I’d been spending time improving on my Balkan history of late, which was one of the reasons I was drawn to Srdjan Dragojevic’s wartime drama “Sveti Georgije ubiva azdahu” [Eng. Title: St. George Shoots the Dragon]. The fact that this was set against the backdrop of the very event that triggered the First World War – the assassination in Sarajevo of heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the prospect of seeing things from a slightly different perspective was reason enough for me to pick up the DVD.
Returning from the 1912 war against the Turks are two Bosnian-Serb soldiers from the same village – George (Lazar Ristovski), and Gavrilo (Milutin Milosevic). Katarina (Natasa Janjic) – the girlfriend of Gavrilo, is at the railway station to receive him with a garland that she had personally made, but it is turned down by her lover. When asked why, Gavrilo shows her his amputated arm and tells her that he is not good enough for her any more, and urges her to offer the garland to George instead. Two years later, George has become a Sergeant and is married to Katarina, while Gavrilo – no longer in the army, makes a living with his brothers by smuggling goods across the border with Austro-Hungary. He is married to a simple woman named Jelena (Milena Predic).
Both former lovers are however not in love with their respective spouses, and they continue to meet clandestinely. George is aware of their ongoing affair, but dithers in asserting his authority, partly because of his respect for Gavrilo as a war hero, but mainly because he is unselfishly in love with Katarina and wants her to be happy in whatever way she can. The outbreak of World War One will throw the uneasy love triangle into turmoil. We even get to see Gavrilo’s namesake – a student, hitching a ride with the smugglers to cross the border on a secret mission to assassinate Franz Ferdinand. After he succeeds and Austria declares war on Serbia, the village and its inhabitants will be the first in firing line, for the great war to follow…
Since the war is merely a backdrop for the protagonists’ doomed love affairs, it is their personal drama that is played out to the full. But the drama is unsatisfactory and we’re left with mixed feelings about the film which, while well made, suffers from a mediocre screenplay – we don’t fully grasp the intentions and motivations for all the actions of Gavrilo (the lover) – his character is either performed poorly or not developed fully. Added to the intermittently bad subtitle synchronisation and/or translation in my DVD, the narrative gets lost to a foreign audience. But those from the former Yugoslavia might perhaps understand and appreciate the film a bit better.
The Nudity: Natasa Janjic
There is brief nudity from pretty Natasa Janjic in two scenes – first when her character Katarina mockingly proves to husband George that the nude in one of her paintings is indeed a self portrait. The second is of Katarina and Gavrilo making love in the boat, watched by and commented from distance by his brothers.