YU-Qwest's Movie Special Interest Group

YU_FILM_2: YUQ INFO: Yugoslav Film Makes Stunning Anti-War Statement

YUQ INFO: Yugoslav Film Makes Stunning Anti-War Statement

Miroslav Antic (antic@idirect.com)
Wed, 2 Oct 1996 15:45:38 gmt-5

REVIEW/FILM: Yugoslav Film Makes Stunning Anti-War Statement

Pretty Villages, Pretty Flames (War comedy-drama, Yugoslav,

By Emanuel Levy

MONTREAL (Variety) - Wilder in its black humor than "MASH", bolder in
its vision of politics and the military than any movie Stanley Kubrick
has made, the new Yugoslav film "Pretty Villages, Pretty Flames" is
one of the most audacious antiwar statements ever committed to the

Centering on Bosnia's brutal conflict between Serbs and Muslims, the
film boasts an ironic wit about the absurdities of war. An adventurous
distributor should grab this eccentric film that, bolstered by strong
reviews and properly handled, could become one of the high points of
the cinematic year, making a stir in big cities, university towns and,
of course, the specialized circuit.

The first -- and final -- image of "Pretty Villages, Pretty Flames"
shows the inauguration of a new Brotherhood and Unity tunnel by
smiling American and European officials. Utilizing a multilayered
narrative, with time frame constantly -- but seamlessly -- shifting
between 1980 and 1992, the tale focuses on a group of Serbian soldiers
trapped by their Muslim enemies in the aforementioned tunnel, which
connects Zagreb and Belgrade, and bears symbolic meanings that are
just as crucial as its geographical significance.

The picture is loosely based on a true incident, a 10-day bloody
standoff in which Muslims couldn't enter and Serbs couldn't exit the
tunnel. With a nod to Fellini, the tunnel is used as a circus-like
stage for the desperate soldiers to act out fables -- and foibles --
before they get killed, one by one.

In sensibility, "Pretty Villages, Pretty Flames" embodies elements of
Jean Paul Sartre's existentialism as well as Samuel Beckett's
absurdist humanism. These seriocomic visions are applied to a
situation familiar from other war movies -- fighting soldiers stranded
in a confined space -- though never before depicted so brazenly, in a
manner that's equal parts heartbreak and hilarity.

In 1980, two young boys, Halil, a Muslim, and Milan, a Serb, have
grown up together near a deserted tunnel. They never dare go inside,
as they believe an ogre resides there. Twelve years later, with war
looming over Bosnia, Milan (Dragan Bjelogric) and Halil (Nikola
Pejakovic), now mature men, find themselves on opposing sides,
fatefully heading toward confrontation.

Helmer Srdjan Dragojevic shows in shocking images how drunken Serbian
militiamen destroy Muslim villages and their inhabitants, and cart
away truckloads of loot. In one poignant scene, undisciplined Serbian
soldiers burn a Muslim home and coldbloodedly execute its elderly
owner. Upon completing the brutality, a soldier turns to his companion
and says, "They say war brings out the best and the worst in a man.
Where is the best?"

The scene is an example of how tightly the antiwar message is woven
into the fabric of this film. The helmer's strategy is dialectical
juxtaposition. Images of bloody carnage are contrasted with
ostentatious statements about Serbian nationalism. Indeed, after
hearing bombastically fake speeches, young men volunteer to fight in
the war, buying from street vendors royalist insignia that they
proudly pin on their uniforms. And scenes in a hospital, to which both
Serbian and Muslim casualties are brought, are intercut with combat
scenes, which are the film's strongest elements.

Both dramatic tension and black humor are greatly enhanced when an
American journalist is caught and held captive by the Serbs. The edgy
conversations between the beautiful woman and the horny men cover a
wide range of topics, from Coca-Cola and American TV to the more
familiar battle of the sexes and the universal needs of human beings
during war.

In one particularly searing scene, all barriers are removed when
unbearable thirst forces the men and the woman to drink a fellow's
urine. Another episode has a soldier asking for a tender embrace from
the femme, to which she consents, only to observe, a moment later, the
man blowing his brains out.

Director Dragojevic shows great facility in varying scenes' tones from
brutal to ironic to lyrical -- often in a matter of seconds.

"Pretty Villages, Pretty Flames" is by no means perfect. The central
premise of two buddies whose bond is threatened by divisive politics
is a bit schematic for the movie's ambitious scope, and some sequences
in the tunnel and the hospital are overlong. But the emotional texture
is so powerful and the technical execution so impressive that these
flaws are minor beside the picture's overall impact.

Production values are first-rate: The visuals are bold, editing fluid,
tempo well modulated and music terrific. Reportedly breaking all box
office records in Belgrade, where it opened in June, "Pretty Villages,
Pretty Flames" deserves to be seen by large audiences in other

With: Dragan Bjelogric, Nikola Kojo, Velimir-Bata Zivojinovic, Dragan
Maksimovic, Zoran Cvijanovic, Nikola Pejakovic, Lisa Mancure.

A Cobra Film production in association with MCRS and RTS. Produced by
Goran Bjelogric, Dragan Bjelogric, Nikola Kojo. Executive producer,
Milko Josifov. Directed by Srdjan Dragojevic. Screenplay, Vanja Bulic,
Dragojevic. Camera (color), Dusan Joksimovic; editor, Petar Markovic;
music, Laza Ristovski, Aleksander Habic; production design, Mile
Jeremic; costume design, Tanja Dragojevic; sound, Svetolik Mica Zajc.
Reviewed at Montreal World Film Festival, Aug. 26, 1996.
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| Miroslav Antic-Mika |
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