Underground – IMDb 236/250
From France to Serbia for my next film, the rather surreal Serbian comedy drama Underground (1995) from director Dusan Kovacevic, which won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival.
A nearly three hour long epic, Underground tells the story of best friends Marko Dren (Miki Manojlović) and Peter Popara (Lazar Ristovski) nicknamed Blacky, two communist rogues fighting against the Nazis in Yugoslavia in 1941 all the way to the Yugoslavian wars in 1991, with much of the film spent ‘underground’ in a cellar, used as a base for their rebellious deeds against the “goddamn fascists”.
Kovacevic tells this epic tale of betrayal, love, and war through the use of surreal comedy and dark humour with a vibrant and constant party atmosphere created by a brass orchestra that follows our two main characters around through much of the film.
But really until I had read the synopsis on Wikipedia after watching it, I really had absolutely no idea what I had just seen.
I found the plot so hard to follow. Perhaps it was my decreasing levels of concentration when reading the subtitles or simply that I thought the film was just a bit too silly, but during the middle section of the film, part 2 as it is called, about Yugolsavia during the cold war in 1961, I realised I had completely lost what was going on, missing several key plot points which I read about later, and really from this point on I found Underground a chore to watch.
It’s all just too ridiculous. The brass orchestra while fun and unique is just annoying, although I can’t deny the tune got stuck in my head, and the comedy relied heavily on simple slapstick and over the top antics. At one point there is a monkey (Soni) that drives a tank – so if you’re into that sort of thing you might love this. Can’t say it’s my cup of tea.
Like the party atmosphere and drunken shenanigans that follow it, Underground as a film almost feels tipsy; there is no real rhyme or reason to anything, the movie just drunkenly stumbles along, needing a glass of water and a lie down after a heavy night of drinking to sober itself up.
But despite this drunken stupor the film seems to find itself in, Underground deals with some deep political issues that Yugoslavia had in the past, and was still feeling the effects for during 1995, the year of this films release, particularly commenting on war and it’s brutality, and those that benefit from it.
Marko betrays his friend first by stealing Blacky’s true love, actress Natalija Zovkov (Mirjana Joković), and turning her against him, and then becoming something that the two idealistic best friends used to despise, war profiteers, gaining in wealth and political stature at the expense of Marko’s friends, family and countrymen who trusted him.
When you read about the film and its plot you would think it sounds incredible – and the overall story truly is an interesting one. But for me this fascinating plot was hidden in the depths of stupidity.
If you took away the comedy, the surrealism and the unrealistic nature of Underground, I think you could create a proper film that would truly tell a tale of war in Yugoslavia and the end of a proud country that would appeal to audiences everywhere, and perhaps convey its message in a clearer way.
As it is Underground is just a film I would never watch again. Having said that as a piece of Serbian cinema it is considered a challenging and widely popular film, which caused controversy and sparked mass debates in Europe. So it must be doing something right.