Apologies for being AWOL. In some months, the weeks leading up to my column deadline are just so chokka with movie-watching, I don’t get to do much else. And if they happen to also be full with family, friends and work-related commitments, something has to give and unfortunately, this blog ends up being the thing that goes.
I’m pretty sure there will never be an additional 4 hours a day, no matter how much I try to beg, borrow or steal them, so I must accept my limitations. And you must accept my acceptance. Unless I can lure someone down to NZ to help me out – Trailer Park Barbie, I think you might be the girl for the job! Let me know.
Now I’ve called this post Underground on account of my being “underground” for the last while, but also because one of the DVDs I reviewed this months was Emir Kusturica’s 1995, Palme d’Or winning, Underground. I was first introduced to Kusturica in the mid 90’s, one of my all-time favourite flicks, Arizona Dream, with Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis and Lili Taylor in a story that is somehow mostly about halibut, flying halibut… Okay, it’s mostly about love and despair and life being worth living and the little bits of magic that hold the hold the whole business together. And how, if you have no dreams, you will never survive, but if you let your dreams consume you – it’s a fate worse than death. Watching it, I think it was one of those moments when the universe was presenting me exactly what I needed to hear in the moment in exactly the way I needed to hear it. Something in my heart exploded in that hour and a half – it was that powerful. I doubt the same will happen to you, unless of course you are ready and waiting for it – but it’s still brilliant.
Even though Underground is Kusturica’s subsequent film, I haven’t come up on it until now – which makes me a very, very slack film critic, I admit. But before I castigate myself, I return to paragraph one of this missive, and I’m already behind on nearly everything, so I can’t be called to account for having not seen every single Palme d”or winning film ever. Can I? Having seen it now, let me share…
Blacky (Lazar Ristovski) and Marko (Miki Manojlovic) are a pair of crooks in WWII Belgrade, scamming whomever they can whilst Nazi bombs rain on their family dinners and lovemaking sessions. Blacky’s wife may be due to give birth any minute, but both of them hanker for lissom, blonde Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic). She, most mercenary of all, has taken up with a young German officer. They kidnap her, and as the city is decimated, scramble into hiding in a massive basement shelter beneath Marko’s house, along with their neighbours and extended family.
After a few weeks, Marko and Natalija return topside and seek out provisions for their party’s survival and continue to do so until the end of the war. And even then, they continue – for years, providing essentials – food, clothing, blankets, medicine, gun parts. Right through to the 1980’s. For more than 35 years, Blacky and their friends live underground, marrying, birthing and dying – while Marko and Natalija become fabulously wealthy gun runners, exploiting the ethnic hatreds that led to the destruction of Yugoslavia, churning the Balkan War. But one day Marko and his son can bear it no longer and determine to return to the surface and help defeat the Nazis once and for all.
This blackest of comedies took the 1995 Palme d’Or at Cannes and if its politics are partisan, the film-making is nearly perfect. It is clearly an allegory, depicting the years underground as the years Yugoslavia existed under Tito’s dictatorship – not necessarily unhappy or unduly hard, but isolated from the world. But with freedom came chaos, hatred and slaughter. Full of irony, and laced with small lashings of the magic realism eastern European filmmakers so often depend on to convey their unresolved angst over WWII – it’s a desperate ride through one of the world’s the most volatile regions – brimming with heartfelt passions enormous enough to drive love affairs, ambitions and war.