Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Damnation, Bela Tarr, Hungary (1988).

Bela Tarr, Damnation, Hungary (1988).

The majority of scenes in Damnation take place at night and in the rain. This choice of setting marks the mood of melancholy and the depressing character of Bela Tarr’s minimal plot. Also appropriate to the air of loneliness and dejection is the film’s form. Tarr shot Damnation with an incredibly beautiful stylization of camera work. Shots are very long, and the pans and dolly work that characterizes much of the visuals are very slow. The camera lingers over very little action for prolonged periods of time. The form compliments the mood in that the stylized and dramatized beauty of the camera work imbues the pro-filmic content with a feeling of great and forlorn melancholy, in its slow, contemplativeness and, at times, total lack of action or plot development.
There are just as many scenes in Damnation that (barely) push the narrative or give clues of the plot as there are long takes that seem to be totally unrelated to the story. The plot is discerned obliquely, at best, and is displaced from its traditional centrality. Causality, motives and insight in terms of characters and narrative are totally absent and when there is dialogue or action, albeit absolutely minimal, the spectator is even denied the traditional construction between reverse and counter-shots which are conventionally employed to clarify. Instead everything that occurs throughout Damnation is interrupted and fractured by the beauty of its visuals.
Fate, destiny and misery are common topics of the dialogue but dialogue is scarce. Scenes are often marked by silence. When dialogue does occur it is completely unnaturalistic. It is often poetic and resembles dramatic soliloquies more than conversational speech. The abstract ideas that the spectator is encouraged to consider are appropriately presented through an abstraction of dialogue.
Equally as important as the characters is the world that they inhabit. Sometimes it seems that Tarr gives precedence to the setting over his characters, as they are not always readily recognizable within the frame but are instead often simply part of it, at best. The camera time and again focuses on abstract patterns such as rain, puddles walls and dirt. An extreme close up and slow dolly shot across a wall down which run drops of rain is intensely beautiful. The spectator is forces to focus in on these details of this world that Tarr has created, a world that becomes real and self contained within the frame of the screen and which we are compelled to take intent interest in. Such as at the end of the film when a character walks off the screen and the audience is left to linger over a vast and open, empty landscape of mud and rain. The desolation runs into and across the huge, uninterrupted landscape with only very minimal and slow motion of the camera. The details of this world and of form register with clarity against the silence of the plot.
As thin a the plot is it does deal with great themes of love, loss, betrayal, breakdown, age, depression and loneliness.
The form and lack of plot in Damnation have an effect on the sense of time. Time is stretched out and the movement, or often lack of movement, within the film gives its scenes and events a sense of timelessness. This timelessness works well with the long shots of vast, empty landscape, lack of occurrence and obliqueness of the plot. The relations among characters and their relationship with the landscape are also as oblique and difficult, both for them as well as for the spectator, as the abstraction of the plot. The timelessness affects them as well; the timelessness of their loneliness and the timelessness of their sadness.

The Wounds, Srdjan Dragojevic, Yugoslavia (1998).

Srdjan Dragojevic, The Wounds (Yugoslavia, 1998).

Dragojevic’s The Wounds is dedicated to post-Tito generations and, appropriately, the protagonist, Pinki, is born in 1980, the year Tito died. The film, though, deals with the post-war state of affairs in Serbia. The film portrays the gangster corruption that became such an explicit problem of the Slobodan Milosevic era. In the mid 90s Milosevic deliberately affected a state of hyper inflation to his own personal benefit and that of the gangster elite. Plunder fueled the gangster population, which had ties with the corrupt regime of the time, and the black market. The Wounds presents a picture of the effects that the decaying system had on the lives of those that grew up in such conditions. However, the film exaggerates and practically ridicules the lifestyles that the system bred, it doesn’t judge, or glorify them, which by its style creates an interesting dichotomy.
The Wounds in addition to portraying particular problems of post-war Serbian society also serves as testament to the increasing internationalization of filmmaking. The film is funded mostly with Western monies, its style is noticeably and deliberately Western and even in content it significantly quotes Western cultural motifs that serve to both highlight the Westernization of Serbia and also to exaggerate the main characters’ traits and behavior. Each of these elements is understood to be a reality as a direct effect of the fall of Communism. During Communism the state funded the arts, including film, and therefore money from the West was uncommon if not impossible. With the collapse of Communism the state no longer had the funds to support art and so the production of films began to depend on Western resources. The collapse of Communism also meant that the culture itself became more open to Western influence, in terms of financial as well as purely cultural currency. The Westernization of Serbia can be further understood as a result of the fall of Communism in that with the fall of Communism so too fell the values and beliefs that Communism had engendered the culture and society with. With the collapse of the sets of Communist values and belief systems the culture was left with a sort of void. This vacancy in the collective conscience is attempted to be substituted, in The Wounds, as one example, by the Western popular media image of masculine violence and dominance. The popular western imagery of masculinity as defined through domineering violence is exploited throughout The Wounds. The imagery has a dual effect by the reinforcement of the style by which it is represented. The film self-consciously employs a very Hollywood style which is coupled with the portrayal of the decay of Serbian society. The film portrays the youth of two teenage boys, Pinki and Svaba, as they grow up friends with a gangster, one of the very many that is alluded to throughout the film. Pinki’s father represents, to an extent, the older values of the society. Pinki though rejects everything that his parents are. In the presence of a failing and increasingly decaying society, Pinki sees the wealth and feared presence of the gangster neighbor and decides that he prefers to live life like him. Pinki and Svaba grow up being taught the gangster lifestyle by Ludi, the neighbor. Guns, drugs and the ill treatment of female characters are piece and parcel to the lifestyle. Dominance over everyone, often induced through the fear that guns create, is always a must for Pinki and Svaba. Constantly cussing and waving around their weapons the kids could remind the spectator of almost any popular Hollywood action-violence picture, centralized around the importance of the homo-erotic bond between male characters. However, in Hollywood films of the kind every effort is made on the part of the filmmaker to instill and solidify the unwavering, and convincing portrait of masculine power and “coolness.” In The Wounds Dragojevic does no such thing but instead keeps the reality of his characters conspicuously clear. No matter how macho-strong they pretend to act the truth remains that they are only kids. These two kids have the trappings and iconographies but none of the interiority or truth of the images that they try to imitate. Rather than seeming totally menacing or convincingly “cool” the two characters are absolutely ridiculous. The film reflects the penetration of American culture and the detrimental influence of the American popular media male image. The film presents these influences as contributing problems among many that the post-Tito society must face. The film asks its audience to think about Serbian culture and its condition after the Yugoslav wars. Money is practically worthless, gangsters are the only local authority and the children who are subjected to these harsh realities attach themselves to the literal implications that the penetration of Western culture presents. The brutality of growing up in a decaying society in The Wounds has given way to violence, male sadistic dominance and the continuous infliction of new, collective wounds again and again over the barely healed scars of the past.

Fuse, Pjer Zalica, Bosnia (2003).

Pjer Zalica, Fuse, Bosnia, 2003.

A poignant blend of tragedy and comedy, Zalica’s Fuse shows the weird and wrongful state of affairs in Bosnia in the wake of the Yugoslav break-up wars. The film depicts the divisions among the different ethnicities that now must find a way to live together.
In the nervous, preparatory confusion leading up to a visit from US president Bill Clinton, a small Bosnian town must clean up their act in order to show the façade of a place worthy enough to be graced by the presence of an American president. Their goal is to show the great progress that has been made in the relative peace that has followed the horrible wars. The officials that are assigned to survey and take note of the progress of the town are shown to be ignorant to the obstacles and problems that Bosnia is faced with and must suddenly scramble to overcome. When the officials are visiting the townspeople with the mayor, the question about whether or not the people have or will have jobs soon, as though having a job were a matter of fact. The mayor responds that no one has jobs, that it is a reality of the economical situation and that the government is working for a solution. In addition, many of the townspeople are actually paid stand-ins from a neighboring city, put in place to give the impression that the different ethnicities now live in harmony, illuminating the absurdity of the situation that the pressure from the West has imposed.
The real problems that the Bosnian town seeks to polish over and conceal are the more serious realities of a prostitution ring and drug trafficking. The prostitutes must be swept away so that they are not seen by the officials, and the drug dealing is covered over. Furthermore, the local police put itself through rigorous reorganization to try and prove that they will be capable of protecting the president when he visits fro a speech. Part of the reorganization is to throw piles of documents out of windows in nervous hassle just ahead of the officials’ entrance.
All of the preparation that the police go through, as ordered from above, proves to be in vain. The officials inform them that they will have nothing to do with the protection of the president and are actually instructed to not even come close to Clinton but that he will arrive with his own private protection. This reality reveals an even deeper and sadder extent of absurdity in that the entire prospect of the president’s visit is predicated upon his confidence in, good will and respect toward Bosnia which turns out to be as much of an artifice as the façade that the town is trying to show off to the officials. The reality of the situation is that the visit is only happening in as afar as it is beneficial to the president himself, and any benefit that it might propose for Bosnia is disregarded.
The dynamics within the ethnically-mixed fire fighter squad, of which one of the main characters is a part, is another focal point of interest. Though one of the members, the main character’s friend and colleague, is appalled by the idea of needing to work along side a couple of Serbians, he has little choice in the matter. The ethnic mixing of the fire fighter squad is part of the façade of peace and brotherly harmony that the town’s government wants to show the visiting Americans, and by extension, as they assume, the world. They want to prove that post war Bosnia is cultured and civilized. By the end of the film, in the face of tragedy, the four members come together in mutual grief for the suicide of the protagonist’s father.
Such as in the case of the mentally instable father, the film is punctuated throughout with instances of grim reality between the long comedic sequences. One of the reasons that the film works so well is that the problems and concerns that the town faces, in how it learns about itself and its inner dynamics, though they often are of corruption, are stretched to the limits of absurdity. The diverse, and bizarre problems that the town attempts to disguise are given a sense of unity among one another through this brand of satirical comedy, as did Peter Bacso in The Witness though Bacso’s was more extreme. In the case of Fuse Zalica didn’t want the humor to totally detract from the seriousness of the issues. Such is the tragic appeal of the mine that wounds the protagonist’s love interest early in the film, as well as the father’s depression and delusions.
The father has never gotten over the fact that his older son was killed during the war. Throughout the film he believes that he sees and talks to his son. He also demands from the authorities that they work to rescue the children that are still POWs or dead on enemy grounds. At the end of the film when it is discovered that the dead son did not die at war at all, but was killed by a local gangster, the father falls even deeper into his delusional depression. Finally, at the end as Clinton’s motorcade is approaching the center of town where he is set to deliver his speech, the father commits suicide by leaking gas into his house and lighting a cigarette. The house explodfes with a terrible sound. Clinton’s secret police are frightened and they scatter, taking Clinton’s limo away in nervous escape. The father’s living son is a fire fighter and so as he makes his way toward the smoke, in a moment of intense realization, he sees that it was his own house, where his father was, that had exploded. In front of the shell of his home, in the only moment of anger that he reveals throughout the entire film, the protagonist punches the mayor for not caring. As he grieves, his fellow co-fire fighters gather around him and hug. There is no tension in this tender image of grieving between the Bosnian and Serb workers, only human compassion.
Fuse seems to suggest that the greatest problems that remain for Bosnia in the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars are the lingering effects of those very wars. The bombs, whether landmines infields or insanity in people, that remain along with the aftershock pain that is still associated with the horror of those wars. The film sees these as the far more significant issues, as oppose to the political games that so many try to play with the world powers of the West, such as is depicted in this film where it is rendered absurd and meaningless. For Fuse the real issues for Bosnia and Serbia are those intangible scars of the past, and the effects that still exist, often ignored, from them.

The Oak, Lucian Pintilie, (Romania, 1992).

Lucian Pintilie, The Oak, Romania (1992).

Lucian Pintilie was a rather successful theatre director in France before returning to Romania after the end of Communism when he returned to his original artistic medium of filmmaking. In The Oak of 1992 Pintilie’s interests in the unique possibilities of the cinema, as oppose to, and as a result, of coming out of a predominantly theatrical background, are apparent in that he readily experiments with ideas that are fundamental and unique to film.
Pintilie’s filmmaking interests which are most readily apparent in The Oak are related to the defining characteristic of the cinema: the moving image. Pintilie’s play with the moving image, as juxtaposed to the still images of photography, is interwoven within the narrative of The Oak. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the moving to the still image is set against a number of dualities which the narrative revolves and develops around. As a filmmaker who had been denied his opportunity to work within his medium of choice, because of effects and realities of censorship working within Communist Romania, Pintilie finally gets his opportunity in The Oak. The film’s first shot is of a projector showing home movies. The oak begins as a film showing a film. The home movie is of the protagonist’s childhood. She is shown as a child playing with a gun. The scene is one of “play-massacre” as she runs around with the gun and everyone in the room pretends to be killed as she giggles. The home movie seems to be one of better times and less worry. Upon its finish the spectator learns that the protagonist is caring for her sick father. The first scene depicts her as very depressed, locked away within her small, dirty apartment. She appears broken down as she drags herself around the room only to discover that her father has died, lying there on the couch from which they watched the home movie. This opening scene already well establishes some of the film’s biggest concerns and overriding themes. The projector as the defining characteristic of the cinema, for one, which is throughout the rest of the film replaced by the protagonist’s still-photography camera which she seems to carry around everywhere she goes. The home video also helps establish a conflicting juxtaposition between the carefree and happy days of childhood which it depicts, set against the dark and embittered, stark reality of the present, that is adult consciousness.
The idea of the image of the cinema is lingered upon throughout the film. The camera that the protagonist carries around with her, in effect, creates still images of things that were just moving. The camera is a Polaroid, so her photos are actualized immediately. The contrast between the moving image (within the film) of the thing that she photographs and the stillness of the Polaroid both highlights the inherent interest in the cinema that the film formally portrays, and underlines significant concerns that the film evokes. A cow in a field that was just alive is photographed after being killed by military training bombing. The protagonist shows the image of the dead, motionless cow to a soldier who was involved in the bombing and he is visibly moved. The protagonist also shoots a photo of her dead father, who had presumably been alive, though ill, in the moments just leading up to the film’s start. The moving as compared to still image, makes the things that the film depicts all the more powerful.
The duality between different kinds of images is one that is woven within that plot and set against a number of other dualities that the film evokes. The photos often highlight the juxtaposition of life against death, and the opening home video exhibition underlines the deep difference between the protagonist’s childhood and adult moods. The dualities are often negative, and appropriately attached to the film’s bleak perspective on life. The film presents a strong dichotomy between village/country side and city as well as between nature and industry. The countryside seems more carefree and less frustrated, though apparently not too distant from the stress and polluted anxiety of the city. Likewise, the countryside is viewed as plentiful by the city peoples although the peasantry claims their own poor fortune and lack of life’s necessities. Likewise, the picnic that the two main characters share in a field, in nature, just outside the city is at a setting that overlooks a large and ugly, polluting factory. The lush green hills and trees are set against the factory, and suddenly disastrously and brutally interrupted by a military air strike. These dualities can be compared to the protagonist’s more personal conflict, related to her father’s dual identity, as it is revealed to her by her mother. This man who she had been living with and taking care of and loving dearly turns out to have been nothing like what she had thought him to be. During much of the film she talks highly about her father, his tenderness, caring devotion and great courage. The mother reveals though that he was actually a heartless, selfish, angry, mean, and cowardly man. The one thing that the protagonist had been holding onto as a shred of hope and justice in a world that seems increasingly rotten at every turn is in that scene also brutally undermined. The truth about the father is related to the truth about the society that the film depicts.
The film cuts randomly and rapidly from scene to scene, often with very little if any relativity. It is a film of fragments and disjunction, just like the socio-political structure that it portrays. Nothing works properly and everything seems to be falling apart. Everyone is bitter and life is shown as a series of random, meaningless instances of chaos and brutality.
Moreover, The Oak is peppered throughout with the sense of random chance. Things just happen and are always presented with suddenness and apparent randomness, as if each event just as well might not have happened at all, ala Bazin on Vitorio de Sica. This sense of randomness is appropriately coupled with quick and sudden film editing language of the cuts between scenes. The scenes, events and cuts all seem to come almost out of nowhere, as if by chance. This all gives the film’s portrayal of societal decay and dysfunctionality a greater force in that it makes the society’s dysfunction seem like a perverse kind of normality.
Finally, the film’s arguably most significant duality is that which is related to normality. Dysfunction and brutality for these protagonists have become a sort of normality, especially because of the random chance and non-linearity with which they are imbued. The main character is a psychologist that works with “special,” or “gifted” kids at a city school. She refers to them a gifted, as though there is something special about them in a very positive sense. The bizarre tragedy of the kids is that she also talks about how they are teased and abused by the other kids, the normal kids. The notion of normality in the case of the kids is presented as a definite negative. This idea is associated with the final scene’s sequence of murder when the authorities shoot up a school bus full of criminals and their child-hostages. The children become casualties of the necessity to remove the criminal threat. The policeman who is in charge and receives the order is hesitant and upset about the decision, but it is an example of how a brutality as the means toward an understood ends can overtime become normal protocol.
The duality of the normal vs. “the other” in terms of people is probably best exemplified in the film’s final statement. The two main characters sit under a tree and discuss the possibility of having a baby. The man says that the child had better be either a genius or an idiot, because if he’s “normal, I’ll kill him with my own hands.” This sequence comes right on the heels of the school bus massacre, the film’s scene of greatest injustice and brutality. When the norm is one of dysfunction and brutality and the natural state of affairs is one of disastrous consequence, it instills in people the suspicion of anything resembling the normality that they have come o know. Moreover, and more significantly unjust, the murderously disastrous state of affairs gives people the fear to bring children into the world, the fear of subjecting children to the injustices of the world, the fear that they may become a part of the brutal abuse that is evermore becoming “normal.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

My Twentieth Century, Ildiko Enyedi, Hungary (1989).

Ildiko Enyedi, My Twentieth Century (Hungary, 1989).

My Twentieth Century mixes naturalism with anti-naturalism as much as it mixes historical fact with fantasy. The film is about the transition into the twentieth century and it skips around as much temporally as it does geographically.
The film presents the spectator with the world at the turn of the century and represents the promise that the new century held at the time, especially in the West. The spectator is given sequences, throughout the film, showing several of the greatest and most promising technological advances of the time. Electricity, in the figure of Edison and in the image of light, the telegraph, the phonograph and film are in My Twentieth Century depicted and heralded as the approach of a great new age. Each of these new inventions, and especially collectively, made the world excited with dreams of the possibilities for development and advance of humanity that the Twentieth century seemed to propose. The reality of the world, though, is that the Twentieth century did not as it turned out fulfill any of the great promises and dreams that seemed so possible at its onset. Instead horror, especially in the shape of war, would mark and scar the world, by far, much more than any technology would create progress or happiness.
The film is shot beautifully in black and white through which, in part, it makes many allusions throughout to the silent era of filmmaking. The silent era was the first major era for the film industry and in it many people saw this new art form as an art of the people. As much excitement and promise that the technology presented, so too did the advent of the new art form of film. However, the promise and excitement of film as an art for the people, that could unite and restore justice to the masses, was like the promise of the new technology, never to be realized. Instead it turned out for many to do a bitter opposite. Fascist regimes employed and manipulated film to serve their own cruel ends. Fascist Italy as well as Nazi Germany caught on quick that film could be used powerfully as propaganda. Film lent itself to the manipulative lies of these terrible regimes more appropriately and forcefully than arguably any previous method ever had. Far from fulfilling its promise of something wonderful, for many intellectuals of the time film became the bitter and malicious opposite of all the great that it could have been. People like Walter Benjamin were made terribly disillusioned and never looked back on the art medium of film the same way at all. My Twentieth Century in alluding to the silent era makes the connection deliberately clear – the early days of film came to represent promises unfulfilled much as did technology at large. All the wonderful advancements became tools of the murderous war machine that ravaged much of the world during the first half of the twentieth century.
The narrative, in terms of characters, is elusive. The first and final scenes mirror one another. They are each of a woman giving birth to twins, seemingly miraculously. She lies in bed holding one baby, and seemingly surprised pulls another out from under her skirt. The scene has the feel of something miraculous. Much of the rest of the film, though, seems intent on turning its back on scenes of joy such as this one. Nonetheless, the appearance is always one of beauty. Scenes depicting light shows to exhibit the new invention are depicted in a very high contrast. The large bulbs burn brightly and magnificently in the dark of night. The narrative follows the lives of the twins which turn out to be totally opposed to one another. The twins are separated by two strange men at a very early age. One grows up to be poor, timid and a political revolutionary. The other becomes wealthy and very eroticized. Dualities such as this central one run throughout the film. One girl represents innocence and humility and strives for women’s equality while the other represents exploited, sexualized allure, practically hustling wealthy men for their money. These opposed dualities work well with the high contrast black and white of many scenes, the contrast between naturalism and anti-naturalism and the desperate opposition between the promise that the Twentieth century presented at its birth and the reality of what it would become. Also appropriately, the film ends just before the horror begins.

Lunacy, Jan Svankmajer, Czech Republic (2005).

Jan Svankmajer, Lunacy (Czech Republic, 2005).

Lunacy deals most significantly with dualities of mind and body, anarchistic liberty and severe punishment, and, formally, stop motion animation and live action.
Jean is the protagonist and witness to the two extreme forms of social order that the film diametrically opposes. They are witnessed most fully in the insane asylum. The Marquis and Murlloppe run the insane asylum as a practice in total liberation and freedom. Anyone can do whatever anyone wants at any time. Later in the film it is learned that the Marquis and Murlloppe came into power only after revolting against the real Drs and locking them up in cells in the basement of the asylum. When the real Drs escape their imprisonment with the aid of Jean they show the other extreme order of rule. They believe in strict order and severe physical punishment. They believe that in order to cure the mind the body must be punished. Physical abuse to a mentally ill individual returns harmony to the individual. Thus is tied in the film’s constant dialectic between body and mind.
The interesting fact each form of rule is that they inevitably lead to similar harm. Total liberty without any restrictions at all inevitably means that people eventually begin taking advantage of one another, abusing each other. The more powerful of the group take control over the weaker and submit them to whatever they like. Such as does the Marquis in his bizarre rituals that seem to involve rape and physical indulgence. The other side of the token is upfront with its sadomasochistic intent. Strict order, control and severe punishment in the form of beatings and bodily mutilations seem outright fascistic in all its sadistic indulgence. Although each thing seems like an opposite of the other, they cause the same effect. The film suggests this through its action, explicitly. This leads one to suggest that the film may also be saying something very similar about body and mind as well as sanity and insanity. Western culture is engrained with the idea that the body is totally different and separate from the mind. However, there have been many challenges to the enveloping assurance of this notion and Lunacy seems to participate in its critique. The popular belief is not always the right.
Likewise the film also intercuts, from scene to scene, between live action and animation. The animation is stop motion and therefore deliberately artificial looking. Its artificiality makes it all the creepier for what is constantly animated into motion is dead, raw meat. The meat crawls and moves around and even often mimics the action of the previous scene. Complete artificiality of animation as juxtaposed with live action beckons the question of what exactly is the fundamental difference between reality and representation. The live meat of the animation sequences is rarely identifiable as body parts, but when it is one can often discern eye balls and tongues. Two of the thirteen corporeal punishments that the Drs impose on their patients that the spectator is treated to the sight of are the removal of eyes and the removal of the tongue. The meat then seems somehow connected with the severity of the punishment.
The animation sections don’t advance the plot at all, but do make the often disturbing nature of the plot all the more so. The animation and the plot independently are not really too creepy or disturbing, but when they are interwoven and coupled so brilliantly as in Lunacy then each makes the other far more creepier and oddly disturbing.

No Man's Land, DanisTanovic, Bosnia (2001).

Danis Tanovic, No Man’s Land (Bosnia, 2001).

Danis Tanovic in No Man’s Land not unlike Underground aims to expose the absurdity of the Yugoslavian civil wars of the 1990s. However, No Man’s Land also incorporates the uselessness of the UN in the affair.
The UN is represented as totally ineffective and altogether unhelpful. Furthermore, the media circus that surrounded the war only interfered and made things far worse still. The peace troops only stand on the sidelines and observe, detached. Even in trying to resolve the situation of the soldiers stranded in a trench between lines, they get absolutely no good done at all but only, instead, aid the media in further interference and exploitation. Even worse, all three of the soldiers that they came to rescue die anyway.
The horrible situation that the film centers around, coupled with the remote uselessness of the people that it attracts, gives the overall effect of a powerfully bleak absurdism. This can be seen in that the two main soldiers, caught in the trench, represent the greater sides that are involved in the conflict. They hate each other and are mortal enemies and apparently do not even know why. All they can do is angrily ask each other why they started the war. They even share common backgrounds. They refer and allude to the life they used to have before the war and obviously long for it nostalgically. When one evokes the memory of a woman he used to know it turns out that the other also used to know her. For a moment they share a laugh. This is an indication of how close each side had lived to one another before the war. It is an allusion to the stark absurdity that things could ever get quite so bad. The lines, from each side, run back into their pasts, so close to one another. These two were so close to one another that they even knew the same girl, and now they want only to murder each other.
The uselessness of the UN peace troops is best illustrated in the only bit of music that is heard throughout the film. When the German mine expert arrives to try and save the man that can’t move for the mine beneath his body there suddenly starts a techno, electronica type song, actually resembling European, especially German, dance-techno music. However, the song seems to clash with the imagery, its up beat and dancy, but the situation is tense and slow moving. It is also surprising to the spectator because the film has no music in other scenes. In this moment it is quite alarming for it to suddenly begin. However, just as suddenly as it begins the audience learns that the music is diagetic, in fact emanating from the headphones that one of the UN troops is wearing. He suddenly has to remove them to listen to a superior. This sequence, short though it is, most powerfully illustrates the UNs absence from the situation at hand, their remoteness. Though they are physically present they don’t really have any care at all as to what is occurring.
Also interesting to mention is the contrast throughout the film of the long, peaceful, beautiful, panoramic nature shots of the natural landscape and the violent brutality of what is occurring within.

Underground, Emir Kusturika (Yugoslavia, 1995).

Emir Kusturica, Underground, Yugoslavia, 1995.

In Underground Kusturica has portrayed a long and sweeping encapsulation of the history of the former Yugoslavia over the Twentieth century.
The film represents WWII, the Communist era and the horrific civil wars which would ultimately tear Yugoslavia into 6 separate countries. Even with its very serious and ambitious subject matter, however, Underground hardly takes much of what it shows very seriously. Instead of focusing in on the important socio political aspects of the situations it depicts the film prefers to be very funny, boisterous and over the top with its characters fabulous partying and wild behavior. Even with this sort of façade, though, the film functions as a sort of allegory and ultimately creates very serious and pointed ideas about its ambitious subject matter.
During the first World War II part of the film Blacky and many others upon the bombing of Belgrade go underground to manufacture weapons secretly. Marko gives them to the partisans. During the Communist era Blacky and the many underground secret weapon manufacturers are deceived by Marko to go on believing that WWII never ended. Believing that they are still making weapons for the end of defeating the Nazis, to kick them out of Yugoslavia, they all remain underground and in hiding. Marko goes on selling the weapons on the black market, in effect financing wars all around the world, and he becomes rich and an important Yugoslavian political leader. In their deception, Blacky and the others believe that they are making the weapons for a good cause, to defeat the Nazis. They instead are serving a Communist leader and supplying arms to all sorts of militaries round the globe. They are doing this blindly, and unknowingly provide Tito, still believing him to be their hero in the fight against the Nazis, with undying support, albeit blind support. This art of the film can very much be understood as a metaphor for the Communist era at large. Otherwise logical citizens are tricked into blindly supporting unjust totalitarian dictatorships. Even a character, a doctor, later in the film remarks that living under Communism was like living underground. A metaphor that can be further applied to the reality that most Communist countries of the period were totally cut off from the West, and much of the world, financially, economically and otherwise.
Though much of the film is quite content with exuberance and embraces over the top antics, humorously, there are a few sequences that stand out in stark contrast. Especially significant is the films final part, before the “heaven” scene, which represents the civil wars. Suddenly the spectator is treated to harsh and horrible reality. The sequence that ends with Ivan’s suicide is especially heart wrenching. The horrors of this civil war, in the film, don’t even compare to what is shown of WWII, or anything else for that matter. The civil war is represented far more forcefully, brutally and painfully. It is a if to say that the war that ended Yugoslavia as a country was a far more horrific ordeal than any other the country survived throughout the Twentieth century.
Moreover, Underground seeks to expose the absurdity of war. That war achieves no happiness for anyone involved and is a truly absurd and horrific thing that humans do to one another.

Provincial Actors, Agnieszka Holland (Poland, 1978).

Agnieszka Holland, Provincial Actors (Poland, 1978).

Holland’s Provincial Actors is a film that deliberately disorients the spectator in several different ways. The characters’ central concern throughout the film is that of a play which they are to produce. Although the play is talked about constantly throughout the film it is never shown. It is withheld and played down, but the overall sense is that the play is about Polish liberation. Films that usually deal with play production traditionally adhere to a certain formula. There is usually a lot of arguing and conflict during the period leading up to opening night, but the film generally ends in triumph when, despite all the fights and trouble, the play is put on as a success. However, in Provincial Actors the triumphant climax is denied and the audience is left with a great deal of fighting that ultimately amounts to a rather bleak ending. This is appropriate considering almost every other aspect of the film, including sub plots and form, also conveys an undeniably bleak if not altogether depressing energy.
The film is basically about a provincial actor, the protagonist, who, along with his wife and all the rest of the actors, work for a small, provincial theatre. As far as acting is concerned the theatre is basically a dead end, and yet although everyone is well aware of how bleak the future looks they do nothing to improve their situation. The protagonist is considered, especially by himself, the star actor of the company. He is generally treated as such, but it is apparent that he is destined to never amount to much. Furthermore, what seems like alcoholism coupled with his crumbling marriage have stricken him with a sort of self destructive depression. Nonetheless and to make matters worse for everyone involved, he is totally full of himself and his large ego portrays his notion of “star actor.”
The film’s form compliments its bleakness well. The music throughout is in opposition to the narrative and resultingly weird. A music that seems to signal eeriness or some sort of oncoming dramatic climax is never realized. Instead the music disorients the spectator as it sets one up to expect things that never come to pass. The greater part of the film is set indoor with medium shots, creating a sense of claustrophobia and fragmentation. The film also refuses the spectator any establishing shots, so each new scene is unfamiliar and seemingly disconnected. Such elements of traditional narrative are rejected so much so that even temporal relationships between scenes are obscured.
Coupled with the bizarre musical treatment all of these elements intensify the film’s overall sense of agony and tension.