PLES V DEŽJU – DANCING IN THE RAIN (1961)
Director: Boštjan Hladnik
Script: Boštjan Hladnik, Dominik Smole
Music: Bojan Adamič
Cinematography: Janez Kališnik
Cast: Duša Počkaj, Miha Baloh
Rado Nakrst, Ali Raner, Jože Zupan
In 1957 Boštjan Hladnik went to Paris to apprentice under the directors Claude Charbol, Philippe de Broca, and Robert Siodmak. He returned to Yugoslavia to find a country coming to grips with socialism under the rule of Tito, where cafes and city streets seemed dreary and depressing. In 1961 he released his debut film, PLES V DEŽJU, in response to his experience returning home. Hladnik was at the forefront of a wave of Yugoslavian films that socially critiqued the political climate in a movement that later became defined as the Yugoslav Black Wave. This period utilized dark themes in films to express a Slovene voice, a voice that is still used in contemporary films such as KRUH IN MLEKO (2001, Dir. Jan Cvitkovič).
A decade later, Hladnik continued to use film as a tool of social criticism with MAŠKARADA,(1971) a complicated drama about an affair between an athlete and a rich housewife. While MAŠKARADA explores many themes, the inclusion of homosexuality is prominent. While many other Eastern European directors would explore sexuality in film during the 80’s, Hladnik was met with criticism and protest in Slovenia over the release of MAŠKARADA. You can see the roots of Hladnik’s interest in the theme of sexuality even in his debut film.
PLES V DEŽJU follows two lovers whose romance has long since faded. Peter (Miha Baloh) a painter who teaches art to children at school, is obsessed with finding the perfect woman while Maruša, a middle aged actress, is blindly in love with Peter. The film follows each of them as we see both sides to their relationship. Peter sleeps with prostitutes and dreams of his ideal woman while leading on Maruša. But she is no angel herself, as she leads on a young prompter at the theatre that has fallen in love with her.
Hladnik approaches their lives with a unique perspective, choosing to have scenes of their dreams and memories blend into the narrative of the film. As Maruša and Peter continue to delude themselves, Hladnik causes the viewer to question the reality of the scene. In on such scene we watch Peter get out of bed and open his door to see the outside street at night with men walking up and down the sidewalk carrying caskets. At the end of the street is the silhouette of his dream lover. Scenes such as this lead the viewer to question what constitutes real and fantasy.
Sound is another important tool used by Hladnik to create this blurred line of reality in PLES V DEŽJU. He chooses to manipulate the volume and change sounds such as covering up conversations with the sound of rain. In another scene, we watch Maruša passionately defend her worth to the theatre while her boss fires her right on stage. After her speech ,the camera moves back into the seats of the theatre and we hear applause as if a real audience was there.
Peter and Maruša also find themselves haunted by two young lovers who never speak but often appear in frames seemingly innocent and deeply in love. They appear more frequently as the film progresses, possibly showing the gulf of disillusion both characters are experiencing, and perhaps greater commentary on Slovenia itself as experienced by Hladnik.
Ultimately PLES V DEŽJU is a masterful debut from Hladnik, and possibly one of the greatest films of Slovenia. Stylistically, the film is head and shoulders above most films of the era, including outside of the Eastern Bloc with both the cinematography and use of sound. It is also an important film in defining the central voice of Slovene cinema by ushering in the Yugoslavian Black Wave.
PLES V DEŽJU is available as an english friendly DVD release by Slovenski Filmski Center.