“The Man Without Guilt” Comes to Zagreb

The Zagreb premiere of the film The Man Without Guilt directed by Ivan Gergolet, produced in collaboration with Slovenian, Italian, and Croatian production (Propeler Film), will take place on Tuesday, 24 October, at the Kinoteka cinema (Kordunska 1). Following the premiere, the film, distributed by the Zagreb Film Festival, will begin its regular screenings in cinemas.

The feature film debut of Ivan Gergolet (Dancing with Maria) is a critically acclaimed psychodrama. It tells the story of Angela, a widow who, due to a twist of fate, becomes the caretaker of a man responsible for her husband’s death. The Man Without Guilt had its world premiere at the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn and was presented to the Croatian audience as part of the program of the 70th Pula Film Festival.

Set in the surroundings of Trieste, the film boldly explores universal themes of guilt, forgiveness, and confronting the past. In the background lies the complex issue of systematic asbestos poisoning, with 125 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, being exposed to it in the workplace, and the highest mortality rates recorded in the construction industry.

This reveals the underlying ideological aspect of the film, the class aspect, which Gergolet addresses in an exceptionally careful and sophisticated manner as he gradually unveils Angela’s Slovenian heritage and the fact that her deceased husband shares the fate of other workers, most often immigrants, who lost their lives throughout history building buildings and mansions for members of the upper class. In the film, they are represented by the titular “man without guilt” named Gorian, who built his castle on the bones of poisoned workers. In a broader social context, the conflict between the two main protagonists transcends the personal and takes on a collective significance. The fact that this is a significant, yet often overlooked issue primarily faced by members of marginalized social classes further underscores the importance of this cinematic achievement.

An extremely documentary background of Gergolet’s work is evident from his socially conscious perspective (the documentary Dancing with Maria was included in the prestigious Critics’ Week program at the Venice Film Festival in 2014, where it also won the Civitas Vitae prossima award), but the value of The Man Without Guilt lies not only in the strength of its message, but also in the careful stylistic techniques. For example, the motif of “poisoning from within” is presented on two levels – the physiological and the psychological – equating revenge with the poison slowly influencing Angela and her actions.

This is a work that avoids flat characterizations, and with its pace and themes, it approaches slow burn dramas with elements of thriller, akin to those found in the oeuvre of the greatest European directors like Michael Haneke (Amour, The Piano Teacher). Add to that the excellent chemistry between Slovenian actor Branko Završan (TIR, No Man’s Land, Comic Sans) and established Italian actress Valentina Carnelutti (Like Crazy – David di Donatello award nominee), and you have an indispensable cinematic piece that will linger in your thoughts long after you leave the theater.