Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Film Tip of the Week

By Ray Pride

FEBRUARY 9, 1998:  Emir Kusturica's bold, epic farce of the horrors of war through the last fifty years in the history of former Yugoslavia is, among other adjectives littering its notices, brilliant. While the politics seem to be purposefully muddied, every scene is bursting with music, jokes, outrageous behavior, drinking, sex, drinking and simple, elemental tragedy. "Underground" ("Podzemlje -- Bila jedom jedna zemlja"), winner of 1995's Cannes Palme d'Or, but only just recently available for American commercial distribution, is furiously inventive, overlong, overwrought, battering, mesmerizing, magical. Kusturica's political meanings are often obscure, even to his fellow former countrymen, causing a brouhaha so fierce in Serbia and Bosnia, as well as among dogmatic French intellectuals, that Kusturica briefly decided never to make a film again. (He's finishing a new one now.) From an outsider's perspective, accusations of treason do not make much sense. Instead, the massive project of Kusturica's convulsive, carnivalesque comedy seems to celebrate the vivacity of the survivor. "Underground" begins with a Felliniesque 1941 Luftwaffe bombing of Belgrade, including the extraordinary vision of the results of the bombing of the city zoo. We meet Marko and Blacky, two charismatic gangster-patriots. Blacky (Lazar Ristovski) is the force-of-nature national-hero type, unable to stop eating even as bombs burst over his head. Marko (the remarkably expressive Miki Manojlovic in one of the most physical comic performances in years) is the bureaucrat in paradise as the duo run guns, steal gold, get rich and long for the same woman, Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic). Marko designs an underground city for everyone to hide in; once the war is over, he lies to his compatriots, claiming the fighting still rages outside, while becoming one of Tito's right-hand men and keeping Natalija to himself. Kusturica's mournful, magical canvas may be the least boring three hours ever committed to film. (Ray Pride)


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