More than a simple portrait of popular music group Blue Orchestra (Plavi Orkestar) and its founder and frontman Sasa Losic, conceptually ambitious, technically raw docu “Orchestra” aims to situate the band within a complicated social, political and cultural context, but in the process packs in so much disparate material that the two strands never really gel. Bosnian helmer Pjer Zalica’s talkfest — including nearly 100 musicians, artists, politicians, critics, theoreticians, sportsmen and cultural figures — may leave outsiders at a loss, but will resonate strongly across ex-Yugoslavia in home formats.
Sometimes mere Yugo-nostalgia, other times a fascinating window on a moment of history, the opinions expressed by the interviewees are passionate, humorous and often contradictory. One wishes for even more archival materials (photos, musicvideos, clips from TV shows and news footage) to make this portrait of a generation even clearer to foreign viewers.
As the talking heads point out, Yugoslavia in the 1960s and ’70s repped something of a paradox. It was different from other socialist countries in Eastern Europe because it was not behind the Iron Curtain and had open borders, but was nevertheless a closed society. Yet it had a strong reputation for the avant-garde; American theater artists such as Robert Wilson staged work there before being acclaimed in Western Europe.
Blue Orchestra launched in Sarajevo (a hotbed for popular bands) in 1983, consisting of Losic, Mladen Pavicic, and twins Admir and Samir Ceremida. All born in 1964, they shared an upbringing in the ideology of brotherhood and unity, but the world they were raised in changed rapidly following the death of Yugoslav president Josip Broz Tito in 1980.
The group’s first album, made before their army service, was a phenomenon. Full of catchy pop tunes with anthem-like hooks, it sold more than 500,000 copies. Archival footage shows the achingly young, floppy haired musicians (whom several interviewees refer to as the social realist answer to the Beatles) playing before vast auditorium crowds who roar along with the words to songs such as “Suada” and “Better Drunk Than Old.”
Discussion of their second album, the provocatively titled “Death to Facism,” includes talk of political interference in the realms of literature and sport. Appearing in 1989, their third album got lost in the march to war.
While the Ceremida twins joined their neighbors in the Sarajevo trenches, Losic fled to nearby Ljublijana, where many creative types wound up. His declaration that he is grateful to be accepted back in Sarajevo again, signals a compelling discussion of the evolving attitudes toward the people who left.
Helmer Zalica, a large, shaggy man, is often onscreen with Losic and the other musicians, prompting their reminiscences. Blue Orchestra, just one of Losic’s groups, still records and tours (with guitarist Sasa Zalepugin replacing Pavicic, who immigrated to Canada). Losic is also a successful composer of film music, including the scores for Zalica’s “Fuse” and “Days and Hours.”
Filmed over nearly four years, “Orchestra” includes variable production values, and the microphone often intrudes into the frame. The day after the premiere, an English subtitled DVD of the film was being sold on the Sarajevo streets for E5 ($7.20).