Uspjeh (Success) promo shot with Tara Thaller as Blanka, Uliks Fehmiu as Haris, Toni Gojanovic as Kiki and Iva Mihalic as Vinka

 Uspjeh is HBO’s first Croatian original series, although they have certainly filmed in the country extensively for Game of Thrones and more. Set in capital city Zagreb, the show explores what happens when a sudden shocking event ties four strangers together. When three people witness the beating of another, they step in to help, and the attacker ends up dead.  The problem is, the dead guy was important to local drug trafficker Danilo Batur (Goran Navojec), so nobody wants to be attached to this particular murder. They agree to keep schtum and go their separate ways. But, of course that doesn’t happen. Instead, they work together to stay one step ahead of both the cops and Danilo.

Haris and Vinka

“Uspjeh” means “success”, and two of the characters have achieved success in a town that is run by gangsters on both sides of the law. Haris (Uliks Fehmiu) is a millionaire architect who has contributed many buildings to the skyline of Zagreb. The problem is, he works exclusively for Lujo Kralj (Borut Veselko), a well-connected criminal who uses the under-inhabited, and in some cases, dangerously built buildings to launder money for other criminals. In the first episode, Haris announces to Lujo that he’s done working for him, come what may. Vinka (Iva Mihalic), is a middle class loan officer. What stands out about here is that she’s married to an ass, but she has a lovely pre-teen daughter.

Kiki and Blanka

On the other side of the tracks, Kiki (Toni Gojanovic) is a likable but immature husband and father who is about to foreclose on his apartment because he doesn’t have a job. As his wife points out, there are jobs for him out there. She works in a dry cleaners, for example. But Kiki seems content to complain about his situation rather than change it. Blanka is a beautiful, smart-mouthed teen who dates the rich, handsome and abusive Viktor. She wants to skip school, but if her father catches her, he’ll give her a beating. She dresses like a hooker, and even gets sent home from school because of her outfit. It’s clear that Blanka is going to use her body to lift herself out of poverty, but she is destined to be unhappy, because she has no concept of what love really is.

Coming together

None of the four characters are in control of their lives. Blanka and Haris are surrounded by people who want something from them. Vinka is numb to her own feelings, going through the motions in an unhappy marriage. Blanka pushes Vinka to take control of her life, while Vinka is able to offer Blanka the motherly support she desperately needs.  Kiki’s problems are largely self-made, and he is scrambling through life, disappointing his wife and son. Haris provides a shoulder for him. Still, only one of them killed a guy, so why are these people suddenly dropping everything to cover for a stranger? Yes, there is the threat of Danilo’s revenge, but I think it’s more than that. For the men, it’s a way to redeem themselves, and for the women it’s a way to be valued for who they are.

Our take on Uspjeh

I watched Uspjeh based on a recommendation from a follower. I enjoyed the series, but didn’t LOVE it. The writers are clearly trying to make a point about what it takes to be a success in a corrupt urban center. They open each episode with one of Kiki’s “rules of success”. Unfortunately, this device doesn’t work. This is clearly a plot-driven series, with a little bit of character development, and that’s OK. All series don’t have to make a grand point about society. One thing of note is that it is beautifully shot. It was directed by Oscar winner Danis Tanovic, who won the foreign language award for No Man’s Land in 2001. In my opinion, Uspjeh is a perfect between-the-binge show.

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