Vojvodina was, and in many ways still is, ethnically most diverse area of what used to be Yugoslavia. Such areas tend to suffer greatly during conflicts, especially those where individuals tend to pick sides exclusively on ethnic lines. It wasn’t very different with Second World War, and moral dilemmas and other aspects of such situation are the subject of Hitler from Our Street, 1975 Yugoslav drama directed by Vladimir Tadej.
The plot is set in a village in Banat, eastern region of Vojvodina, which has ethnically mixed population made of South Slavs (mainly Serbs) and Volksdeutsche Germans. In the beginning of 1941 the area is part of Kingdom of Yugoslavia and, as the war approaches, once harmonious relations between two communities become strained and many Volksdeutsche embrace the cause of Hitler’s Nazism. One of them is Leksi (played by Nikola Simić), drunkard and loser who is frustrated both by his relative poverty and inability to satisfy his attractive wife Anika (played by Ružica Sokić). In April 1941 Axis forces invade, crush Kingdom of Yugoslavia and establish new regime in Banat under the rule of Volksdeutsche. Leksi becomes part of local SS militia and uses his new privileged position to harass his Slav neighbours. After few months resistance activities lead authorities to establish brutal policy of shooting fifty Slav villagers for each German killed and twenty-five for each German wounded. Because of this Leksi’s former friend Marko (played by Boris Dvornik) takes great effort to prevent Leksi from getting hurt. As war goes on and increasing number of Volksdeutsche get drafted for fighting on Eastern Front, Leksi gets concerned that he might end there and begins to contemplate deliberately wounding himself in order to stay in the village. Marko, who in the meantime began to have an affair with Anika, wants to evade ensuing massacre and offers Leksi large amount of money and other goods in order to claim that the wounding was result of an accident.
Hitler from Our Street is in many ways atypical for Yugoslav films dealing with Second World War. Partisans, which were usually the protagonists and had their own genre, here appear only briefly with their activities mostly serving as a background and without much importance for general plot. The plot also deals with Volksdeutsche Germans, pre-war ethnic minority which was, like in many European countries, perceived as Nazi fifth column and brutally cleansed from the country at the end of war, an event that was somewhat difficult to reconcile with official "Brotherhood and Unity" ideology of Communist Yugoslavia. Croatian director Vladimir Tadej and his co-writer Zoran Petrović, however, seems to be mostly interested in character study and Serbian actor Nikola Simić brilliantly plays archetypal petty man who is suddenly transformed into master of life and death of people who used to make fun of him. Script, very much like similarly-themed 2000 Czech film Divided We Fall, tries to mix serious drama and exploration of power dynamics under wartime conditions with some humour, both it mostly fails. Intended mostly for Yugoslav audience that had some previous knowledge of complicated WW2 history, Hitler from Our Street will be less comprehensible for outsiders and post-Yugoslav generations. Another major flaw is introduction of adulterous romance that only complicates plot further. An attempt to evade ethnic stereotyping is made with introduction of two boys - Volksdeutsche and Gypsy – who remain friends despite the former joining Hitlerjugend. But this again only muddles the plot. The weakest part is the ending, when characters suddenly take the most irrational choices possible and lead to tragedy and incredibly bleak plot resolution. In the end, Hitler from Our Street can be recommended only to viewers who are somewhat familiar with its fascinating and dark subject.
RATING: 5/10 (++)
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