Historically, Croatian culture has blended the best from Central and Eastern Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Balkans. Since joining the European Union in 2004, the country has reinvented itself as an uncut coastal gem, with dreamy seaside scenery, turquoise beaches, and hedonistic festivals to make it a tourist must-visit.
But if you’re flying away to appreciate Croatia’s Roman heritage, a-cappella choirs and sun-soaked terraces, then it’s time to dig a little deeper than the Insta-perfect imagery. Croatia’s contemporary creative wealth is here to show you a different side to the Adriatic: from modern rock rebellion to artists teasing apart the complex layers between gentrification, touristification, and Croatia’s difficult relationship with its past.
If you’re going to party on the beach to some sunshine pop goodness, then it’s time to do it the Croatian way— and Jinx has been making Croatians shake their hips for over a decade. The funk-pop-soul band are experts in combining bitter-sweet melodies with more energetic riffs, with melancholic hits such as On The Beach (Na Plaži) and Summer (Ljeto) making the perfect soundtrack for a ride down the Adriatic coast.
Hailing from the Croatian capital of Zagreb, band Porto Morto is best defined as “progressive rock”. Croatia’s festival scene might be best known for fresh electronica, but the eight-piece band is known as one of the most interesting young groups on the Croatian music circuit for its masterfully incorporated brass section, with rock, pop, and electronic elements blending into their sound.
Over the past couple of years, a new generation of female directors has redefined the male-dominated Croatian movie industry. Hana Jušić is just one of these new voices: her first feature, Quit Staring At My Plate, tells the story of young hospital lab tech, Marijana, and her uneventful life in the provincial seaside town of Šibenik. Marijana shares a cramped apartment with her bully of a father, self-effacing (yet often overwhelming) mother, and her disabled brother brother. But when her father suffers from a stroke, leaving Marijana as the family’s sole breadwinner, her coming of age and journey to emancipation can begin.
There’s little that’s optimistic in Jušić’s story — her characters are mostly unlikeable and the atmosphere claustrophobic — but the director skilfully transposes us to the heart of uneasy family life, reframing the usual coastal scenery from its usual tourist promo backdrop.
The first Croatian TV show to make it to the heady heights of Netflix, The Paper tells viewers the story of what happens when a global construction magnate takes over the country’s last independent newsroom for his own nefarious reason. Throughout the first two seasons (the shooting of the third and final season is still ongoing), viewers are introduced to a world of corrupt politicians, opportunistic reporters, economic criminals, and tycoons. The show is also a visual treat for fans of industrial architecture, with stunning views across the city of Rijeka, its port, and the brutalist skyscrapers overlooking the city.
In her debut novel, Savičević-Ivančević tells the story of 20-something Dada, who leaves behind her studies and an affair with a married man to return to her family home in a bleak, dusty suburb of a coastal town. She hopes to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of her brother, Daniel, who threw himself under a train at the age of just 18. Savičević-Ivančević mixes Dada’s intimate narration with scenes from a film crew shooting a Western on the nearby “prairie”, and vivid descriptions of the town’s transformation from typical Mediterranean habitat to tourist Mecca. The story is rich in eccentric characters, colour, and filled with brittle satire, without falling into a trap of over-sentimentality.
In an era when many countries in the Balkans are sliding towards nationalism, Belladonna reminds us that remembering and revisiting the legacies of our past is more important than ever before.
When Drndić passed away in 2019, the Guardian dedicated a powerful obituary to the author, praising her as “incapable of writing a sentence that was not forceful, fierce, or funny — or all three simultaneously.” In Belladonna, a novel selected among three finalists of the new European Bank for Reconstruction and Development award in 2019, Drndić skilfully builds a character of a 65-year-old retired academic and widower Andreas Ban, suffering from cancer and social isolation. Without work, family, and with most of his friends dead or about to die, Ban embarks on a journey to discover how the past and the present – both personal and social – are interconnected. In an era when many countries in the Balkans and beyond are sliding towards nationalism and authoritarianism; when history is revised in order to suit current governments’ political needs, Drndić‘s Belladonna reminds us that remembering and revisiting the legacies of our past is more important than ever before.