Sunday, October 13, 2013

898. UNDERGROUND (1995)

Running Time: 163 minutes
Directed By: Emir Kusturica
Written By: Dusan kovacevic, Emir Kusturica, from the novel Bila jednam jedna zemlja by Dusan Kovacevic and play Prolece u januaru by Dusan Kovacevic and Emir Kusturica
Main Cast: Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Jokovic, Slavko Stimac, Ernst Stotzner
Click here to view the trailer


As I finished "Underground" last night, I had a lot of thought swirling through my head. Unfortunately, I had to be up for work at seven o'clock this morning and didn't finish the movie until about 11:58 last night, therefore I had to turn in before I could come and share my experience with you all. Let's just say it weighed heavily on my mind all day today.

The film is so serious and so unique that writer/director Kusturica uses comedy to set-up what turns out to be a very bleak film. Your main characters are Mark Dren (Manojlovic), a leader of in the Communist party and his best friend Petar Popara a.k.a. Blacky (Ristovski), who, on what seems like a drunken whim, Marko talks into becoming a Communist just days before the Nazi's invade Yugoslavia (where the film is set and where our main characters are from). With air raids becoming a nightly inconvenience and the threat of the Nazi's looming, Marko sets up camp for his friends & family in the basement of his grandfather's house, which doubles as a bomb shelter. It also works as a place to store all the arms that he and Blacky are heisting from the Germans. While in the cellar, Blacky's wife gives birth to his son (although he also has a mistress, Natalija), Jovan and dies while doing so. Three years later and Blacky is a proud papa, while still mourning the loss of his wife, but still very excited about his future with Natalija (Jokovic). However, Natalija isn't as optimistic about a future with Blacky and instead opts to spend her days with Franz (Stotzner), a German. When Blacky and Marko have one too many drinks, they decide to kidnap Natalija and force her into marrying Blacky. However, before the nuptials can commence, the three are captured by the Germans (WWII still raging on) and Blacky is tortured. Meanwhile, Marko puts the moves on Natalija, all the while scheming to get Blacky out of the Germans' clutches. Once free, Blacky stows away in a trunk where he accidentally sets off a grenade, injuring himself severely. He is taken back to Marko's grandfather's cellar, with the rest of the gang, to recuperate. Whilst in the cellar, Marko and Natalija flourish, becoming a hot item, while Marko alone becomes one of Tito's closest allies - Tito being the 1st Yugoslavian president and leader of the anti-Nazi movement, a movement credited with the liberation of Yougoslavia. Fast forward twenty years and the cellar is still occupied, the people below still under the impression that WWII rages on...


...And really, I haven't even scratched the surface, although I guess if you're reading below the "spoiler alert" you either already know that or you're just a rebel. So, Friday night rolls around and I decide to watch this film "Underground", which I'd been putting off for a week or two now. For one, I has "Satantango" on my plate - a seven hour epic - and just didn't feel like adding another three hours to that so soon and two, I knew it had something to do with war, my most despised genre. So I get about an hour in before my eyelids can't hold open anymore and I'm astonished at what I'm seeing. A winner of the Palme d'Or, a lauded film from foreign shores is a COMEDY?! And not JUST a comedy, but a silly one at that! Was I watching the right movie? What was going on? Now, keep in mind that the political stuff was going WAY over my head (at the time), but I couldn't believe what I was watching and was curious where this was all going. Then, the next night rolled around (last night) and I started to piece some things together. It was still a comedy, but I started to realize that there was much more to it than that, even though I had no idea what. I just knew that there was SOMETHING I wasn't quite grasping, some plot points and possible symbolism that were going over my head. The funny thing was, that despite all that stuff going over my head, I was really starting to enjoy this film. It was like laughing at a joke, not because you understood the punch line, but because the laughter of others tickled you too - you still had a good reason to laugh, but just not the intended reason.

When the film finished, I was a little annoyed and the question I asked myself was this: "Did I like it for the right reasons?". From there, I asked myself "Is there a right and wrong way to like a movie?". Hmmm it begged an interesting question. Here I was, fresh off a movie that I thoroughly enjoyed and wondering whether or not I should've enjoyed it or not. I guess it was the fact that it has such powerful undertones, so powerful in fact that I KNEW for a fact they were there and that I wasn't getting them, that I felt bad for not understanding - I wanted to laugh at the punch line, not just the laughter of others. So, before bed last night, I did a little, quick research. Yada yada yada communism, yada yada yada Yugoslavia isn't even a country anymore yada yada yada controversial film. I say "yada yada" not because I make light of what I read, but because I'm not that smart when it comes to politics and especially foreign politics and so some of what I read was Greek to me.

I slowly began to understand what I wasn't getting, but I still knew I liked the films for the wrong reasons. Sure, there's no right and wrong way, but for some reason I wasn't going to allow myself to fully embrace this film without knowing what I was missing. I liked the characters, the comedy, the music, the situation and the actors (especially the two male leads). However, at the time, I didn't know about the raging symbolism about communism and how certain citizens were kept in the dark, while Communists profited. Like the Holocaust and the East/West Germany conflict, it makes me wish I'd paid better attention in school (not that they were teaching Yuogslavian history anyway), so that I could watch this while both laughing and understand.

All in all, I had an experience with this film. For further reading, check out Notes from the Underground: The Cinema of Emir Kusturica. I found a few excerpts online and they were most helpful. I still don't get it all, but the fact that I cared enough to go and seek out answers speaks volumes, considering I almost NEVER do that. Perhaps Kusturica's intentions were not to alienate any viewers: IF you knew the whole story, it was going to be a masterpiece and if you didn't; well, at least you can have a laugh or two. I kind of fell somewhere in between, where I probably enjoyed the comedy too much, wanting all the while to see the whole masterpiece. I'll stop there, because I'm getting very rambly.

RATING: 7.5/10  I can't talk that much without giving a good rating - you should know that by now. It may require some studying on my part and another viewing, but I would love to really love this film.


October 13, 2013  11:49pm

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