Djeca tranzicije (Children of Transition) is a 2014 Croatian film telling the stories of Marta, David, Lana and Natalija, four children navigating their way through life.
In the first scenes we see who we learn is the mother of 15 year old Marta, ascending a set of stairs, sobbing as she empties a bag of belongings on the table in her living room. Throughout the rest of the film, the online life of Marta is shown, including extracts of the cruel messages she received through the networking site ask.fm. Scenes with her grieving parents and sister gradually reveal the events leading up to Marta taking her own life.
For the other children in the film, there is a sense of change, new beginnings.
For David, who we first meet demonstrating his ball skills in front of the crest of the Slavonski Brod’s Budainka football team, transition is eagerly awaited in the form of a ‘piece of paper’ inviting him to La Maisa (home to the Barcelona youth squad). The usual transition from elementary to secondary school don’t interest him, he does’t want to go. He sees his future in football, as well as the things this will bring him:
“I think I’ll be a good soccer player. I’d enjoy having a good car and girls and stuff”
Named after David Beckham, his future in professional football is certain, according to a local shopkeeper, and pigeon fancier. The head of the Ivana Brlic Mazuranic Elementary School however, reduces his talents to a more objective assessment:
“He’s shown exceptional psychomotor skills”
Meanwhile, David continues to attend school where he learns from his teacher that there is a correct way to draw stars. His artistic efforts quashed, he sets on erasing his efforts and starting again. Similarly, the piece of paper from Barcelona never arrives. His family, desperate for him to succeed, for their benefit as much as his, are disappointed. But, he returns to play for Budainka. There are, perhaps other roots to success, just as there are other ways to draw stars.
Natalija, 11, whose face we never see, plays outside in what appears to be an idyllic country scene. She rides on a tractor as it rumbles across the farmland and tends to young chicks. She gazes out across open countryside, though, bizarrely, the shot includes a functioning electric fan. However, we learn that in material ways Natalija is poorer than her classmates, and that this has led to bullying so severe that she has to change school. As we follow, at ankle level, Natalija chasing an excited piglet through the farm the camera moves effortlessly to follow another child’s feet. Inhabiting more sophisticated, red high heels, 6 year old Lana leads us into her house. Posing by the light of the front door, Lana twirls before showing the contents of her wardrobe. In the first words she speaks to camera she lists the contents of her wardrobe. The subtitles follow the list with “this is my wardrobe, skirt, sweater, sweater, sweater” but they do little justice to the Croatian which is much more powerful. Dressed in a burberry skirt and high heels Lana plays with her iPhone before clambering into an electric toy car to drive around the grounds of her house.
Lana is sophisticated and precocious, yet vulnerable. In one scene we see her singing:
“No one’s bought me a drink for ages or undressed me with their eyes”
Scenes swap between Natalija and Lana as if to pose the question – which girl is the richer?
Both girls are facing a transition in their schooling. The Prvi dan Škole for both children could not be further contrasted. Lana, due to start school for the first time, plays to the camera in her pink fairy like outfit as she sits astride a matching bike. Schooling is an unwelcome distraction to applying make-up, dressing up and singing adult songs. Natalija, meanwhile, climbs into the back of her father’s car as he reassures her that things will be different in her new school. Her journey is interspersed with scenes with the film’s other characters, reinforcing to us the message that she has a long journey to school.
The issues considered, bullying, aspirations and inequality are not uniquely Croatian, and neither is the documentary style of the film. However, transition of Croatia, politically, and socially and in terms of film making does provide a unique context. See for example Pavičić (2010) and Vojković (2008).
Towards the end of the film we are returned to where we began with Marta’s mother, emptying the the bag of her daughter’s belongs, having just collected it from the police. We cut to David, who has still to receive a piece of paper from Barcelona, watching the pigeons fly from their loft. Where are they going, we don’t know. Perhaps there is a clue in the clip from Marta’s social media account shown in the final scene: Bogu iza nogu (the back of beyond).