Slobodan Sijan, Who is Singing Over There? (Yugoslavia, 1980)
This film begins on April 6, 1941. April 7, 1941 was the Nazi bombing of Belgrade. The film is about a journey, an excursion that through its incompetence reaches pilgrimage-esque levels of importance for the characters involved. Each has urgent and personally important reasons for needing to reach Belgrade, which seems ever more distant because of the host of obstacles that continuously present themselves throughout the journey.
The film is set in pre-communist Yugoslavia at the onset of WWII. The characters desire to reach Belgrade, but little do they know that the very following day to when their journey begins Belgrade is to be bombed and Yugoslavia is to be dragged into a terrible war. However, it is a comedy. The plot is constructed around character types, and the comedy is employed to reveal tensions and contradictions as an undercurrent to the official Yugoslavian rhetoric of Brotherhood and Unity. As such the film evokes real and important problems.
The tension and the revelation of problems are transformed from being a constant undercurrent throughout the film to an overt and arresting explosion near the end of the film. In an ugly display of overt and violent racism, near the end of the film every character, as a mob, attacks the two Gypsies. They accuse the Gypsies of stealing, though they have absolutely no proof and though the spectator knows from a previous scene that they are in reality innocent. This incident occurs upon reaching the film’s goal, Belgrade, but the violent assault of the two Gypsies is interrupted by a Nazi air strike upon the city. This entire scene has an effect of opposition against everything that had come before it. The film as a comedy invites the spectator to relate to the cast of characters who represent a cross section of contemporary social types. Every one seems more or less likeable, that is up until the film’s final scene.
The film also comments on the superimposed bureaucratic superstructure of the society. It is examined through the isolation of this set of characters from said society. The entire bus ride is just short of being entirely disastrous but nonetheless the bus driver absolutely insists on following the rules and forms that are meant to govern public transportation, no matter how ridiculous. The extent of exaggeration renders many of the film’s elements to be satirical, like in Bacso’s The Witness.
Another interesting theme throughout the film is the secondary function of the two Gypsy characters as a kind of chorus. They provide a refrain to which the film’s action always returns. They act like the chorus in Greek theatre. They always play the same song but change the lyrics to comment on the present action of the narrative. As Gypsies they are outsiders, and as outsiders they are most fit to comment on the current situation.