Just like any other former Yugoslav country, Croatian cinematography was extremely successful during Yugoslavia, but also after its fall. And contrary to the major belief, the topics of its movies are not solely related to the war. There have been excellent dramas and comedies that dealt with other problems, mostly related to social topics.
With great directing and excellent actors and actresses, along with good humour and clever screenwriting, Croatian movies have more to offer than some might think. It wasn’t easy to pick only ten, but this list contains the 10 best of the best Croatian movies of all time.
Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku (How the War Started On My Island, 1996)
Probably the best Croatian comedy after the war, this movie is a must-see. It guarantees a good time, with its pretty serious topics presented in a hilarious way. It is partly based on real events that happened in 1991. It’s been a few months after Croatian seceded from Yugoslavia and there are still federal military installations present with Croatian soldiers trapped inside.
We follow one such installation on a small Dalmatian island where the commander Aleksa Milosavljević threatens to blow up half the island in case of any hostile action. During this capture, art historian Blaž Gajski arrives from Zagreb to save his son from this possible dreadful destiny. A series of humorous situations arise during this unusual stalemate.
Sonja i bik (Sonja and the Bull, 2012)
This romantic comedy introduces us to two completely opposite individuals, with different worldviews and from different places whose destinies become intertwined with help of a black bull named Garonja. Ante lives in the Dalmatian hinterland and is known for his persuading abilities. He is the son of a local bullfights organiser and a skilled salesman.
Sonja lives in Zagreb and is one of the most eager activists fighting for human rights. And now her biggest concern is bullfights, but no one believes that she would be brave enough to travel to the hinterland and stand in front of a bull. Sonja travels to Dalmatia and encounters Ante, completely unprepared for what this meeting will cause.
Maršal (Marshal Tito’s spirit, 1999)
After the movie Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku, another comedic masterpiece by the director Vinko Brešan. Once again a smart and witty comedy with performances by the best Croatian actors, such as Ivica Vidović and Ivo Gregurević, this movie follows Stipan, a policeman who arrives at a small Dalmatian island to investigate an unusual phenomenon everyone is talking about.
At first, no one wants to communicate with him, the islanders keep to themselves, but soon he finds out that the island is allegedly haunted by the ghost of Josip Broz Tito. And all of them have different ideas on how to make this fact work for them. Luka, the major, wants to turn the island into a Tito-themed amusement park and Tito’s WWII veterans believe that this is Tito himself who wants to lead them into a new revolution, one that would restore Communism.
Kad mrtvi zapjevaju (When the Dead Start singing, 1998)
Another unforgettable comedy, directed by one of the greatest Croatian directors, Krsto Papić, this movie goes back to the beginning of the 1990s when two Croatian emigrants return to their homeland from Germany. Cinco is economically driven and Marinko politically and both of them feel homesick for their families and hometown.
Their adventures begin immediately since they plot a scheme to get a German pension. Cinco will pretend to be dead and travel in a coffin and very soon Marinko joins him, on the run from an old agent of the Yugoslav State Security Service. This journey of theirs is hilarious, they get themselves into numerous funny situations which will culminate when they are stopped at the Serbian barricades just before their destination.
Pjevajte nešto ljubavno (Play Me a Love Song, 2007)
A somewhat different topic than we are used to, this music comedy followers Struja, a rock musician in a demo rock band When Dirty Harry Met Dirty Sally. His dream is to make an album, but only on his terms, which implies not giving up on his rock musical beliefs. But the only way to earn money for the album is to play at the weddings.
His band members are all for it and now they need to persuade Struja to make a compromise. In the beginning, he doesn’t want to give in, but when his ex-girlfriend announces she is pregnant and is getting married, Struja realises there are a lot more things in life than the problem of playing at weddings.
Metastaze (Metastases, 2009)
This intense movie, full of violence and curses is, unfortunately, one of the most accurate depictions of some people in Croatia, their way of living and thinking. This drama gives us an insight into the post-war Croatian society, with young people struggling with everyday problems and the ways they are dealing with them.
This is the story of four young neighbourhood friends and junkies who roam the streets of Zagreb in search of something meaningful, while at the same time falling into self-destructiveness, hatred and prejudice. They are the picture of this post-war society that needs to get out of its gloomy and pessimistic world views and try and find meaning in their existence.
Što je muškarac bez brkova? (What Is a Man Without a Moustache?, 2005)
If you want to get some rest and simply have a good time for around an hour and a half, this is a movie you might consider watching. This hilarious romantic comedy-drama is also set in post-war Croatia, but it deals with completely different topics than the previously mentioned movie.
It tells the story of a young widow, an ageing widower and a priest who are struggling with the post-war conditions. Everything is full of prejudices, illusions and an unpleasant mentality, but this movie will not give in to depression, but make us laugh with its humorous situations and memorable characters. What will happen when a woman falls in love with a local priest who shares her feelings but has to choose between her and his church.
Ne dao Bog većeg zla (God Forbid a Worse Thing Should Happen, 2002)
The director Snježana Tribuson is proof that Croatian cinematography can count on female directors, too, being the minority among men, but definitely worth remembering. She directed this movie based on her brother Goran Tribuson’s screenplay and it contains also some autobiographical elements from their childhood.
This comedy-drama tells follows the adventures of a small-town family in the 1960s. Although all family members have their problems and issues, the story is mostly oriented toward the youngest member. Frula is a boy, the youngest in the family who discovers the beauties and secrets of love and fashion of the time.
Ničiji sin (No One’s Son, 2008)
This difficult movie follows the story of Ivan, a 36-year old war veteran and ex-rock singer who lost both his legs in the recent Croatian Homeland war. His father, Izidor, a former political prisoner, is running for a seat in the Croatian Parliament as an independent candidate. Suddenly a person from Izidor’s past appears, a Serbian ex-communist official Simo, who imprisoned Izidor decades ago.
Simo knows a lot about Izidor, many things that might harm his political career and is demanding money in return for his silence. When a long-buried secret reappears once again, everything starts having strong repercussions for Ivan, who starts singing Serbian nationalist songs to conservative Croatians, daring them to kill him.
Ustav Republike Hrvatske (The Constitution, 2016)
This comedy-drama was directed by one of the most fruitful Croatian directors, Rajko Grlić and it gained a lot of praise and was nominated for numerous awards. It tells the story of four people who share the same apartment building somewhere in Zagreb. They are quite different since they don’t share the same ethnic and religious backgrounds and sexual orientations.
Their stories become intertwined after Vjeko Kralj, a teacher and a transvestite gets beaten up by a group of hooligans. He meets his neighbour Maja Samardžić in the hospital where she works as a nurse.
She continues to look after him and his dying father after he is released from the hospital. Maja soon asks Vjeko to help her husband Dejan to pass the Croatian Consitution exam. Problems start to arise at this point since Dejan is an ethnic Serb and Vjeko a Croatian nationalist.
Ljudožder vegetarijanac (Vegetarian Cannibal, 2012)
This movie stirred up a lot of controversies when it got out ten years ago. It is a horror-drama of corrupt gynaecologists in Croatian hospitals, based on true events which shocked the whole nation. We follow the story of a successful gynaecologist Danko Babić, an ambitious individual who is ready to do whatever it takes to succeed.
This fact eventually leads him to Jedinko, a pimp and a drug dealer who asks him to perform abortions on his prostitutes who get pregnant on a regular basis. With his consent, Danko soon finds himself in the underground world of drugs, corruption and organised crime.
Fine mrtve djevojke (Fine Dead Girls, 2002)
This movie has been declared one of the best Croatian movies since its independence. It deals with provocative and controversial topics and it gained a lot of attention, especially due to the fact it is a story of a lesbian couple. Iva and Olga rent a flat in Zagreb, in a building that seemed quiet and nice enough to accept their lifestyle.
Eventually, the atmosphere in the building starts changing and it becomes more and more threatening. We meet more characters who depict the madness of a post-war Croatian society. These tenants are everything but happy and normal as they might have seemed at the beginning of the movie. Slowly these tensions between all of them escalate to rape, murder and kidnapping.