×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘The Priest’s Children’

This acerbic satire from top Croatian helmer Vinko Bresan could find niche arthouse exposure in some territories.

With:
Kresimir Mikic, Niksa Butijer, Marija Skaricic, Drazen Kuhn, Jadranka Dokic, Lazar Ristovski, Goran Bogdan, Zdenko Botic.

Determined to raise the birth rate among his Dalmatian island flock, a Catholic clergyman starts to play God in top Croatian helmer Vinko Bresan’s “The Priest’s Children.” Adapted from a controversial stage play by screenwriter Mate Matisic, this acerbic satire pokes fun at hot-button ethical issues in highly cinematic, jauntily paced fashion. Currently the top-grossing domestic production of the year (and the third highest-grossing of all time since Croatia achieved independence), the film topped the Karlovy Vary fest audience popularity poll until it was overtaken at the end by the Czech comedy “Revival.” Further fest play is assured, with niche arthouse exposure a real possibility in some territories.

Helmer Bresan (“How the War Started on My Island,” “Marshal Tito’s Spirit,” “Will Not End Here”) is known (and loved) for using humor to approach sensitive historical and cultural topics. Here it’s the Catholic Church, which currently opposes sexual education in Croatian schools, that comes in for an irreverent ribbing.

Framed by scenes of a priest’s confession, the film tells the story of why Father Fabijan (Kresimir Mikic) winds up in a hospital bed. Sometimes speaking directly to the camera, Fabijan recounts his complicated tenure as spiritual adviser on the tiny island of Dnevnik, a spot where burials far exceed births, and where his popular predecessor, Father Jakov (Zdenko Botic), remains to lead the children’s choir and local sporting leagues.

Popular on Variety

At first, the tone-deaf, non-athletic Fabijan has trouble finding his niche, but the confession of harbor-side kiosk vendor Petar (Niksa Butijer), whose pious wife (Marija Skaricic) believes that he is committing a sin by selling condoms, sparks a brainstorm. In the spirit of the Church’s stance on birth control, Fabijan decides to pierce the prophylactics that Petar sells in order to increase the island’s birth rate. To make the plan more effective, Fabijan and Petar join forces with crazed pharmacist Marin (Drazen Kuhn), whose war experience left him an ardent nationalist.

Sure enough, when Marin starts to substitute vitamins for birth-control pills, the birth rate skyrockets and Fabijan’s church is chock-a-block with pregnant brides. This phenomenon attracts a visit from the bishop (leading Serbian thesp Lazar Ristovski, also the pic’s co-producer) as well as a deluge of fertility-seeking foreign tourists.

As the law of unintended consequences comes into play, so, too, do subplots involving child sexual abuse by priests, a madwoman (Jadranka Dokic) and a baby left in a cardboard box on the church doorstep, as the film’s tone smoothly shifts from blithe comedy to sardonic absurdity to melancholic irony.

Screenwriter-composer Matisic studs the dialogue with bluntly comical aphorisms (such as Petar’s observation that “people fuck more during the holidays — and before marriage, too”), while some of helmer Bresan’s most hilarious visuals pithily illustrate just what the islanders get up to — and with whom.

As the plot’s main propeller, tall, lanky Mikic is a sympathetic screen presence, especially when disillusionment sets in after Fabijan does what he perceives as his Christian duty. The rather generic but colorful supporting cast boasts plenty of charisma and excellent comic timing.

Crisp widescreen lensing by Mirko Pivcevic captures the beauty and charm of the island location, while the bright tech package, supplied by Bresan’s regular crew, is everything it should be. Sandra Botica Bresan, the helmer’s wife and longtime editor, amplifies the comedy with her judicious cutting. Matisic, who has scored all of Bresan’s films, provides another energetic, distinctly Balkan soundtrack.

Film Review: 'The Priest's Children'

Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (competing), July 3, 2013. Running time: 93 MIN. Original title: "Svecenikova djeca"

Production: (Croatia-Serbia) A Continental Film release of an Interfilm production in co-production with Zillion Film with the support of the Croatian Audiovisual Center, Serbian Film Center, Eurimages. (International sales: Wide, Paris.) Produced by Ivan Maloca. Co-producer, Lazar Ristovski.

Crew: Directed by Vinko Bresan. Screenplay, Mate Matisic, based on his play “The Priest’s Children.” Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Mirko Pivcevic; editor, Sandra Botica Bresan; music, Matisic; production designer, Damir Gabelica, costume designer, Zeljka Franulovic; sound (stereo), Marton Jankov, Frano Homen.

With: Kresimir Mikic, Niksa Butijer, Marija Skaricic, Drazen Kuhn, Jadranka Dokic, Lazar Ristovski, Goran Bogdan, Zdenko Botic.

More Film

  • Kirby Dick Amy Ziering

    'On The Record,' Russell Simmons #MeToo Doc, Charts Course to Sundance After Oprah Exit

    Update: A spokesperson for Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering says the filmmaking team will participate in print and broadcast interviews at the Sundance film festival. The accusers featured in the film are weighing press options at this time. Earlier, a spokesperson for the film “On The Record” confirmed to Variety that only photo calls would [...]

  • Ariel Winograd'TOD@S CAEN' film premiere, Los

    Viacom International Studios Signs First Look Deal with Ariel Winograd (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Adding to a powerful and still growing talent roster, Viacom International Studios (VIS) has clinched a first-look deal with Argentine writer-director Ariel Winograd whose latest movie, “The Heist of the Century,” has just become one of the biggest Argentine openers in history. The multi-year pact takes in the development and production of not [...]

  • William Bogert Dead: 'Small Wonder' Actor

    William Bogert, Who Appeared in 'War Games,' 'Small Wonder,' Dies at 83

    TV, film and theater actor William Bogert, who appeared in a recurring role on 1980s sitcom “Small Wonder” and in films such as “War Games,” died Jan. 12 in New York. He was 83. On “Small Wonder,” which ran from 1985 to 1989, Bogert played Brandon Brindle, the Lawsons’ neighbor and Harriet’s father who became [...]

  • 1917 Movie

    Why '1917' Is the Last Film That Should Be Winning the Oscar (Column)

    There’s a feeling I always get at the end of a long Oscar night when the movie that won isn’t a terrible choice, but it’s the safe, blah, MOR predictable choice, the one that conforms to the dullest conventional wisdom about the kinds of movies Oscar voters prefer, because in the core of their being [...]

  • Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock'

    Civil Rights Drama 'Praying for Sheetrock' in the Works as Feature Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Enderby Entertainment is developing a feature film based on Melissa Fay Greene’s civil rights drama “Praying for Sheetrock,” Variety has learned exclusively. The non-fiction book, published in 1991, was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, Georgia Historical Society Bell Award and the ACLU National Civil [...]

  • Jared Harris arrives at the 26th

    No, Jared Harris is Not Playing Doctor Octopus in Marvel's 'Morbius'

    The first-ever trailer for Marvel and Sony’s next Spider-man spinoff “Morbius” left comic book fans reeling with theories. While the plight of the main character, Dr. Michael Morbius (Jared Leto) – a scientist dying of a rare blood disease who accidentally turns himself into a vampire – seemed ripped right out of the comics, the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content