Adroll if undercomplicated exercise, "Croatian Cathedrals" has undeniable curiosity value as a comedy making only glancing refs to war-torn Balkan territories nearby. Modest impact and subtlety of local humor will limit export potential.

Adroll if undercomplicated exercise, “Croatian Cathedrals” has undeniable curiosity value as a comedy making only glancing refs to war-torn Balkan territories nearby. Modest impact and subtlety of local humor will limit export potential.

Amusing opener has minor-league thug and soccer fan Janko smooching with trashy g.f. Barbara at Zagren park. Catering to her every whim, he promptly gags and binds an old lady to a tree in order to grab her pet pup as a gift. Meanwhile, laconic art historian Vanja is deadline-tardy with his text for a book on area cathedrals. Fleeing a furious publisher, he holes up at ex-amour Maria’s plush digs — the very site pegged by Janko for his next robbery.

Writer and would-be thief collide while Maria is away. Their rancorous encounter (played for laughs, yet with some jarring violence that recurs later on) ends with Vanja knocked out and Janko in possession of the all-important manuscript. Everybody gets in on subsequent retrieval chase.

More pets, Maria’s bratty offspring and hip-hop-dancing military police figure in scenario that’s longer on amusing details than overall propulsion. Writer/director Hrvoje Hribar has managed nicely with cast and tech aspects on a TV budget, though most of the more biting political and social allusions here are too low-key for understanding outside home auds.

A Daiei Co. Ltd. presentation of a Kinoshita Film/Sedic/Tohoku Shinsya production. Produced by Koji Yoshida. Executive producer, Shigesaburo Kinoshita. Directed, written by Teruo Ishii, based on the comics by Yoshiharu Tsuge. Camera (color), Koichi Ishii; lighting, Kenjiro Konaka; editor, Yoshiyuki Okuhara; music, Hajime Kaburagi; art direction, Yuji Maruyama; sound, Mineharu Kitamura. Reviewed at AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco, May 3, 1994. (In S.F. Intl. Film Festival.) Running time: 98 MIN.

With: Shiro Sano, Akio Yokoyama, Chika Nakagami, Emu Hisazumi, Junichi Ogino, Kaoru Mizuki, Mayo Kawasaki, Nana Okada, Kitaro.

Comic-book artist Yoshiharu Tsuge was a significant figure in the form’s 1960 s Nippon transition toward more mature themes/audiences. But screen translation of his works is botched in the indifferently mounted omnibus “Gensen-kan Inn.” Foreign prospects are weak.

Four stories here suggest an intriguing range of style and content to Tsuge’s art. But helmer Teruo Ishii (an action-pic vet) hasn’t found an apt tenor for each, let alone means of linking quartet into a cumulative whole.

First seg is a short, quirkily comic view of bizarre family living above cartoonist’s home; second is curious fable of roadside waif whose menstrual cramps release “red flowers” into nearby stream bed.

The longer title story has Tsuge (played throughout by Shiro Sano) visiting ghostlike village where he bears mysterious resemblance to a fellow traveler who’d seduced the local inn’s deaf-dumb mistress years before.

Final piece is aimless, depressing look at impoverished boho lifestyle depicting Tsuge’s fledgling-artist years.

Poorly assembled framing sequences purport to show Tsuge at mercy of latter-day publishers/editors, who fret his stories are too adult or obscure for wide success. Tag has the artist himself allegedly viewing preceding flick.

Asked his opinion by assembled cast and crew, he politely shrugs, “I’m not an expert on film.”

Such low enthusiasm is justified. Varied atmospheric requirements (from zany surrealism to supernatural mystery) are rarely nailed amid often careless compositions andrhythm-free editing.

While title story manages a haunting finale, most other set pieces bungle their rich visual potential — a dismaying flaw given few glimpses we get of Tsuge’s own meticulously drawn comic-book frames. One endless attempted-rape scene in a candle-lit bathhouse is especially clumsy and ill-crafted.

Perfs are just fair. Mediocre tech work is lowlighted by often grainy, poorly color-processed lensing.

Croatian Cathedrals

(HRVATSKE KATEDRALE) (Croatian)

Production

A Hrvatska-Radio Televizija production. Directed, written by Hrvoje Hribar.

Crew

Camera (color), Miso Orepic; editor, Vladimir Lojen; production design, Dinka Jericevic; costumes, Snjeana Bartolec; music, Dario Bulic. Reviewed May 3, 1994, at the AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco. (In S.F. Intl. Film Festival.) Running time: 77 MIN.

With

With: Rene Medvesek, Cintija Asperger-Eastman, Rajko Minkovic, Branko Berovec , Marko Copor.
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