Interview: Famous Croatian director Veljko Bulajic recounts his life in pictures

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A monograph of the internationally-reputated film artist Veljko Bulajic, who's movie "Battle of Neretva" has been viewed by 350 million people worldwide, was presented on Tuesday evening at the Europa Cinema here.

The long-awaited monograph, "Train Without Timetable in the History of Cinema," followed his debut and most famous film "Train Without Timetable" made after he settled in the east of Croatia from Montenegro after World War II.

The 87-year-old "vital and prolific" artist, it was said at the Europa Cinema, was a cinematography recorder of former Yugoslavia. More people viewed the film "Battle of Neretva" than all Yugoslav films combined from 1945 to 1990. His previous war movie, Kozara, was viewed by 150 million people.

"Battle of Neretva" premiered in 1969 and was declared one of the ten best war films of world cinema by film directors, producers and critics from 62 countries. The great painter Pablo Picasso, moved by the film's message, painted the poster for the movie.

"I prepared Neretva for a long time. It took me two years, because I always feel that improvization is too expensive," Bulajic told Xinhua in a recent exclusive interview.

It was made as a follow-up to Kozara, released in 1962.

"The experience of Kozara brought me a bolder approach. In addition, the story itself is fantastic: battle for the wounded, in which an army throws everything it has to save the wounded," adds Bulajic.

The making of the movie had great support from production companies from Germany, Italy and the United States, he said.

"It was the most expensive film in Europe and one of the most expensive U.S. movies at that time," he said.

The list of actors was very impressive and starred some of the greatest actors in Hollywood at the time, such as Yul Brynner, Hardy Krueger, Franco Nero, Orson Welles, he said.

The stars back then were extremely modest and easy to work with, he said.

Brynner was very attentive. He slept in a small room in the town of Gornji Vakuf, Bosnia and Herzegovina. All of them were fully disciplined and professional and drove up in a van together every morning to the shooting location, Bulajic said.

One of the myths of the movie is that the team built a bridge across the Neretva river and blew it up only for the purpose of shooting a scene. Bulajic said the truth was somewhat different.

"The bridge was functioned on the railway between cities of Sarajevo and Dubrovnik. The tracks, however, in the meantime, were revoked and it was no longer used. We had luck because the bridge was identical to the one that was originally destroyed during the war. We paid the municipality to build a second bridge. We filmed the destroying of the bridge with a dozen cameras at once," said Bulajic.

The bridge now serves as a tourist monument of the great battle of World War II.

Bulajic, for his part, suffered the scars from World War II when he was boy. He lost a brother in the war.

"My older brother was at the railway station in Montenegro when the allies of Italy-fascism switched trains to the Neretva River. My brother called them traitors and one of them shot him, severely wounding him and he died later," Bulajic explained, in a quiet voice.

His whole family was sent to the concentration camp run by Italian fascists. However, at the same time, he saw the partisan spirit and a great desire to win the war, he said.

"It was a difficult and painful time I want to never happen again," says Bulajic.

His versatility in the cinema and feeling for the suffering and sacrifice of other people is also reflected in the documentary "Skopje 63" on the consequences of the terrible earthquake in the Macedonian capital. He received many awards for that film: UNESCO, the Golden Lion and the Grand Prix in Venice and Monte Carlo.

Bulajic still hasn't given up the idea he had eight years ago to record a documentary of contemporary China.

He had a couple of conversations with the then Chinese ambassador to Croatia, who said it would be an ideal opportunity for a European director to make a film about contemporary China, Bulajic recalled. Seeing China through the eyes of a Western director and meanwhile showing Europe a new China of revolutionary changes would open China to the world.

"I knew China from afar, but I would meet it closer while filming. I realized that this is a very interesting topic. I wish I had made this movie," he said.

"People do not know much about China which is a mystery for Westerners. It is a shame that they don't know enough about that great country," Bulajic added.

After the interview, Bulajic said goodbye, moving with slow steps through the streets of the city, inventing scenes for a new film which he is making in a co-production with Italian partners. Endit

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