A soul-searching, first-person glimpse into the havoc that Slobodan Milosevic wrought on Yugoslavia, “Serbia Year Zero” is an amazingly honest attempt by veteran film and stage director Goran Markovic to come to terms with his life under, and after, the dictatorship. Structured as a filmed diary and lightened by humor and self-irony, pic begins on Oct. 5, 2000, the day after Milosevic’s fall, as huge crowds burn the state television building in Belgrade and other symbols of the regime, then ranges back over a 15-year period encompassing Serbia’s tragic recent history. Given its topicality and forcefulness, this European co-prod presented by French philosopher/star Bernard-Henri Levy, who also appears onscreen, should have little trouble finding Euro theatrical release, followed by wider TV sales.
Markovic’s opinion of Milosevic as a concentration of treachery, madness and evil goes back a long way. In 1985, while rehearsing the stage play “Market Day,” he first fell afoul of Milosevic’s fearsome wife, who had the play canceled for supposed “allusions to Tito.” Later, he learned it was merely a ploy on the part of an almost unknown politician to get media attention.
Markovic takes deadly aim at the role that the state television played in supporting Milosevic’s regime. He tries to bring a lawsuit against the station for fomenting ethnic hatred with its jingoistic propaganda and lies. (His lawyer tells him it’s a hopeless case.) He continues to ask himself where this “devil” came from, why the horrors that took place in Serbia happened and who is responsible for them — one man, or all Serbs? Or all Europeans? In despair he cries out, “We deserved Milosevic!”
The film is infused with a bitter feeling of anger and impotence, but it sidesteps pretentiousness through the many self-put-downs Markovic throws in. Besides his disappointment with himself for not being able to topple a regime he loathed, he appears equally helpless before the bathroom scales and his mother’s coaxing to eat sweets. With great creative freedom, the film juxtaposes odds and ends, people and events, trips to Bosnia and Paris, reconstructions and reenactments of things that actually happened, a stage play about power and scenes from his movies, from the 1976 “Special Education” to the 1995 “Burlesque Tragedy.”
In the voiceover, Markovic comments on various friends, actors and acquaintances who passed over to Milosevic’s side. He also recalls those whose “small acts of decency” made life bearable during the worst years of the war. One woman, a stranger, warned him that he was being investigated for high treason, a crime that carries the death penalty.
Today Markovic is in favor of having Milosevic indicted at the Hague, but his teenage daughter says that “a whole generation is guilty.” The film offers much food for thought and few answers. A fine editing job by Snezana Ivanovic and Michko Netchak (who also did much of the camerawork along with Gilles Porte) captures a feeling of anger and spontaneity. Zoran Simjanovic’s haunting, at times lugubrious, music gives film added depth.