“Death does not exist, there are only migrations”
“They left and behind them there was nothing. Nothing.” Tsernianski


“I  always  thought  that  Migrations  was  a  capital work,  says Petrovic.  I have always  really wanted to  put  it  on  screen,  first  of  all  because  it  is  a wonderful  story  whose  heroes  are  the marginalized  population  of Central Europe  in  the 18th  century  –  and  the marginalized  are  always interesting.

Second of all,  I find  it very relevant to present day, there  is a striking parallelism  between  this  time  and  our  own,  time  of migrations  and admixture, where the old rules have fallen without revealing new ones, where  values  have  been  lost  and where  people  like  in  disorder  and indiscipline,  looking for something else that has not yet been born.  It is this time of change and this confusion of the important moments of mutation  that  I  want  to  express,  all  the  while  keeping  a  writer’s rhapsodic tone.”

Production company: Radio Televizija Srbije, Ekonomik trade
Milan Pejić 1994
Executive production: «TRI» Beograd, Yugoslav-French film
Screenplay: After the novel “Migrations” by Miloš Crnjanski
Aleksandar Petrović in collaboration with Jacques Doniol-Valcroze
Director: Aleksandar Petrović
Set designer: Milenko Jeremić, Boris Moravec
Cinematography: Witold Dabal, Igor Luther
Art director: Coka Đorđević
Production: Nikola Popović, Goran Crnjanski
Film editor: Vuksan Lukovac
Costumes: Jacques Fonteray, Divna Jovanović
Music: XVII and XVIII Century marches
Serbian, Russian and Greek religious music

Dragan Mladenović – Thank the Lord

Olga Dusanić – Lord’s prayer
Choice of music: Aleksandar Petrović
Branislava Petrović
Cast: Avtandil Makharadze, Isabelle Huppert, Richard Berry, Bernard Blier, Erland Josephson, Dragan Nikolić, Miki Manojlović, Rade arković, Petar Božović, Ljubomir Cipranić, Jelica Sretenović, Dobrica Jovanović, Jovan Burduš Janićijević, Ružica Sokić, Aljoša Vučković, Stole Aranđelović, Ivica Pajer, Mladen Krstevski, Martin Obernigg, Dragana Jugović, Branislav Jerinić, Tihomir Pleskonjić, Emanuel Cenčić, Gojko Baletić, Lazar Barakov, Milan Mihailović, Radko Polic, Marija Šipka, Miodrag Krivokapić, Branislav Lecić, Vladislava Milosavljević


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The film is inspired by serbian novelist Milos Tsernianski’s novel by the same name, that won the award for best foreign novel in France in 1986. It tells the story of the lives of the mercenaries in the Baroque Wars of the 18th century, when the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled Serbia. “A masterpiece of slavic literature.” LE POINT (1986).

The novel received the Best Foreign Novel in France.

“Tsernianski  is  a Melville  haunted  by Dostoyevsky.  It  took  ten  years  to finish the translation of “Migrations”. It will take less time for it to take its place amongst the greatest works in slavic literature.” Le Monde 8/8/1991 – Nicole Zand

“A  masterpiece  where  the  director  of  I  Even  Met  Happy  Gypsies, Alexander Petrovic, has achieved a still invisible superproduction.”  Jean-Michel Frodon, Le Monde, August 8th 1991.


Plot Summary

Migrations tells the fate of mercenaries during the baroque wars of the 18th century during the Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbia. Austrian empress Maria-Theresa von Habsburg wants war with the French before taking on the Prussians. She sends Serbs, who in her opinion are not equal men, to the front lines. However, they are ready at all costs to reconquer a parcel of independence.

The movie follows the parallel fates of the two Isakovitch brothers, Vouk and Archange. The first (played by Avtandil Makharadze) leads a regiment of Serbian mercenaries who will fight the war until reaching France. The second (Richard Berry), a handsome and shrewd merchant, claims his sister-in-law Daphina (Isabelle Huppert) who he has cared for in the absence of his brother. Tragedy and death await at the end of the road…

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Avtandil Makharadze

Avtandil Makharadze (Vuk Isakovitch)


Awards, honors, festivals

For  SEOBE  the  serbian  version  of  MIGRATIONS  (modified  by Aleksandar Petrovic to allow distribution in Serbia)

  • 23rd Film Festival in Sopot, Serbia, July 1994: Kosmaj Prize
  • International Film Festival of Palic, Serbia, July 1994
  • 8th  Yugoslav  Film  Festival  of  Herceg  Novi, Montenegro,  August  1994 (non competition)
  • Screenwriting Festival of Vrnjacka banja, Serbia, August 1994
  • International  Film  Festival  of  Montreal,  Canada,  August  1994  (non competition)
  • 29th Film Festival – Actors’ meeting – Nis, Serbia, August 1994
  • 27th Yugoslav Film Festival – Arandjelovac, Serbia, 1994
  • 3rd Film Festival of Arena – Novi Sad, Serbia, September 1994: Arena of honor to Aleksandar Petrovic
  • Cinema  City  International  Film  Festival  –  Novi  Sad,  Serbia,  2009  – Homage to the national writer Aleksandar Saša Petrović

The  shooting  of  the  film  created  a  huge  interest  from  the  press. After production problems and the unfortunate death of Aleksandar Petrovic, Migrations  (the  french version) has never been  released in France…
Consult an  interview with Aleksandar Petrovic on  the video clip of Festival Etonnants Voyageurs

Press Excerpts during the shooting of the film

“An exceptional film, both spectacular and intimate, with a magnitude and force  believed  to  be  lost;  an  action  film,  of  emotions  and  ideas, who’s beauty  takes  your  breath  away  and  should  make  it  travel  across  the globe…” – Le Figaro

Aleksandar Petrović about Migrations

Impossible Serbia

From conversations with Frederic Vitoux:

“Not only did Milos Tsernianski write in MIGRATIONS the most important piece  of  Serbian  literature,  but  surely  one  of  the most  powerful  of  the century,  on  par  with  THE  MASTER  AND  MARGARITA.  The  director Alexander Petrovic, who  in  the  past  triumphed at Cannes with  I EVEN MET HAPPY GYPSIES, could  talk  for hours with  the same enthusiasm. He  will  achieve,  finally,  a  thirty  year  old  dream:  adapt  MIGRATIONS cinematographically  in a Franco-Serbian coproduction nine months  into filming and who’s first showing is scheduled for next April.
MIGRATIONS  is  the  great  novel  of  the  Serbian  diaspora  of  the  18th century.  For  three  years  the  Turks  have  occupied  Serbia  who’s populations  escaped  to  Austria.  Some  enlisted  in  the  army  of  the empress Maria-Teresa. Others became merchants or artisans. But  their belonging  to  the  orthodox  religion  created  obstacles  to  their  social integration  within  the  empire…  The  first  book  is  initially  poetic,  the lyricism amalgamated to history” says Petrovic. “Each chapter has a title that  resembles a  verse, and  this poetic  resonance  is broadcasted  from page  to page.  In  the second book,  the narration  is calmer and deeper. What mattered  in  the  first part was  the characters’ destinies. After  that, the vision  is extended. Each  individual’s destiny personifies  the destiny of  a  nation, which  in  turn  personifies  the  destiny  of  humanity… Serbs, those marginal people of Central Europe  shredded by history,  survived centuries in the illusion of the promise land. They went from west to east, they  believed  in  Austria  they  could  find  rest,  and  then  they  turned  to Russia.  In  the  end,  the  tragic  destiny  of  this  people  is  that  they  were looking  elsewhere  for  something  they  had  within  themselves.  For Tsernianski, death does not exist – only migrations do.”

With a magnitude and minutia that will leave you breathless, the author – a visionary of sorts – alternates between close-ups,  the most secretive, most  convulsive  palpitations  of  any  individual,  and  long  shots, with  the chaos  and  fracas  of  thousands  of  soldiers,  armies  and  marching populations, such as in long panoramic shots filmed on 70 mm film. And always  poetic  brilliance,  a  fantastic  climax  that  lights  up  the  scene. Petrovic confesses: “It  is  this  fantastique  that  I will develop  in  the  film.  It is  neither  external,  nor  artificial,  but  stems  from  the  characters’  and situations’ intimacy. I think of Daphina who has a vampire side, demonic, or of Pavlé with his unfathomable melancholy who, for me, is one of the most  beautiful  characters  in  literature…  Since  1957,  after  I  first  read Migrations,  I  wrote  to  Tsernanski,  then  I  met  him  in  London.  At  his return  to Belgrade we met  and  clarified  the  adaptation project. He had seen  “I  Even Met  Happy Gypsies”  which  took  place  in  Vojvodina,  the same setting as Migrations, and with  the melancholy of  the  landscapes that  drown  themselves  in  the Danube,  this  same  incurable melancholy that afflicts Pavlé,  the same one we maybe see more of  in Gypsies  that in ourselves but one that exists in every human.”

Alexander Petrovic knows: adapting MIGRATIONS is crazy. But is there not  already  craziness  in  this  book?  Along  with  the  tragic  bursts,  the metaphysical bursts, those big dreams that come crashing down?

LE NOUVEL OBSERVATEUR / LIVRES (1986) – Frédéric Vitoux


Throughout the history of a family, the epic of XVIII century Serbia. To free itself from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, this small population looks towards Russia. Time has divided this debate: however, not towards freedom, and not towards the Serbs.
A film is in preparation.
Here is already a large novel.

“It’s a book whose story can obviously not be told (however, the filmmaker Alexandar Petrovic will make a film out of it). Migrations simply brings out the world: villages, cottages, palaces, cities: multiple faces frozen by boredom, surprise or hatred; landscapes and rivers; everything starts at the Danube, every ends at the Dieper. The splendor of smells: the one that hangs above the farms during the early Autumn mornings; the smell of sweating horses and exhausted men; the smell of Viennese houses and palaces filled with women, divans and bouquets. All of this in a spiritual and desperate stampede. Tsernianski is a Melville haunted by Dostoyevski. It took ten years to finish the translation of Migrations. It will take less time for the novel to take its place amongst the masterpieces of slavic literature.
LE POINT (1986)

L’AGE D’HOMME publishes Migrations in 1986. The novel receives the AWARD FOR BEST FOREIGN NOVEL IN FRANCE.

Alexandre Petrovic shoots “MIGRATIONS”

A saga is becoming an extraordinary production

Extraordinary swamps of north Yugoslavia, lost villages of the 18th century, Moravian castles, these are some of the settings where Alexander Petrovic began filming “MIGRATIONS”, adapted from Milos Tsernianski’s saga. Men and horses participate actively: many actors for a spectacular filming with two destinations: a full feature film on the first part of the novel, and a television series of six episodes for the second.

“I am someone who has always thought that Migrations was a major work, says Petrovic. And I’ve always really wanted to bring it to a screen, first of all because it is a wonderful story whose heroes are marginalized from central Europe in the 18th century – and marginalized people are always interesting. Second of all, I find that it is very relevant, there is a striking parallelism between this time and our own, the times of Migrations and brewing, when the old laws have fallen into disuse without the appearance of new laws; when values have been lost and when people live in disorder and lack of discipline, looking for something that hasn’t yet been born. It’s this need for change and this confusion of big moments of change that I’m looking to express all the while keeping the rhapsody of the writer.”

The director of I even met happy gypsies brings in his new cinematic adventure Isabelle Huppert, Richard Berry and Avtandil Maharadze (georgian actor of Repentance) who form the central trio of the story. A serbian mercenary, Vuk Isakovic (Maharadze) goes to fight in the ranks of the Austrian army, leaving his young wife (Huppert) with his brother Archange (Berry), who burns with passion for her. They are joined by Bernard Blier, Jean-Pierre Cassel, Marina Vlady, Christine Laurent, many French and Yugoslavian actors in this epic saga whose most minor originality is to not have an original French version…” LE FIGARO (1987) – Marie-Noëlle Tranchant

Petrovic films “MIGRATIONS”

With Isabelle Huppert and Richard Berry, he reconstitutes an episode
in the Serbian adventure of the 18th century

Springing onto his horse, an officer in a white cape and three-cornered black hat traces a fiery diagonal in the autumnal garden of this 17th century palace in old Zagreb. The heavy double-paned gate opens in front of a noisy harness whose coachman is accompanied by a valet presenting the effigy of a saint as an offering. In the back, enigmatic like a Van des Weyden portrait, her skin pale under her twisted braids and venetian blonde locks that frame her delicate face, protected by a large satin grey coat hemmed with white fur: Isabelle Huppert. Next to her, Richard Berry, hair pulled back and elongated on his neck with a “rat’s tail”, dressed in black, who provokes some chaos as he throws coins to a hoard of shabby beggars, half naked children that fight to pick them up while dodging the dogs and donkeys. Monks with long robes and cylindrical hats shoo them, while elegant bourgeois dressed in 18th century clothing observe the scene.

Perched on his crane in the silent cold air, Alexander Petrović controls these astonishing tableaux. Where another director would see a simple passing of carriages, he makes many actions meet that will feed the narrative with meaning, emotion, beauty and lyricism. With him, love and faith, politics and economics, the need for action and for dreams, the madness of men and the indecipherable mystery of destiny concretely weave the weft of Migrations, this historical fresco written by the Serbian writer Milos Tsernianski.

“With  this  film,  cinema  reminds  itself  that  it  encompasses  all  the  other  art forms”,  Isabelle  Huppert  tells  me  during  a  break.  After  the  United  States, Australia, Poland  and  Italy,  her  “image”  is  constantly  remade.  “But  being  an actress, it’s being in a state of strangeness”, she notes. “And acting, it’s trying to escape  from yourself. Daphina,  that  I play: her husband, Vouk  (played by the  Georgian  legend  Avtandil  Maharadze,  who  made  his  break  in “Repentance”),  a  Serbian  mercenary  who  went  to  war  in  1747  with  the Austrians,  left  her  with  their  children  to  his  brother  Archange,  played  by Richard Berry. But Archange, who already secretly  loved Daphina, brings her to a man  (that  is  the scene  that we  just  filmed)  to get her marriage annulled. Cursing her husband for having abandoned her, resisting to her brother-in-law, colliding  with  herself  and  others,  Daphina  is  in  permanent  conflict.  But  I’m feeling well  in  touch with her  troubles, because  like Daphina at  the beginning of the film, I am pregnant…”

More  mysteriously  beautiful  than  ever,  Richard  Berry  doesn’t  often  play Casanovas…  “If Archange  shakes  the  skies and  the earth,  it’s because with this wild love and pain, he discovers the ability to surpass himself. It’s possible because with Petrović, everything is Baroque, over-sized. He uses everything that is possible for him, down to the dregs. He  is  the master of  this work at every  level. This time, the admiration that I have for a filmmaker is rewarding. I can day dream with this ambiguous Archange. I’m enjoying participating in an  exceptional  film,  at  once  spectacular  and  intimate,  of  a  scale  and force that we thought was  lost, a film of action, emotion and  ideas. And on top of that, breathtakingly beautiful, which makes it a full package…”
In the effervescence of the preparation of the next step, Petrović walks slowly with his head down. But on his way, he caresses a horse’s nose, to thank it for its’ participation.

“We must give back  to  cinema  its’  real dimension, he  says,  to  attain  a level of spectacle for the soul as well as for the eyes.”
LE FIGARO (1987) – Gilbert Guez. 

Isabelle Huppert shoots MIGRATIONS by Alexandar Petrović in Yugoslavia…

Isabelle Huppert

Isabelle Huppert shoots MIGRATIONS by Alexandar Petrović in Yugoslavia

Isabelle  is  all  sensibility  and  all  passion.  Alexandar Petrović did not make a mistake. He trusted her with a superb role in his film next to Richard Berry. She plays the  wife  of  a mercenary  engaged  in  the  wars  of  the 18th  century.  A  grandiose  fresco  that  is  being  filmed right now in Yugoslavia…”
VOICI (1988) Stéphane Singlard

 “…  With  a  team  of  280  international  actors,  the  Franco-Yugoslavian production  is  based  on  an  epic  novel  that  won  the  Best  Foreign  Novel  in France  in 1986. The historical saga on  two generations of Serbian emigrants in  the  18th  century,  that  incorporates  numerous  battles  and  love  stories,  is imagined  as  a  production  that  will  last  for  2  years  for  a  feature  film  and  a television series of six episodes. The director, Petrović, who was nominated at the  Oscars  for  his  war  film  TRI  and  I  EVEN  MET  HAPPY  GYPSIES,  had political troubles in Yugoslavia, but now he is back, in a climate of “new looks,” reuniting stars of French cinema and the soviet sensation Maharadze…
The Director of photography  Igor Luther, a gem of an artist,  is already known for his work in Volker Schlödorff’s “The Drum”.

FILM AND FILMING (Great Britain) 1987 – John Helford


Comments collected by Boro Draskovic – “POLITIKA” during the filming of MIGRATIONS in 1987 in Yugoslavia:

Richard Berry

Richard Berry on Alexander Petrović – Sacha

“…  I  love  the way  that Sacha Petrović  understands  everything,  sees  and  is capable of  talking about  the  rosary  you hold,  the  ring,  the  socks,  the pocket you  will  need…  just  as  much  as  he  can  talk  about  the  movement  of  the camera, the lighting, the food that we will eat… I think that  I have never met any  director  like  him…  He  is  brilliant.  Completely  open  to  people,  he knows how  to gain  the  respect and  the  trust of his collaborators,  those of the actors including mine…”

Igor Luther (director of photography) talks about Alexander Petrović

“… Sacha Petrović has inspiration and a lot of hope that we are going to make a valuable film, the one that everyone wants to see… I really love the style that is  not  narrative,  and  the  fact  that  Sacha  has  an  objective  approach  on  the theme of Migrations, not simply exposing the images and the historical facts. The  filming  of  Migrations,  is  an  enterprise  of  great  importance  and exceptional  scale,  with  the  permanent  change  of  faces,  landscapes  and seasons. This enchants me. I’m very happy…”

Isabelle Huppert shoots MIGRATIONS by Alexandar Petrović in Yugoslavia…

Isabelle Huppert shoots MIGRATIONS by Alexandar Petrović in Yugoslavia…

Story of a confiscated film

Who will free “Migrations”

Petrović’s film is imprisoned in Clamart

At the back of a film lab in Clamart, an exceptional film that audiences are not allowed to see has been housing for five months. The reason for this imposed clandestinity:  murky  conflicts  between  producers  and  financiers-  discrete maneuvers to slow down the process by the Yugoslavian administration. All of this stupid enough  to cry over, except  for  the  lawyers, who are probably quite proud of themselves.
Title  of  the  film:  Migrations.  Director:  Aleksandar  Petrović.  Actors:  Isabelle Huppert, Richard Berry, Bernard Blier, etc. A black and red story filmed on the edge of the Danube. Horses, mud and blood. Violence without the significance of war. The drama of a dominated people. On this background, a passion both pretty and sad like the long clouds above the river.
Migrations is a large novel. The story of its birth is itself a grey and gold epic. Its author, Milos Tsernianski,  is born  in Serbia  in 1893.  In August 1914, he  is drafted into the Austrian army: mercenary. He will be forced to fight against his own  country.  Migrations  comes  directly  out  of  this  morally  insufferable situation.  In  1929,  he  writes  and  finishes  his  novel.  In  1941,  he  flees  the occupation  of Belgrade  and  goes  to  London. To  survive,  he works  ten  jobs: driver, waiter, employee… He doesn’t complain.  In 1949, he starts writing  the second  part  of  his  book.  It  is  published  in  1963.  It  is  an  instant  success. Tsernianski  returns  to Belgrade. Around 1975, he  learns  that he  is sick. Two years later, he dies; some say that he let himself die.
The  story  continues.  In  1986, Migrations  comes  out  in  French  published  by L’Age  d’Homme. Newfound  surprise  in  front  of  this  book.  In Yugoslavia,  the book  is  still  relevant.  It’s  then  that Aleksandar Petrović  decides  to  bring  this huge machine to the screen.

Curious destiny

Objective: a two-hour film covering the first volume. Then six hours for the rest of the book, on the small screen. Isabelle Huppert and Richard Berry have the roles  of  the  cursed  lovers.  Filming  lasts  during  a  little  less  than  a  year  in Yugoslavia  and Czechoslovakia. The  film  is  finished. Unfortunately,  for  now, this  monument  stays  a  legend.  The  river,  the  horses,  the  Austrians,  the mercenaries and the lovers rest in traditional round tin boxes.
Curious  destiny.  As  if  the  curse  that  followed  the  novel  for  years  keeping  it from  being  published  now  falls  onto  the  film.  But  the  theme  seems  banal. Marie-Theresa, empress of Austria  (18th century) wants war with  the French before going after the Prussians: music, uniforms and fantasy. The dead don’t count  for anything. Marie-Theresa expedites  the Serbs  in  front of  the canons
because for her, they are not exactly human. Yet they are ready to do anything to reclaim a parcel of independence. They of course fail and their descendants will  choose  exile  towards  the  country  of  freedom:  Russia.  Unfortunately  for them, Russia is an ocean in which all will drown.
On  this  theme,  two  screenwriters,  Aleksandar  Petrović  and  Jacques Doniol-Valcroze (for whom this will be one of his last works) create a tragic story that closely follows the novel. Who will create the sumptuous baroque images and the parallel hopelessness of these lives?
We would like to understand why this spectacular film is not allowed to see the light of day. If it’s a money question, it would be reasonable to offer this to the attention of  the spectators. After all,  it  is  them and only  them  that pay  to see, admire  and  dream. The  eternal merchants  of Venice would  finally  earn  their pound of flesh.

Georges SUFFERT. LE FIGARO. November 16 1989

The Directors Fortnight in Cannes

Migrations was part of the program of the Directors Fortnight in Cannes in May 1994.  The  poster  and  the  press  book  were  ready.  Unfortunately,  for murky reasons, the co-producers prevented its distribution, and Petrović, at this time between life and death at the hospital, could not intervene. The film was never shown at Cannes.

migrations 1 migrations 2

Quote from press book:
“… Petrović has  created a  lyrical  fresco of  stupefying  force. A  sort of  roman apocalyptic  torrent  takes  the characters  in  the chaos of battles and atrocities, in  the melancholy  of massacred  hopes  and  desperate  loves.  The  immense talent  of  the  director  of  “I  even  met  happy  gypsies,”  “The  Master  and Margarita”  and  “Group  Portrait  with  a  Lady”  was  needed  to  bring  to  this magnificently crazy and audacious enterprise.  It  is a grand cosmic  film  full of noise and fury.” Jacques Doniol-Valcroze.


Le Monde 08/08/1991 – Jean-Michel Frodon


“How to still believe?”

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migrations 4

Isabelle Huppert shoots MIGRATIONS by Alexandar Petrović in Yugoslavia…

Isabelle Huppert shoots MIGRATIONS by Alexandar Petrović in Yugoslavia…

Le Figaro Magazine 04/10/1999 – Jean-Christophe Buisson

migrations 5

Balkans are Serbians crazy?

“Aleksandar Petrović: gone since five years, this director left three major films. I  even  met  happy  gypsies,  grand  Jury  Prize  at  Cannes  in  1967,  a  brilliant adaptation of The Master and Margarita by Boulgakov, and namely Migrations, inspired  by  Tsernianski’s  novel,  with  Richard  Berry,  Isabelle  Huppert  and Bernard Blier. A 1989 film curiously still unknown in France.


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