“THE CONSTITUTION”— Four Neighbors

“The Constitution”

Four Neighbors

Amos Lassen

“The Constitution’ is set in contemporary Zagreb in a large apartment building which has seen better times. Living there are four people who have been neighbors for several years, but have been careful to remain complete strangers to each other.

Vjeko (Nebojsa Glogovac) is in his fifties and is a Croatian teacher who has been ostracized and ridiculed because he is gay. His only respite comes when he wears his favorite and remembers the good times he spent with his late fiancé, who died a premature, painful death. His father, who was once a high-ranking Ustasha (a neo-Nazi group) officer during the Second World War, has never accepted his homosexuality and has worn his son down yet, Vjeko now looks after him, reminding him of all the hardships he put him through while growing up.

One night, as Vjeko walks the streets of Zagreb as Katarina, he is attacked by a pack of haters and is taken to the hospital, where he is welcomed by his neighbor, Maja (Ksenija Marinkovic). She not only helps him to recover from the beating but also replaces him as a caretaker for his father, who is laid up in bed after having endured an above-the-knee amputation to both legs. As a thank-you, Vjeko agrees to read the Croatian constitution to her dyslexic husband, Ante (Dejan Acimovic), who needs to pass an exam in order to keep his job as a police officer. Since Vjeko is Croatian, he is prejudiced against Ante because of his Serbian origins, but as the two get to know one another, they both gradually learn the true meaning of the Croatian constitution.

“The Constitution” explores a series of social, political and ethnic issues still unresolved in the former Yugoslav territories. Vjeko is a plucky, finicky teacher and a kind friend, but he has spent his life pretending to be someone that he is not because he has been afraid of being physically persecuted and stigmatized. This has made him quite bitter. Ante and Maja are a couple who are low on cash and are trying to get all of the permissions they need to adopt a child. Our four characters all live in the same building, but share very different backgrounds and takes on life and this is a wonderful metaphor for modern-day Croatia. At the core of the film we find hubris and prejudice and we see these as the main causes of a society that was founded on wrath and hatred. Even the nicest people fall victim and harass and oppress good people.

Writer-director Rajko Grlic shows us a slice of Croatian society without didacticism. Now what is really unique here is that Vjeko is not just openly gay but he shares his father’s extreme right wing and Ante is really offended by his bigotry. When he finds that nothing has officially been done about the attack, he takes it upon himself to investigate and bring the guilty persons to justice  to prove that all Serbs are simply not as bad as charged. 

At just about the same time, a local psychopath who has been planting dog sausages with glass in them all over town and Ante is worried about his pet dog which is his child substitute.

We also see that the anger and hatred directed at ethnic Serbs seem to be worse than the physical violence against members of the LGBT community. The cast is extremely talented and the actors do an excellent job portraying the resentment that seems like it will never stop completely even if the fighting has ceased.  This is a subtle and totally compelling film.

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