English Title: Three
Original Title: Tri
Country of Origin: Yugoslavia
Studio: Avala film Beograd
Director: Aleksandar Petrović
Cinematographer: Tomislav Pinter
Editor: Mirjana Mitić
Runtime: 75 minutes
Genre: War Film
Volume: East European
The story of a Yugoslav revolutionary in three chapters:
The beginning of World War Two: Miloš Bojanić is a student at the railway station, filled with refugees. The Police are performing random ID checks, and a man with no identification papers and a strange accent is accused of being a traitor. Miloš speaks in his defence. The crowd turns against him, so he stops and the man is executed.
The war at its climax: Miloš is a partisan - hungry and alone, trying to escape enemy soldiers. He meets another fugitive, a partisan who is scared, wounded and who has been left behind. They part; the other partisan is caught and burned alive while Miloš watches from afar.
The war has ended: Miloš is an officer of the Yugoslav army. A group of presumed collaborators are brought in to be executed. A beautiful young woman attracts Miloš’ attention; he asks his subordinate officer to examine the accusations before execution, and a peasant woman serving him a melon speaks in favour of the beautiful woman. ‘She is young, she will change’. He does not listen. The woman tries to escape, but the soldiers catch her and take her to away to be killed.
‘Death in the war is equally tragic when we die and when circumstances force us to kill someone’, explained Petrović before Tri/Three was screened at the Yugoslav film festival in Pula (in Croatia). His previous two films were not even accepted for the festival selection process, but when he made Three they were celebrated as the introduction of modern film language in contemporary Yugoslav cinema. They too presented death as part of his personal poetics.
In all the stories contained within Three – which take place in different situations, at different stages of the war and with the protagonist’s personal history - the central character becomes responsible for death and killing, even if he himself does not kill. The film was nominated for an Academy Award and is considered one of the finest examples of the complex exploration of war and its consequences; moreover it offers a scrupulous anatomy of the ambiguity of human nature. The sequence with a Gypsy performing a famous folk song, dragging along a bear tied up with a wooden pole and chains is a clear depiction of human cruelty. More moving still is the episode where a man is accused of being a traitor and shot just because of his appearance. The typical French trait of the missing “r” in the man’s pronunciation, in addition to his beret, could be a reference to the nouvelle vague, but equally so it references the director’s personal experience of being born in Paris before moving to Belgrade as a child.
Reflection on the non-humanity of humans is built into the structure of Petrović’s film. Three is composed of three episodes, but also of two parts. The three episodes form the major part of the film; the other is the opening sequence with film titles imposed on black and white still photographs. These photographs depict various war crimes and are arranged into a distinct unit that is, as Petrović himself explained ‘a little documentary movie about the theme of the film’. The photographs were mostly taken during the German occupation of Serbia and portray armed soldiers, burning villages, the hanged and decapitated bodies of partisans and civilians. This official version of World War II, documenting atrocities committed by the aggressor, provides a background to the events in Three that bring forth the hidden, more troubling view of war.
The three episodes in Three disrupt the good/bad opposition of traditional narration because they portray the bad side of good people. Within the classical tripartite narration, however, the third episode, as a closure, provides some relief in relation to the previous two. The decision taken by the hero, now in power, to take a life rather than refuse to act seems both necessary and morally justified. The dual structure of the two faces of war questions such a conclusion, however, with the drumming sound that accompanies the photographs at the beginning also present at the most tragic moments in the film and thus connecting them. As a result, the subversion of the third story is more visible. It is a critique of a revolutionary’s performance and a challenge to all humanity, including the Yugoslav Communists. Are they, as winners, able to behave any better? With Three, Petrović clearly affirmed himself as the leading auteur of the new Yugoslav film and also marked the beginning of the more troubling period of Yugoslav cinema - the black film.
Goulding, Daniel J. (2002) Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience, 1945-2001. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Volk, Petar. (1986) Istorija jugoslovenskog filma. Beograd: Inštitut za film
Author of this review: Melita Zajc