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NewCityNet Film Tip of the Week

By Ray Pride

DECEMBER 8, 1997:  "All of Yugoslavia's dancing rock 'n' roll," the pounding song asserts about twenty-five minutes into Srdjan Dragojevic's horrifying, hilarious, bold, brutal, lyrical "Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (Lepa Sela Lepo Gore)." In that single, typically astonishing scene, the countryside's in flames, a soldier plays a video game in the darkness before columns of geysering gasoline flames, oblivious to an adversary writhing further into the black with more flames dancing over his back. With the kind of formal confidence that takes the breath away, "Pretty Village" announces itself as masterpiece material, and it may very well have hit the mark. Two boyhood friends, Milan, a Serb, and Halil, a Muslim, grow up near a "Brotherhood and Unity Tunnel" that was built to connect Belgrade and Zagreb. As children, they avoid the tunnel, fearing an "Ogre" trapped inside. As the story blasts forward, Milan and Halil will struggle to define, let alone contain, the ogre within. Welcome to former Yugoslavia. Or Bosnia. Or Hell. The land wants blood, and blood it shall have. Dragojevic's storytelling is non-linear, bouncing from shot to shot across the lives of Milan and Halil, and the $2 million film, the first commercial blockbuster in Serbia, is as pyrotechnic and absurd as "Apocalypse Now" and as black-humored as any of Kubrick's icy antiwar tales. Comparing Dragojevic's film to Emir Kusturica's glorious, battering "underground," some critics have found "Pretty Village" cold and cruel, but that's hardly the case. The storytelling is diamond-hard, diamond-sharp and passionately unsentimental. A Belgrade film critic, Goran Gocic, properly points out, "This is not Eastern European art-house stuff... This is real cinema." Prepare for a wallop.

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