This is a land of good actors
He is a man on the fringe. This is exactly what he calls himself, explaining: “ I’ve never had an official job. I’ve never been a member of a party and have never had any covert backing... Rather than these grand careers, titles, awards, I only needed a fringe along which I could push my books, texts and a few pieces on television. And I’ve always had that.”
A film critic and author of the much praised TV show, Veče sa zvezdama [An Evening with Stars], Ranko Munitić is a man who has followed a strange life path. He spent his childhood in Trogir, a Mediterranean, ancient and totally mythical place. Then he lived in Zagreb for twenty years, and now, for a little over two decades, he has lived in Belgrade. He says that his nationality is – Crobian [combined from the first letters of Croat and the last letters of Serbian].
“I’ve never understood divisions into nations”
“My father comes from Trogir and my mother from Zagreb. My paternal grandfather was also from Trogir, whereas my grandmother was of Italian descent. My mother’s father was a Slovenian and her mother was a Viennese countess. That’s why it’s always been difficult for me to declare my nationality, as I’m a bit of each of those. I’ve never understood these divisions into nations, faiths, races...”
He is proud of the balanced unity of opposites he has inherited: his true romantic, Mediterranean temperament from his father and the Jesuit wariness from his mother.
The moment he was separated from the seaside, from his true homeland, he could no longer settle down in one place.
“When, at the age of six, I left Trogir for Zagreb, I thought it was temporary and that, as soon as I had finished school, I’d return there. Years passed and I went back there only during my summer breaks. I saw that it was not what I wanted and that Trogir was getting out of my reach. I was depressed because of that. Then my grandfather, a gentleman fisherman, said to me one day: ‘Ranko, this is really sad. A man always loses something in his life; but look on the bright side. Once you are separated from Trogir, it will be easy for you to decide where it suits you best to live. Whether it will be this or that city, Paris or New Delhi. There’s no reason why you should stay somewhere if you don’t think you belong there.” And it turned out later on that my grandfather’s words eventually came true.
He opted for Belgrade. He first came here in March of 1963, for the Festival of Documentary Film. He was twenty years old at the time. As soon as he had left his luggage at the Slavija Hotel (coincidentally, now he lives only a few hundred meters away), he went out for a stroll. “You just go straight ahead, to Terazije, and Knez Mihailova Street is right there as well,” the receptionist told him how to get to the center of town. He followed the directions, smoking a cigarette (smoking is one of Ranko’s great passions). Suddenly, there was love at first sight. Between him and Belgrade. Only after about a hundred meters, it seemed to him as if he had known these streets and people for a long time. From the snippets of conversations he overheard in passing, he realized there was a peculiar kind of humor there, which reminded him of his native Trogir. He knew this mentality! That is how it all began.
“Loves at first sight are wonderful, but the Jesuit inside me says suspicious,” Ranko laughs.
“Let’s see if this is the right thing, I thought.”
He first moved to Belgrade in 1966, for two years. He rented a small apartment in Nikole Spasića Street, near Kalemegdan.
In 1968, at the Pula Film Festival, he met Zorica Jevremović, a dramaturgy student. In May of 1971, they got married in Belgrade and departed for Zagreb only to return to Belgrade in November. He says: “I moved here for good in 1972. And it hasn’t once crossed my mind to leave, nor is there any need to leave. On the contrary, with the passage of time there are more and more reasons for me to stay here.”
What was it that had drawn him to Belgrade? What does it have that other cities do not? Ranko explains: “Belgrade has always been a small anthill. Here, you can always choose what you really want to do. As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never had to think what I’ll do tomorrow or the day after. It has always been a problem what to choose from all the things on offer. Then, unlike other places, Belgrade shows everything it has, both positive and negative. All the cards are on the table. And no option, as we say today using this ugly word, will prevail. So then, unfortunately, what is good will not prevail over what is bad, but, luckily, neither the bad will prevail over the good.”
“A critic is essentially an idiot savant”
Ranko may call this a nickel-and-dime image from his youth, but it is interesting why he, who loved film so much, did not enroll at the Film Academy but rather graduated from art history and philosophy.
So then, Ranko’s father, being a rather practical man, managed skillfully to turn his son’s love for film into the latter’s goal to be as successful in school as possible. Once, when Ranko had earned a few bad marks in high school, his father said to him: “Improve those grades and I’ll send you to Pula for the festival.” At that, Ranko got down to it and mastered his mathematics.
“There are no artists in my family, but everyone was reading a lot and loved the theater. I also often attended various film shoots and enrolled at some kind of film school in Zagreb as well. I published my first text about film in Telegram, a popular magazine in the early 1960’s. I had been taken there by my professor Branko Belan. I graduated from art history and philosophy more for my parents’ sake than my own, to appease them. I had known from the start that I would never be a teacher.”
There was at the time the renowned school of animated film in Zagreb and the school of documentary film in Belgrade. Ranko Munitić wrote about them a lot and became a great expert on the two genres. He has toured the world with retrospectives of our animated, short and documentary films. He has been a member of around twenty international juries and as many selection committees.
However, he dislikes the term “film critic” which they always attach to his name, the same as we did at the beginning of this text.
“We have a confusing terminology,” says Ranko. “When we say ‘a film critic,’ it sounds rather smart, whereas ‘a journalist’ is something quite ordinary. It’s the other way round throughout the world. In order to be a journalist, you have to know much more and be more skillful than a critic. A critic is essentially an idiot savant. He is well versed in only one field. I don’t like the term ‘film critic’ because it immediately brings to mind a person who criticizes something. Bernard Shaw said a long time ago: “A critic is the opposite of a rooster. A rooster pecks at a dung heap until he finds something valuable, while a critic pecks at a heap of good things until he finds something bad.” I’d rather be a rooster. Actually, I’m a man who loves film and deals with films.”
Ranko Munitić is also a man who loves actors very much. For six years now he has been making the TV show An Evening with the Stars, in which he has presented around seventy local actors. Thanks to this show, he cruised through the critical 1990’s, when the war started and Yugoslavia fell apart. He had trustworthy friends on his side.
“You don’t belong in the Film Association...”
“At that time some people changed their attitude towards me,” Ranko says. “This is the only time I have talked about this. Last year, three colleagues from the Serbian Filmmakers’ Association called me and each one told me the same thing in their own words: that I don’t belong in this association. The first time I laughed; the second time, however, it got me thinking; and after the third conversation, I quit the association. And now, you’ll see the fate’s irony. Last year I broke my hip and for the first time I had needed the association for my treatment and health insurance. Luckily, with no problems at all, I was warmly welcomed to the membership of the Association of Dramatic Artists of Serbia. Thus I’m still, which is ridiculous, a member of the Association of Dramatic Artists of Serbia, which feels a little embarrassing. I do belong in the Filmmakers’ Association, whose member I was in Zagreb from 1963 and in Belgrade from 1972. All these years none of my fellow critics has invited me to any of the associations that were being set up. I’m somehow isolated from my own colleagues.”
But let us return to the actors who simply fascinate Ranko. No matter how many texts, studies or essays are written, there is no universal definition of acting. Ranko Munitić claims that you will get a different answer from every top actor.
“No doubt we’re still living in an era of oral tradition. We don’t yet know how to use either a pen or photography, let alone a camera. Feliks Pašić could tell you about the problems he’s having these days shooting a TV portrait of Bojan Stupica. Any other country would have at least twenty or thirty hours of taped materials on a much less important theater producer, but we have almost nothing, just a minute or two. The same goes for Mira Trailović, Duško Radović, Leonid Šejka. Precious people are dying, and nothing but their works, which is normal, remains after them. Mija Aleksić, Olga Spiridonović, Rahela Ferari, and Duško Bulajić have all died in the meantime. Virtually the only documentary material we have about them on television is this one hour from my show.”
“And this is a country like no other in the world by the sheer number of good actors it has. Approximately as many as there are good singers in Italy.” Ranko backs this bold statement by the following story:
“Earlier, there would be three or four movies starring Paja Vuisić. When you asked what he was like, they’d say: ‘Well, good!’ Of course Paja was good. And that was it! And nobody wondered how it could be that in a country and in the movies such as are made there an actor could put in four brilliant performances. This gave me the idea to single out some of the actors by presenting their TV portraits.”
When he put the idea forward to the people in charge on television, all of them liked the title An Evening with the Stars, and then they said: “But, Ranko, this is going to be boring! After ten shows nobody will want to listen to actors talking about themselves for an hour. How will these shows be different?”
“I found this objection ridiculous, for, if nothing else, my and your neighbors love watching actors. An actor, we keep forgetting that, is someone we have grown up with. An author gives us a book, a painter gives us a painting, and an actor gives us himself! Just remember how much time Milena Dravić has spent in your apartment thanks to TV. Milena is a friend of the family even if we don’t know her personally! Therefore there was no danger that the shows would be similar to one another and boring.”
“Paja Vuisić is the greatest actor in the world”
What criteria did he follow when he was choosing the participants in the show An Evening with the Stars?
“They had to be the people who were fully committed to the job, who had spent a large part of their life on stage and in front of cameras, who we know belong there and will stay there. I’m saying this because in the past several years there has been a speedy production of instant values: instant actors, instant singers, instant directors... On the other hand, they must be the people who are able to fill this one hour interview with their own content. There are people who are not ready for that. You may persuade them to take part in the show, but you won’t get from them what you expected, because they don’t like talking about themselves. Paja Vuisić wouldn’t agree to sit in front of the camera for a mere five minutes to save his life, and even if he did, he would be doing pranks, yelling and teasing all the people around. And Paja Vuisić is the greatest actor in the world!”
How did he make arrangements with the participants in the show? Actors as anyone else, for that matter, are a little conceited and all of them would like their story to be among the top ten rather than among the top seventy.
“Before I started shooting, I invited fifty-sixty actors and asked them whether I could count on their participation if An Evening with the Stars started on TV. I said to some of them: ‘You know, I can’t in a year or two “waste,” so to speak, the big guns. We have to leave some of those until later.’ So none of them was offended because they were not invited to the show sooner. There were interviews that I agreed for the following week, while with some I had to make arrangements three or four years before we could find the time to do the show. Some said to me: ‘Gladly, but not now; I’m involved in other things right now.’ When we talked a year later, they immediately agreed: ‘Fine, we can do it now.’”
Who were the first interviewees?
“There I followed the path of the greatest resistance. My first two interviewees were Danilo Bata Stojković and Rahela Ferari. Bata was tough because he’s rather demanding. He invests all of himself in his roles and wants you to understand what he’s doing, not to perform some kind of ritual before the cameras. The same is true of Rahela. I simply said to myself: ‘Let’s see. We’ll break the ice. If I pull it off with these two, then it will make sense.’ I can remember these shoots as if they were today. This was in January 1991. I talked with Bata in the buffet of the Atelje 212 theater. You could sense that he was the boss there, the master actor. I talked with Rahela Ferari in the Yugoslav Drama Theater. She arrived wearing a wonderful dress and a small garland of daises. As she walked to the theater, she was singing ‘Djurdjevdan’ from Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies. Like a little girl!”
One of the requirements was that the interview be carried out in any place of the actor’s choice other than the TV studio.
“I fear the studio like the plague. The studio lowers the value and level of a large number of projects. It’s an official place, the holy place of television, where everyone is supposed to act like a public figure, and I’m not interested in that. We made a third of the shows in private apartments, a few over a third in theaters, and the rest outdoors. For example, Ljuba Tadić said (I remember that it was in the spring): ‘Let’s sit outside the Bojan Stupica, among this greenery.’ Vladica Milosavljević chose the Students’ Cultural center...”
What are actors like as hosts? Radmila Savićević offered him pie in her home; what about the others?
“This is actually the key to the whole series. For when you came to Rada’s apartment, with a camera or without it, you were a guest who she had invited because she had wanted you to come. She had made this fantastic pie of hers. This is a piece of information that is mentioned as often as all the awards that she received. And there is some beauty to it. As soon as you enter somebody’s living space, you find out a lot about this person, and that’s what really interests me. When I was doing the show with Mira Nikolić, suddenly, out of the blue, a cat jumped into my lap. I love cats, but this one could have distracted me. I played with her a little and went on with the interview as if nothing had happened. Of course, Mira wasn’t distracted either. Or, for example, I kept in the show the part in which Rada Andrić talked about one of her memorable roles. As soon as she had finished, she looked at the camera and said: “Gentlemen, would you perhaps like some coffee?” After the show with Marija Crnobori had been aired, Miodrag Krivokapić called me and said: ‘You know, I’ve never seen Marija on stage, because she had already retired when I came to Belgrade. All my life I’ve been hearing about her roles, but after this interview, I know exactly what her Elektra and her Antigone and Regan must have been like. I understood the human material from which these had sprung.’ It’s a bit rough to say ‘human material,’ but that’s it. An actor is his own instrument.”
On Orson Welles, Chaplin, Bergman...
In the late 1970’s, Zagreb Television produced the show 3, 2, 1... kreni [3, 2, 1... Action!], which, after a three-hour panel talk, was followed by a feature film. Ranko Munitić was among the permanent collaborators on the show. Besides our prominent actors and directors, he also brought foreign ones, such as Catherine Deneuve, Claude Chabrol, Michel Piccoli, Werner Herzog, Truffaut, Miklós Janczó, Orson Welles...
“I had known Orson Welles from some film shoots, and we also met afterwards,” Munitić says. “Even though the interview with him in the studio was great, we received bad reviews. They were saying: ‘Munitić and Hetrich acted like pupils before a teacher.’ Well, that’s it! Had they expected to say: ‘They taught him a thing or two!’ Welles was the man with the most fascinating gaze I had ever met.”
Has he also met Chaplin?
“Yes! That meeting is one that I would have avoided, had I known it beforehand. Although, if I had to reduce the whole twentieth century to just one artist and his work, that would be Chaplin. He is absolutely number one. That’s why he is the only one I’ve been ‘stalking’ for an interview. I had tried on several occasions to arrange a meeting through some of his good friends, but it all fell through.” Then, on one occasion, Munitić went to Lausanne to visit some friends, husband and wife Ansorge, with whom he has often traveled around the world (India, China, Mexico, Canada...), where he lectured on animated film for twenty days. Just a few kilometers from Lausanne was Vevey, where Chaplin had a luxurious mansion. He decided to try and reach Chaplin on his own.
“In a post office, I somehow managed to persuade a lady who was working there to give me Chaplin’s phone number,” Munitić continues. “Then I sat down, took a deep breath and dialed the number. A male voice answered. I told him I was looking for Mr. Chaplin. A few moments later, Chaplin answered the phone himself. I recited my five-minute monolog. I told him I was a journalist from a small country who saw rather essential things in his movies. And since he, Chaplin, had no reason to waste his time on me and would, of course, tell me so, I still had to call him. At last I clammed up. There was silence on the other end. Suddenly, I heard infectious laughter. ‘Where are you now?’, he asked me. I told him. ‘Excellent. Stay put. I’ll send a car to pick you up. Come for lunch, but we’ll talk after the meal.’”
And that was not all. Ranko spent the next three afternoons with Chaplin. He met all of his family. When they finally parted, Ranko thought: “Thank God. It’s nice that I’ve seen him; we’ve had a wonderful talk, but I wouldn’t talk to him again despite the fact that I still think he is the greatest artist of the twentieth century.”
Why did Chaplin the man leave such a bad impression on Munitić?
“I know a lot about Chaplin, so we had a lot to talk about. He was very polite, but I was aware all along that to him it was an unexpected, pleasant, and informal encounter. But if I had made a single bad move, said something that was not to his liking, the situation would suddenly have turned around. Instead of a nice gentleman, I would have been dealing with a monster, so to speak. I’ve never met anyone who, like Chaplin, is all light on one side and all darkness on the other. He was the strangest mixture, to put it tritely, of the divine and the demoniac. I couldn’t describe it fully. I haven’t talked about this meeting with Chaplin until now. This is something that belongs only to me and will be published in the book Filmski prijatelji [Film Friends].”
“Did you have this feeling only in your encounter with Chaplin?”
“The same happened in my encounters with Bergman and Fellini. Bergman is someone who communicates with you with only one side of himself. One of his wives told me the same thing: ‘I still love him, but you can’t live with a man who is 90 percent of the time someplace else, even when he is with you.’”
Ilustrovana Politika, No. 1997, Dec. 7, 1996
EVENING WITH THE STARS
(dates are shooting day and not showing)
TV NOVI SAD
Editors Mirjana Rakić / Branko Milošević
Duration 60 minutes.
1. Velimir Bata Živojinović, uploaded 12. 4. 1988, broadcast 1990.
2. Dragomir Felba, 8. 2. 1990.
3. Dragan Nikolić, 21. 1. 1991.
4. Rahela Ferari, 23. 1. 1991.
5. Vladica Milosavljević, 12. 2. 1991.
6. Rade Marković, 23. 9. 1991.
7. Olivera Marković, 24. 9. 1991.
8. Bata Stojković, 22. 1. 1992.
9. Dragoljub Gula Milosavljević, 21. 6. 1992.
10. Mija Aleksić, 22. 6. 1992.
11. Mira Banjac, 23. 6. 1992.
12. Svetlana Bojković, 24. 6. 1992.
13. Slavko Štimac, 24. 6. 1992.
14. Ljuba Tadić, 25. 6. 1992.
15. Radmila Savićević, 25. 6. 1992.
16. Mića Tomić, 12. 7. 1992.
17. Olga Spiridonović, 22. 7. 1992.
18. Mira Stupica, 24. 7. 1992.
19. Bata Paskaljević, 7. 9. 1992.
20. Ružica Sokić, 5. 10. 1992.
21. Žiža Stojanović, 6. 10. 1992.
22. Branka Veselinović, 6. 10. 1992.
23. Milena Dravić, 7. 10. 1992.
24. Mirjana Karanović, 12. 10. 1992.
25. Petar Kralj, 13. 10. 1992.
26. Žika Milenković , 13. 10. 1992.
27. Miodrag Krivokapić, 13. 10. 1992.
28. Dušan Janićijević, 20. 11. 1992.
29. Branko Pleša, 4. 4. 1993.
30. Jelisaveta Seka Sablić ,7. 4. 1993.
31. Predrag Pepi Laković, 8. 4. 1993.
32. Radmila Živković, 9. 4. 1993.
33. Marija Crnobori, 5. 7. 1993.
34. Stevan Salajić, 15. 9. 1993.
35. Velimir Bata Životić, 15. 9. 1993.
36. Zorica Jovanović, 19. 10. 1993.
37. Tatjana Beljakova, 20. 10. 1993.
38. Stevo Žigon, 20. 10. 1993.
39. Janez Vrhovec, 21. 10. 1993.
40. Ksenija Jovanović, 4. 11. 1993.
41. Bogdan Diklić, 5. 11. 1993.
42. Miodrag Petrović Čkalja, 5. 11. 1993.
43. Eva Ras, 6. 11. 1993.
44. Ivan Hajtl, 1. 3. 1994.
45. Olga Ivanović, 8. 3. 1994.
46. Mira Nikolić, 8. 3. 1994.
47. Miodrag Mrgud Radovanović, 9. 3. 1994.
48. Radmila Andrić, 9. 3. 1994.
49. Dragan Maksimović, 10. 3. 1994.
50. Ibi Romhanji, 24. 5. 1994.
51. Milica Radaković, 24. 5. 1994.
52. Gorica Popović, 31. 5. 1994.
53. Bora Todorović, 1. 6. 1994.
54. Aleksandar Berček, 30. 6. 1994.
55. Petar Slovenski, 25. 10. 1994.
56. Duško Bulajić, 26. 10. 1994.
57. Gizela Vuković, 26. 10. 1994.
58. Merima Isaković, 27. 10. 1994.
59. Dara Čalenić, 17. 10. 1995.
60. Boro Stjepanović, 2. 11. 1995.
61. Stanislava Pešić, 5. 1. 1996.
62. Tamara Miletić, 6. 1. 1996.
63. Vasa Pantelić, 7. 1. 1996.
64. Sonja Savić, 6. 3. 1996.
65. Predrag Ejdus, 6. 3. 1996.
66. Bosiljka Boci, 7. 3. 1996.
67. Slavka i Branislav Jerinić, 7. 3. 1996.
68. Aljoša Vučković, 29. 4 1996.
69. Ljubiša Bačić i Milutin Butković, 29. 4. 1996.
70. Tatjana Lukjanova, 17. 5. 1996.
71. Dara Džokić, 21. 5. 1996.
72. Pavle Minčić, 21. 5. 1996.
73. Mihajlo Miša Janketić, 21. 5. 1996.
74. Radmila Rada Đuričin, 12. 6. 1996.
75. Petar Banićević, 12. 6. 1996.
76. Branislav Lečić, 13. 6. 1996.
77. Branka Petrić, 21. 6. 1996.
78. Slavko Simić, 9. 7. 1996.
79. Mirjana Joković, 4. 10. 1996.
80. Lidija Stevanović, 24. 3. 1997.