Foreign-Language Oscar Spotlight: Love and War in Croatian Drama 'The High Sun'

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'The High Sun'

Director Dalibor Matanic on finding stories of hope and love amid the "codes of hate" that triggered the Yugoslav War.

Dalibor Matanic does not want to talk about war.

The director of Croatia's contender for the best-foreign-language Oscar says his drama The High Sun is really about love and its power to overcome evil.

"This is film about a code of hate that is universal and you can find it everywhere, (but) my aim was to fight for love and tolerance,” he says. “If you don't, you can expect another conflict in the next decades, you can expect new wars ... you can expect new concentration camps, new celebrations of hate."

Set in the Balkans during the civil war of the 1990s that tore Yugoslavia apart, The High Sun features two young actors — Goran Markovic and Tihana Lazovic — as war-crossed lovers in three separate stories, set during the war, in the direct aftermath and a decade afterwards. Matanic says he was deliberately vague about identifying the characters' ethnicity.

"I wanted to create a subconscious effect so the audience was aware of the danger of history constantly being repeated by looking at familiar faces in different decades, context and characters," he observes. "They are not divided in three separate, different characters. There are very small, subtle differences between them so that you can feel through the film that in fact it is one love that we are talking about."

Matanic drew on many of his own experiences in writing the script. His grandmother, who largely raised him, gave him the impetus both for the film's focus on ethnic division and its central message of hope.

"She gave me all the love in the world,” he says. “But when it came to the girlfriends, she kept on repeating 'please, just not a Serbian girl … ' That was the main trigger for the film, how somebody who can give you such unconditional love can also be that much infected by history."

Despite its heavy subject matter, The High Sun is, at its core, optimistic and a celebration of beauty, love and life. It explores what the director calls the “code of hate” by looking at subconscious instincts and assumptions “often hidden deep inside people" that can undermine their lives.

"Life is too short to spend it on negative energy, hatred or intolerance,” Matanic says. “People, when they are dying, don't remember their political decisions, their nations or their code of hate. They remember just moments in their lives when they loved someone or did something good to someone. The High Sun is a film that fights in an active way for better world based on love and tolerance. It was made from the heart in the most honest way. That’s why I’m calling it a triumph of love."