The tragic life of Slava Raskaj, a turn-of-the-century painter born deaf and mute who is viewed as a kind of Croatian Frida Kahlo, is sketched in “100 Minutes of Glory.” Young helmer Dalibor Matanic (“Fine Dead Girls”) adopts a suitably avant-garde, quasi-surrealist style that injects a large amount of visual interest in this tale of a rebellious-but-doomed woman, while Raskaj’s affair with fellow artist Bela Cikos structures the narrative nicely. Last half hour, however, spins off in superfluous threads about Cikos that leave the feeling the film is far too long and cripple things for general audiences.
We first meet Slava as the hated child of an upright bourgeois mother who feels cursed because she believes the girl is unmarriable. Though unable to speak, she has a fierce passion for drawing and carving designs into furniture with a knife. Miraculously a talent scout from Zagreb, Rapacki (Vili Matula), bent on showing the handicapped can be useful to society, notices her and persuades the family to let her study in the city. Slava becomes a lovely, wild-looking young woman with a portfolio under her arm.
It’s a struggle to find a teacher, but at last the disillusioned and often drunk Cikos (Miki Manojlovic) takes her on. In a memorable scene of smoldering eroticism, he forces her to pose nearly nude as Circe, who turned men into swine. It is easy to imagine how her aggressive pose, arms akimbo, visibly overturned the classical canons of the time. It also ignites their passion, which is to become a tragic lifelong affair.
Cikos’ wife, Justina (a finely balanced Natasa Lusetic), who understandably objects to his extramarital carousing, breaks his spirit by reminding him it’s she who holds the purse-strings.
But thanks to another miraculous visit, this time by a Paris art dealer, Slava’s work is discovered and exhibited at the Paris World Expo. Her last embrace with Cikos at the art show would have been a natural place to roll a few lines of explanatory end credits. Instead the film goes on and on, ever more surrealistically, to show Slava locked up in an asylum and Cikos going to the U.S., where he apparently becomes a bum. Story becomes less and less interesting as his self-pitying destiny unfolds.
Vejnovic, who also co-produced, brings fire and beauty to the role of the tormented artist, but her portrait of a deaf woman is superficial. Sorely lacking are some views of Raskaj’s real paintings to convince auds of her talent and current cult standing. As her lover, Manojlovic, though he looks the part, is given too much leash to play a man torn between society and instinct.
Taking the film beyond the ordinary is the notable technical work used to visualize a world seen through artistic eyes. Film has some marvelous shots, like water lilies floating on a barroom floor, that point to Matanic’s directing talent.