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.