Tito and Me (1993)
I hate to call a film like this overrated, since it is certainly far from a household name or blockbuster hit, but I will. Apart from a few moments of real comedy, this film is more like a self-deprecating psychoanalysis – By Serbia, For Serbia. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but views more like a documentary, especially for those unfamiliar with Yugoslavian history. Though I was a little disappointed (I had really high expectations), I would still recommend it. It’s a movie every Serb knows.
Tito and Me (Tito i Ja) is set in the former Yugoslavia in the 1950s, the height of Tito’s reign. The main character, Zoran, is an awkward, chubby, little boy who lives in a cramped, old, apartment with his extended family. Always picked on by his family and fellow classmates for his weird behavior, he is disturbed by the constant chaos of his dysfunctional home life. Zoran soon starts exhibiting even more idiosyncratic behavior than ever such as secretly eating holes in the plaster walls at his home. His dramatic, artist parents (Anti- Tito) fight with his aunt and uncle (Pro-Tito) incessantly, and his old grandma (old regime – still retains private property rights) who supports the whole family, but lives in the hallway witnesses it all.
Though only a mediocre student, Zoran wins a nation-wide writing competition entitled “Do You Love Tito and Why?” when he writes a poem in which he claims to love the national leader, Marshall Tito, more than his own parents. His obsession with Tito is fueled by propaganda in the theaters and brainwashing at school. The prize for the winning student is a place on the children’s team that will complete a “March to Tito’s Homeland”, in which his crush, a little girl orphan, will be participating.
The March is basically a camping trip for a lucky group of chosen students, in which they are led through the Croatian wilderness by a fanatical, tyrannical leader, who likens the students to a youth army, and conditions them with military-like tirades and pro Tito group songs. Disheartened by the conditions on the trip and irritated by a pesky rash, Zoran drops behind the group and is later found by his angry leader in an abandoned shed in the middle of a rain storm.
When Zoran is chosen to read his poem about Tito in a public broadcast, he surprises everyone by instead improvising a statement in which he denounces Tito and claims that he does indeed, love his family and friends more than Tito, the ever celebrated leader. He even claims to love his neighborhood street lunatic more than Tito. The humiliated group leader ousts Zoran from the kid’s march, but not before a very symbolic mutiny against him occurs inside the children’s group. Later, the leader commits suicide while in prison, after being taken away in handcuffs by Tito’s secret police, showing the full-blown indoctrination of this man into Tito’s all-encompassing control.
Later, in a reception hosted by Marshal Tito himself, the children are subjected to invasive security pat downs before being allowed to rush jubilantly into the arms of Tito. Tito’s perverted tendencies are shown, as he pays extra attention to an innocent young female student. Much to his parents’ relief, Zoran’s “Tito obsession” has by this time deflated into apathy, and he actually seems more interested in the grand spread of food than in Tito himself.
I wonder if the “Ja” in “Tito I Ja” is a metaphor for Yugoslavia. In other words, Zoran is a symbol of Yugoslavia: quirky, misunderstood, and caught in the middle of constant family (neighboring country/state) conflict. He’s obsessed with Tito, but who wasn’t? Then he later emerges after his disillusionment, realizing what a farce the leader really was. Zoran experiences an awakening, as the rest of Yugoslavia did later, when he seemed to ask himself: Why live a fantasy life glorifying a distant, cruel, leader, when your own life is meaningful, significant, and real?