Sunday, October 7, 2012

Yugo On: "Picnic on Sunday" (1968)

Yugoslavian cinematographer Karpo Godina tries his hand at directing with this cute short farce.

"Picnic on Sunday" opens with a wide shot of a field where the speechless characters are gathered. The setting is literally pastoral as an onscreen clarinet and violin duo play a sad dirge of a song (which is now entombed in my head for the next few days). An older woman with a parasol sits in a wicker chair, reading a book. A middle aged man aims a small caliber rifle at a paper target. Another older man is napping on a bed in a tent. Finally, a nude woman frolics in a nearby creek. These opening establishing shots by Godina are like moving photographs- the camera blurs the image, then focuses and shows the viewer the character, and then blurs again, but the camera itself never moves or zooms until the next shot.

Cue the hunky handsome dude who arrives, causing the others to pause. This man is in contemporary garb, our indication that despite some beautiful black and white cinematography, this film is set in the (then) present. The handsome man and the skinny dipper begin making out (no nudity or sex is shown), and the woman's incessant laughter inspires the musical duo to break into a rambunctious tune, much to the consternation of the rest of the cast...and then the rifleman hits his mark.

This is Godina's first professional short film (other shorts include "Litany of Happy People" and the experimental "I Miss Sonja Henie"), and his last black and white effort. He was in the forefront of Eastern European film, which suffered from Communist malaise in the 1960's and 1970's (and later). "Picnic on Sunday" is a goofy lark, nicely edited and lovingly photographed. The lack of dialogue means the performers must rely on facial expressions, making me initially mistake this as a film from the silent era.

I suppose you could read a cultural clash metaphor into the story- the happiness of the two youths briefly affect the popular culture personified by the clarinet and violin duo, which drives the old lady (old guard) to flee, all of which startles at the sound of a gunshot (jackbooted Red military action)- but I went with this twelve minute flow, admiring the film's whim and beauty. (* * * *) out of five stars.