Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 8, 16 August 1999

K A R L O V Y   V A R Y:
Cream-Cake Nationalism:
Snjezana Tribuson's Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer

Andrew J Horton

Snjezena Tribuson's Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer (Melita and her Three Men, 1998) concerns the podgy Melita of the title, whose battle against tubbiness is hardly helped by an addiction to cream cakes. In this respect, working in a cake shop is, perhaps, not the ideal job for her. She is, however, the object of desire for Janko, a master baker of traditional Croatian cakes. Not only is Janko a dab hand in the kitchen, he is also stunningly good looking - in a baby-faced sort of way. His only disadvantage is that he suffers from a debilitating case of nerves. Whether he is asked to comment on making Croatian cakes, television or declaring his secret love for Melita, he is a man whose innocence and honesty somehow prevent him from saying what he wants to.

Meanwhile, Melita is still on the lookout for a husband. With her fantasies fuelled by her favourite soap opera, the Spanish serial Slave to Love, she sets out in search of her ideal man. Her flat-mate Visnija, who, with her supermodel body, has no problems at all attracting men, invites Melita to come along to a party with her colleagues from work. This would be intimidating in itself; since Visnija works for the police, it is a prospect Melita cannot bear. With the voices of the police officers drunkenly singing Croatian nationalist songs ringing in her ears, she bottles out at the entrance. Her departure is noticed by Yura, a womanising sponger who has only just been kicked out by his wife. He attempts to win her heart for the purposes of acquiring somewhere to stay for a while, but Melita is no fool and soon sees through him.

A freak series of events then brings the crew of Slave to Love to Zagreb. Obsessed by the chance of meeting her heart-throb, Juan, Melita rushes to the shoot. There, fortune smiles upon her and she gets a bit part in the series. Her dreamboat, however - who is playing a soldier - falls somewhat short of his on-screen image. Distraught at his arrogance and disdain for her, she stumbles crying into the arms of Janko, who is conveniently doing the on-set catering. Janko comforts her and without having to resort to words is able to express his tender feelings for her. And the two live happily ever after...

Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer would probably be an unremarkable film in most people's books. With its episodes punctuated by swirling animated cream cakes, it is an unrepentant piece of romantic slush, the likes of which are rarely seen in Anglo-American film. But this is what makes it all the more note-worthy. Croatia does not exactly have the largest cinema audience in the world, and this film automatically alienates 50 percent of that already small potential viewing public. In order for the film to succeed - which it indeed has, winning five Golden Arenas at the Festival of Croatian Films in Pula last year - it needed to appeal to as many female viewers as it possible could.

This approach makes a revealing comment about Croatian women and society in general. The subtext of the film is that Melita rejects the bragging lad culture represented by the nationalist police officers, the scheming and manipulating wiles of the smooth-talkers and the blunt insensitivity of those who like playing at soldiers. There is not much more to these men than their words, and their words are empty. Instead, Melita chooses a man who is soft, effeminate and caring. What is more, he expresses his love of his country through making cakes, and his sincerity comes through in his actions. His words are not treacherous; he cannot even say them.

No doubt, Croatian men who do go and see the film will be sickened by its nauseating romance. Nevertheless, they should take note that a good half of the adult population is not impressed with the notion of masculinity that is on offer at the moment. Could this outbreak of "cream cake nationalism" pave the way for the creation of the Croatian "new man"?

Andrew J Horton, 16 August 1999


Click here to read a response to this article by Hrvoje Turkovic, editor of the Croatian Film Chronicle and Snjezena Tribuson's husband.

Further Surfing

Click here for the first in this pair of articles; a look at how the totalitarian values of Communism have become embedded in a Russian romance.

The following is a list of other films shown at Karlovy Vary which have been covered by Kinoeye.

Demony wojny wedlug Goi (Demons of War by Goya) by Wladyslaw Pasikowski, Poland

Blokpost (Checkpoint) by Alexandr Rogozhkin, Russia

Tockovi (Wheels) by Djordje Milosavljevic, Yugoslavia

Gengszterfim (Gangster Film) by Gyorgy Szomjas, Hungary

Nekem lampast adott kezembe as Ur Pesten (The Lord's Lantern in Budapest) by Miklos Jancso, Hungary

Krava (The Cow) by Karel Kachyna, Czech Republic

Okraina (Outskirts) by Peter Lutsik, Russia

Pasti, pasti, pasticky (Traps) by Vera Chytilova, Czech Republic

Kinai vedelem (Chinese Defence) by Gabor Tompa, Hungary





Czech Freedom to Consume

Hungarian Shopping Burnout

From DIY to a Service Economy in the Czech Republic

The Convenience Revolution


Everything there is to know about Central and East European FILM.


Tomas Pecina:
Czech Politics over Poetry

Catherine Lovatt:
Eclipsing Romania's Woes

Jan Culik:
Czech Media Failing

Mel Huang:
Latvia's Pension Tension

Sam Vaknin:
The Bad Blood
of Kosovo


"3rd Generation" Jews in Central Europe

Bringing up Jews in Bohemia

Confronting Jewishness


Viacheslav Sorokin's
Totalitarnii roman

Snjezana Tribuson's
Tri muskarca Melite Zganjer


A New Generation of Jewish Writers


Central European
Culture in the UK


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