Little One, The: Yugoslavian Political Drama

Though set in 1963, the Yugoslavian political drama, The Little One, is so timely it can be viewed as an allegory about the all-destructive power of a state completely controlled by the Communist Party.

Poorly directed, the emotional impact of Sobajic’s film is totally based on its harrowing story, focusing on the disruptive and destructive intrusions of Communist politics into the personal lives of its residents. But engaging plot and powerful ideas barely overcome artistic flaws, relegating film to fest circuit and retrospectives of Eastern European cinema.

Similarly to the Yugoslav film When Father Was Away on Business, which won the l985 Cannes’ Palme d’Or, The Little One tells the story of a family that broke up, when the father was sent to a labor camp for allegedly committing crimes against the state. The comparison with the 1985 is also interesting, because Mirjana Karanovic, who played the long-suffering mother in When Father, plays another type of mother in this film.

Forced to choose between testifying against her husband or losing her young child Militza (the little one), mother opts to keep her daughter. Story begins when husband Kosta is released from prison and begins searching for Militza. It’s been 14 years since his interrogation and his aging father-in law doesn’t recognize him. Militza’s mother persistently tells Militza that her father died; she won’t even allow his name mentioned in the house. At the same time, her own father has erased her memory for betraying Kosta.

The film’s thick melodramatic plot details the devastating effects of a police state on the everyday lives of half a dozen characters. The film highlights again the different ways in which politics in socialist-communist countries impinges on and interfere with the lives of ordinary people. Unlike politics in the US (and other Western democracies), politics in Eastern Europe is all embracing, encompassing every aspect: economy, family, religion, and sexuality.

The Little One documents the pervasive fear and insecurity of living in a state-controlled country. The story shows how average people lose their humanity, dignity and self-respect as a direct result of the Party’s abusive power and excessive control. Each of the characters is a victim of one kind or another; each tries to manipulate the other with disastrous results.

Problem is, the film lacks any visual conception or style. Lenser Pavolivic, who also scripted, seems to be more concerned in a straightforward telling of the story than in making a shapely and visually interesting pic. Antonijevic’s plodding, undistinguished direction makes things worse. As a result, even potentially powerful scenes lack the acute poignancy they should–and could–have under a different staging.

In the last half an hour, the melodramatics come fast and furious: daughter is raped by her mother’s lover, lover is stabbed by daughter’s love interest, mother attempts suicide, father shoots lover–and more. But the director goes from one harrowing episode to another, rushing toward the desired reunion of father and daughter, which appropriately ends his nightmare.

Antonijevic is also not proficient with his talented cast. Karanovic, who was so touching and effective in When Father, gives a passable performance. In the demanding role of the daughter, film’s emotional center, the gifted Jokovic has only few good moments.

Still, in the context of Yugoslavia’s recent political upheaval, helmer’s sense of urgency in telling story at the expense of film’s production values may be justified.


In Serbian with English subtitles)

A Beograd Film production. Produced by Valdan Sobajic. Directed by Predrag “Gaga” Antonijevic. Screenplay, Radoslav Pavlovic. Camera (color), Pavlovic; editor, Lana Vukobratovic; music, Goran Bregovic. Reviewed at the American Film Institute, L.A., June 29, 1992. (In AFI/L.A. FilmFest).

Running time: 92 min.

Militza………Mirgana Jokovic
Her mother….Mirjana Karanovic