(director/writer: Emir Kusturica; screenwriter: Dusan Kovacevic; cinematographer: Vilko Filac; editor: Branka Caperac; cast: Miki Manojlovic (Marko), Lazar Ristovski (Petar Popara (Blacky)), Mirjana Jokovic (Natalija); Runtime: 192; Ciby 2000/Pandora/Novo; 1995-Fr./Ger./Hun.)

“It’s a snoozer.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This rambling marathon in moviemaking, aspiring to be an epic, stumbles long before reaching the finish line. It’s a snoozer, erupting for a few electrifying scenes and going on for what seemed an eternity to tell the 50-years of Yugoslavian history by dividing it into 3 parts: 1) The German invasion in 1941. 2) The Cold War-Tito socialist state period. 3) The ethnic cleansing and war period in 1991.

The best scenes are the ones that featured the brass band marching raucously over the ruined landscape, for no particular reason. The band is used intermittently throughout. It woke me from my snooze each time, and gave life to a film that needed resuscitation by any means possible. A film that tried desperately to find humor in its madcap antics and absurd characterization of individuals, and heavy-handed political jibes.

The first part of the film is devoted to the friendship of two formidable con men, who each vie to out con the other. These parts are played by two fine actors: Miki Manojlovicis the Communist intellectual and later corrupt gunrunner. While Lazar Ristovskiis is the adventurer and risk taker. They both seduce the sexually active Mirjana. She plays an actress caught up in the wars and politics of the times. The most memorable scene in the first part is of the zoo bombed by the Nazis and the animals running free, which is too obviously used for symbolism.

Part 2 is where Miki out cons his friend Lazar and keeps him and his group locked up in a secure cellar, not telling them the war has ended a long time ago. Miki rises in power in the Tito peace-time government, and grows rich by selling weapons. All the deceptions and hypocrisies of the leaders are reiterated over and over, along with the filmmaker’s yearning for a unified country. This is done an unnecessary amount of times, as every image is a symbol of the same theme.

The most absurd scene from Part 2 is reserved for when a movie is being made about the dead national hero Lazar and he reappears in the flesh, just as the movie is being filmed.

Part 3 recaps the demise of Yugoslavia and the end of Tito’s era, where brother is killing brother. The U.N. is blamed for its inability to be useful in stopping the war.

What saved this film from being a total bomb was the excellent technical skills of the director and the robust performances from the two male leads–Miki Manojlovic and Lazar Ristovski. It looks as if the Balkans, having started the century with its ethnic conflicts, will end the century with its problems still not resolved.