Although the characters' entanglements prove absurd enough, the film lacks the grotesque mordant edge one expects from the helmer of "When the Dead Start Singing."
In Croatian director Krsto Papic’s latest black comedy, an actor is blackmailed by police into participating in a sting operation that leaves him and his family on the lam from the Mafia. Although the characters’ entanglements prove absurd enough, “Flower Square” lacks the grotesque mordant edge one expects from the helmer of “When the Dead Start Singing.” Either Papic has mellowed or he finds corporate capitalism, with its tendrils extending in all directions, more straightforwardly depressing than the bureaucratic communism and internecine war that preceded it. Outside fest orbit, distrib possibilities look limited.
Filip (Drazen Kuhn), an actor in a children’s puppet theater, is approached by a police inspector (Dragon Despot) who threatens to jail Filip’s pot-smoking son unless Filip pretends to be a priest and tape the confession of Macko (Mladen Vulic), a Mafia chieftain. Macko, a patron of Croatian cinema, knows all his country’s actors well — but not Filip, who appears in the puppet show in wolf’s clothing.
Filip, an agnostic, takes a crash course in Catholicism, and presto! — attired as “Father Lovo,” he is sent to the hospital where Macko, admitted for a prostate problem, erroneously thinks he is near death. The mafia chief, an enthusiastic, family-loving murderer who feels no remorse about the bodies his construction firm has planted in the foundations of buildings throughout Zagreb, does express regret for an innocent bystander killed in Flower Square. He watches a private copy of a documentary about the incident (Papic’s 2011 “The Citizens of Flower Square”) from his hospital bed. Though having fingers in every pie, Macko sees himself as a mere pawn of a higher power, a “Mr. Big” whose name he confidingly whispers into Filip’s incredulous ear.
Kuhn’s padre-impersonating Filip maintains his deadpan calm, with just enough immediately suppressed panic beneath the priestly surface to make the charade consistently funny, particularly when he is asked to hear the confessions of half the hospital. But the humor mostly flows from Filip’s interaction with the expansive Macko, who takes an instant shine to the faux father. Indeed, when he discovers that his illness isn’t terminal, Macko attributes his miraculous recovery to “Father Lovo” and, being well connected to the church, vows to promote him forthwith. Filip bolts, with he and his family soon the target of Mafia goon squads, the don’s secret his best chance at survival.
While changing political conditions have sharpened the edge of Romanian black comedies, they have somewhat blunted the bite of Papic’s satire: The Croatia that Papic portrays, with its interconnected business, state, church and mafia, seems patterned on a bland global template, a gray world of powerful suits that allows little hope for change, only a small space for personal improvisation.
Modest production values help promote the pic’s increasingly closed in, claustrophobic feel.