Mr. Tudjman “was not a nationalist but a patriot, an utterly good personality.” Mr. Tudjman passed away in 1999. According to Mr. Sedlar, Mr. Spacey “is the greatest of the finest performers” and “completely innocent.” Mr. Spacey has won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice and has been a friend of the filmmaker for more than a decade.

Croatia is one of seven entities that arose following the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Today, Croatia is a stable democracy with a population of less than four million people. It is also a worldwide soccer power and a popular tourism destination.

But the struggle to shape the history of the Yugoslav wars, which is essential to the national identity in each of the countries that were spawned by the violence of the early 1990s, still rages across the region, particularly among filmmakers in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia, the countries that saw the worst of the fighting.

The new movie directed by Mr. Sedlar doesn’t put much effort into providing a complete and objective history. It makes no mention of the crimes that were committed under Mr. Tudjman’s leadership, such as the attacks on Bosnian civilians, the ethnic cleansing of Croatia’s once large Serb minority, or the destruction of a 16th-century bridge in the Bosnian city of Mostar in 1993. These are just some of the atrocities that were committed. His appeal to extreme nationalists affiliated during World War II to the fascist organisation the Ustashe, whose ferocity horrified even some German Nazis, is not covered in this account.

As a result of the violence that occurred in the 1990s, almost all members of Croatia’s ethnic minorities, including Serbs, were forced to leave the country. As a result, Croatia has almost entirely moved beyond the narrow ethnonationalism that prevailed during Mr. Tudjman’s time in power and has joined both the European Union and NATO. During the time that Mr. Sedlar has been busy promoting his film, the government has been concentrating on getting the nation ready to accept the euro and to join the borderless Schengen zone on January 1.

Despite the fact that Mr. Tujdman’s political party was in power at the time, the government did not want anything to do with Mr. Sedlar’s film and rejected his requests for financial support. The director said that he was able to collect the necessary 400,000 euros (which is equivalent to around $425,000) from individual donations.

At first, he had the ambitious goal of producing a full-length biopic to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the former President of Croatia. However, he compromised by opting for a more low-key production that centred on Mr. Spacey reading excerpts from Mr. Tudjman’s impassioned lectures.

The director said that Mr. Spacey had agreed to play the role out of friendship and had never requested nor received any money for his services. Jennifer L. Keller, who represents Mr. Spacey, did not reply to a request for a comment on the matter.

The majority of Mr. Spacey’s act in the movie consists of his intoning the same remarks in English, wandering around government buildings in white-soled shoes, and scribbling in a book. The movie incorporates archive video of Mr. Tudjman giving wartime speeches in Croatian.

Ms. Silber, a veteran war journalist, said that it was doubtful that history would reach a definitive decision on Mr. Tudjman any time soon, at least not in Croatia. The historical jury is still deliberating on Mr. Tudjman.

She said that since he was responsible for Croatia’s independence, he would never be held accountable by history in that country.

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