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Interview with Aldo Paquola, winner of the 2019 Croatian Society of Film Critics’ Vladimir Vuković Award for Lifetime Achievement

Aldo Paquola, winner of the 2019 Croatian Society of Film Critics’ Vladimir Vuković Award for Lifetime Achievement
Aldo Paquola, winner of the 2019 Croatian Society of Film Critics’ Vladimir Vuković Award for Lifetime Achievement

Aldo Paquola is a film critic based in Rijeka, born in a small town of Prezid, Croatia on October 28, 1952. After finishing high school in Rijeka, he moved to Zagreb where he graduated in philosophy and general linguistics from the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in 1981. At the beginning of the 1970’s, Paquola started writing film reviews, predominantly for the Rijeka-based newspaper Novi list. Radio lovers might remember him for his show Goldfinger at HRT Radio Rijeka.

Paquola has directed and written a short documentary, Desiring Automata (Automati želja, 19’, produced by Emir Ćejvan, 1979), and his publications include two books of film reviews and essays, namely Don Huanovo ponoćno zrcalo (‘Don Juan’s Midnight Mirror’, Rijeka, 1996) and Retrospectator (Adamić, Rijeka, 2006), a short story collection Samozatajni hermafrodit (‘A Reclusive Hermaphrodite’, Adamić, Rijeka, 2000) and a collection of columns Licemjer (‘Hypocrite’, Kvarner, Novi Vinodolski, 2019). He suffers from psoriatic arthritis, so it is difficult for him to move, but his spirits are up.

Mr. Paquola, first things first, congratulations on your Lifetime Achievement Award!

Thank you! I actually have an anecdote about the award. It feels as if I’m being told, “Here’s a lifetime achievement award, and please contact your funeral home for any further details!” Of course I’m joking. This award is stimulating and means a lot, particularly as it is named after Vladimir Vuković, a renowned film critic who I used to personally know during my studies in Zagreb. I wasn’t too keen on the social circle that Mr. Vladek was part of, though. To be honest, some of those people annoyed me. As a Scorpio, I tend to be a bit exclusive.

The film reviews you wrote for Novi list might be what most will remember about you, but personally I prefer the reviews you delivered in your soothing voice for Radio Rijeka, as part of the show Goldfinger. Your texts have inspired many readers and listeners to go to the cinema.

Indeed they have, even if sometimes they would be disappointed. They would say that a film that I had praised was awful, or the other way around. At any rate, I agree with you. I started to write for Novi list in 1974, while the radio show began in 1973. On my first show, I talked about Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather. I remember it well. However, as years went by, there has been a lot of change. There was no Internet back then and no globalization, with much of the film theory popular then – today consigned to oblivion. There is a multitude of challenges that I have to deal with, though, and I don’t want to give in to indolence because, as they say, it is much like death before death.

What are your thoughts about contemporary cinema when compared to the cinema of the last century?       

A lot has changed, sadly. There are franchises now or, rather, franchises as business. There are no longer any fixed genre features, at least not in the true sense of the word. That does not necessarily have to be all that bad—for much depends on the creativity—but unfortunately, though, many renowned directors have sold out. The imperative is on the market ‘getting’ what it wants, the competition is stronger than ever, and the technology is very cheap. You used to need loads of money to produce a film. Today, thanks to digital imagery, anyone can become masters in their own right – a  director, a screenwriter, or an actor… I wouldn’t go as far as to glorify the past, because the past is not where I live, but the sad fact is that very few contemporary films pique my interest. If I had to name a few excellent films, there is the new Quentin Tarantino picture, Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood and a film based on a Stephen King book, Doctor Sleep, directed by Mike Flanagan. Kubrick’s The Shining, for example, with Jack Nicholson – which Doctor Sleep is a sequel of – is an exquisite horror film. So, apparently, there are films even today that draw me in and inspire me to watch them. However, when I think about having to go to the multiplex Cinestar in the shopping mall here, my interest to go to the cinema disappears completely. That said, I am glad that Rijeka has an art house cinema, Art-kino Croatia. They foster a film tradition not exclusively bound to blockbuster films.

How do you feel about Croatian cinema? Do you keep up with latest Croatian films?

Not at all. Ever since I stopped writing for Novi list, that is since January 1, 2013, I haven’t really kept track. As I already mentioned, my problem is that I do not enjoy going to Cinestar, which is why I missed out on many films, ours included. For example, I watched High Sun (Zvizdan) by Dalibor Matanić on TV. Now Matanić has become hyper-productive lately. I have also started watching his TV show The Paper (Novine), although I have many bones to pick with it. The writing is superficial, full of stereotypes, which might come as a surprise given that it is written by journalist Ivica Đikić, a man who, we could say, has insider access into this newspaper world. However, his writing is full of contrivances and oversimplifications, as I said: the journalists are alcoholics, ever depressed, always smoking… They’re caricatures! The soundtrack is tedious, everything seems executed in a very inhumane and stultifying way… It leaves the viewer with a terrible feeling. Everything is the worst and all politicians are corrupt. And yet, Đikić does not confront the important stuff in journalism. It is not true that it is all that gloomy. There are good stories, too. Fine, it’s not a documentary series, but they still could’ve highlighted some positive moments as well.

Perhaps it was Matanić and Đikić’s intent to show that aspect of Croatia?

Sure, but it’s not real! It is what I would describe as choral music. In other words, if there are no distinguishable singular voices, then it is a choir that they are doing. I like it when singular voices are highlighted because not everything in the choir is as bizarre, as repulsive, as rotten… I am a person who occasionally tends to poke at someone, to provoke a reaction, but I don’t like this. The director is obviously a master of his craft, I give you that, but I think The Paper has given its audience a form devoid of any content. As a viewer, I can’t nor want to accept that.

Is there anything you’re working on nowadays and are there any plans for the future? Sadly, your condition makes it difficult to even leave the house, but I am sure you find outlets for your creativity.

The arthritis sure is challenging! I’m on the move all the time, convinced there is no need for a cane. When I am at home, I don’t like watching films on the computer or the TV. I would love to have my own private screening room, with a big screen, so that I can truly unwind and enjoy the film. But that is too idealistic. I do have plans to create, though! I want to write about my grandpa, Milan Zmajić, who was a Major in the Royal Yugoslav Army. He was arrested in 1942 and taken to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, where he was killed in November 1944. There were times when I’d call him ‘my phantom grandfather’ in front of my mother, since I used to hear many stories about him, but he was killed before I was born. At any rate, that’d be a memorabilia, closer to fiction than reality. I have his tie, medals and honours, officer sabre, photographs, pocket watch and an ornament plate that I used to eat soup out of as a child. Don’t get me wrong, this would not be about searching for some kind of truth, nor about creating a family myth. I don’t even want to commit to credibility. I simply want to write an essay of sorts with fictional elements, and put to paper all of these collected items that used to belong to my grandfather. I’d call that work ‘M’.

As in, for example, Dial M for Muder?

Good job! Great how you immediately thought of an association. Of course I want to fuse it all in a way that would be interesting for the reader. I also want to do a film project about Joseph Goebbles, a man with a very interesting biography, but focusing on the 1922-1932 period. What’s fascinating here, is that he was friends with Franz Kafka, two years prior to Kafka’s death. Both were cineastes, they used to watch films together. Also, I find it amusing that Goebbles, a Scorpio, used to be a ‘ladies’ man.

When do you plan on bringing those ideas to fruition?

I’m not going to force myself. Creating makes me feel good, in a hedonistic way. It’s what I want to do without any pressure. Besides, whenever you finish something, you’re never completely satisfied with it. This way, while I create something, I am enjoying myself and avoiding boredom.

Blanka Kukec

Blanka Kukec

Rođena u Rijeci 27. travnja 1970. Diplomirala pedagogiju na Filozofskom fakultetu u Rijeci. Od 1994. radi u HRT Radio Rijeci kao novinarka,..

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