Early Life & Career
Oja Kodar was born Olga Palinkaš, in 1941, in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia, to a Hungarian father and a Croatian mother.
In 1966, Kodar and her lover, American filmmaker Orson Welles, began shooting 'The Deep' on the Yugoslav coast. He had cast her in one of the lead roles in the project. It was an adaption of Charles Williams's novel 'Dead Calm.'
Welles wanted the film to be a commercially viable project. He worked on the film from 1966 to 1969, but the film got shelved due to financial and technical difficulties.
Decades later, Kodar blamed co-star Jeanne Moreau for the fate of the project. She said that Moreau had never wanted the film to be completed and had thus not dubbed her lines. On the other hand, film editor Mauro Bonanni claimed that it was Welles who had to abandon the project, as he had found Kodar ill-suited for her role.
Since the original negative of 'The Deep' was lost forever, one color and one black-and-white print, the only available versions, were later used by the 'Munich Film Museum' to create another version.
In 1970, Welles began shooting his experimental feature 'The Other Side of the Wind' (TOSOTW). Kodar claimed that she had co-written the screenplay of the project with Welles. However, the project first surfaced in the 1960s, when Welles planned to cast Keith Baxter and Anthony Perkins in the lead roles.
Welles had used elements such as the unconventional mockumentary style, a film-within-a-film narrative, with color and black-and-white footages that would have made the project "the Holy Grail of cinema," if it were released in its original form. The original cut included an intimate scene between Kodar and Bob Random in a station wagon.
Welles intermittently worked on the project throughout the 1970s, but it eventually got shelved due to legal, financial, and political issues. However, even after he died in 1985, several attempts were made to restart the unfinished project.
After a failed deal with producers Filip Jan Rymsza and Frank Marshall, 'Royal Road' received the rights of the film in 2014. The movie was completed under the direction of Bogdanovich and was produced by Marshall. The film premiered at the 75th 'Venice International Film Festival' on August 31, 2018. It was also released on 'Netflix' in November that year. Along with Kodar, the film starred John Huston, Bob Random, Peter Bogdanovich, and Susan Strasberg. The film received critical acclaim.
Kodar also co-wrote the 1973 free-form documentary 'F for Fake,' with Welles, though she remained uncredited as a writer. They also starred in the film (as themselves), alongside François Reichenbach, Elmyr de Hory, and Gary Graver. Initially released in 1974, the film included documented stories on Welles and Kodar's life as a couple. The film initially received negative reviews but eventually became a classic because of its exceptionally unique editing techniques.
In 1980, Kodar and Welles wrote the feature 'The Dreamers,' based on two of Karen Blixen's stories, 'The Dreamers’ and ‘Echoes.' She was cast in the lead role and had shot the test scenes in 1982. Unfortunately, the producers, 'Northstar Productions,' declined the project after reading the script.
The 'Munich Film Museum' later edited the footage and made it into a short film. The first segment of the footage portrayed Welles as a 19th-century Dutch Jewish merchant recounting the story of the Italian opera diva 'Pellegrina Leoni.' Kodar played 'Leoni' in the second segment, which was shot in color. Many of her sequences were shot outdoors, in the garden of Welles's home.
Kodar later recalled that Welles had contemplated casting Timothy Dalton, Peter Ustinov, Oliver Reed, Bud Cort, and Jeanne Moreau in the key roles. However, he primarily wanted younger and lesser-known British actors.
Three months after Welles's death, Australian producer George Miller bought the book rights of 'Dead Calm' from Kodar, for his 1989 film of the same name. Unfortunately, the contract was later canceled due to her issues with the producer.
Kodar's first film as a director, ‘Jaded,’ was released in 1989. She co-produced the film with cameramen Gary Graver (one of the cameramen of 'F for Fake'), who also worked as the director of photography. She also starred in the film alongside Randall Brady, Elizabeth Brooks, Scott Kaske, Jillian Kesner, and Kelli Maroney.
Under Kodar's supervision, Spanish filmmaker Jess Franco assembled unedited footage of Welles's film 'Don Quixote' and decided to release the film in 1992. The film received poor reviews. The project was initially supposed to be a TV movie for ‘CBS,’ titled 'Don Quixote Passes By,' a literal adaptation of the Miguel de Cervantes novel.
Kodar's second directorial venture was the 1993 war drama 'Vrijeme za...,' set against the backdrop of the 1991–1995 Croatian War. She is credited as the co-director and co-writer of the 1995 German–French documentary 'Orson Welles: The One-Man Band,' featuring a compilation of Welles's unused footage shot over the final 20 years of his career. The compilation also includes her interview in Orvilliers, France, where she and Welles shared a house.
Included on 'The Criterion Collection' DVD of 'F for Fake,' the documentary talked about Kodar and Welles's three unfinished films. It also presented the media reports that claimed that ‘TOSOTW’ was scheduled to release in 2008.
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Her Relationship with Welles
Kodar met Welles in 1961, on the sets of his film 'The Trial.' Back then, he was 46 and still married to his third wife, Paola Mori. Despite that, Welles was immediately drawn toward the much-younger Kodar. According to reports, when they met again in 1966, he gave her a letter that he had written after their first meet but had never posted.
The two soon began a relationship, and Welles gave Kodar her stage name, ''Oja Kodar,'' a combination of her nickname, ''Oja'' (given by her sister Nina), and the Croatian phrase "k' o dar" (meaning ''as a present").
Their relationship was made public in March 1970 and was immediately all over the Italian media. However, interestingly, Welles's third wife, Mori, had no idea about the affair until 1984. Welles, who was then working on 'Don Quixote,' was infuriated with the news and thus left Italy for good, returning to America.
In his final years, Welles spent time with Kodar at his Hollywood house. He also gave adequate time to Mori, who lived in Las Vegas.
Welles died on October 10, 1985, and Mori died 10 months later, in an accident while she was on her way to a meeting for the distribution of his property. His estate was distributed between Kodar, and his daughter with Mori, Beatrice Welles, on November 7, 1986.