72 Days: Film Review

Lively black comedy from Croatia will play well on the festival circuit but won’t travel elsewhere.

Strong performances elevate this dark film about a family trying to milk the system for a dead aunt's pension money.

Rade Serbedzija, the star of Croatia’s Oscar entry, 72 Days, has an impressive filmography that includes well regarded European art films like Before the Rain, as well as Hollywood blockbusters Mission: Impossible II, Batman Begins, and X-Men: First Class.  He’s on movie screens right now as the chief villain in Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey. While he’s an imposing screen presence, he probably won’t draw audiences to this provocative but downbeat black comedy.

72 Days is something of a family affair. Serbedzija’s son Danilo is the writer-director, and his daughter Lucija plays the romantic interest. They’ve taken a bracingly unsentimental view of family ties.

The story begins with a juicy premise. For years a family has been living off the pension paid to their aunt, the senile widow of a cook who worked for the American army. She’s too out of it to realize what they’re doing with her money, but when she dies, their luck may run out. Serbedzija plays Mane, the tyrannical, one-legged family leader, who cows his relatives into going along with his plans.

He decides that if they kidnap another old lady from a nearby nursing home, the dim-witted village authorities may not notice the difference, and they can continue to receive their monthly sustenance. Mane’s nephew Branko (Kresimir Mikic) initially objects to the idea, because he wants to take his share of the pension and head off to Belgrade with his girlfriend. Another problem arises when the woman they kidnap proves to be far less docile than their aunt, but she decides to cooperate when they agree to cut her in for a piece of the pie.

Gangsters, incompetent policemen, and hidden land mines provide further threats to this ragtag family. Viewers’ patience may be tried by the antics of this group of louts, but there are some wickedly amusing moments as the plot thickens.

Serbedzija brings the same note of menace that he supplies in Jolie’s film, and Mikic makes an appealing lost soul. In fact, all of the actors give thoroughly convincing performances.  The director also takes good advantage of the grungy settings.

While the plot builds to a neatly macabre payoff, the film can’t exactly be considered audience-pleasing fare.

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