×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Underground

If Fellini had shot a war movie, it might resemble "Underground." Emir Kusturica's epic black comedy about Yugoslavia from 1941 to 1992 is a three-hour steamroller circus that leaves the viewer dazed and exhausted, but mightily impressed. Its energy, coupled with its ringing (if simplistic) condemnation of the years of communism and the current war, make it one of the most emotionally engaging and exhilarating films at Cannes.

With:
Marko - Miki Manojlovic
Petar Popara (Blacky) - Lazar Ristovski
Natalija - Mirjana Jokovic
Ivan - Slavko Stimac
Franz - Ernst Stotzner
Jovan - Srdan Todorovic
Vera - Mirjana Karanovic

If Fellini had shot a war movie, it might resemble “Underground.” Emir Kusturica’s epic black comedy about Yugoslavia from 1941 to 1992 is a three-hour steamroller circus that leaves the viewer dazed and exhausted, but mightily impressed. Its energy, coupled with its ringing (if simplistic) condemnation of the years of communism and the current war, make it one of the most emotionally engaging and exhilarating films at Cannes.

Though “Underground” has the potential to capture broad audiences for subtitled films, not all viewers will have the stamina to watch it to the end. A serious re-editing could benefit the film by giving it more structure; the repetitive central section, in particular, needs trimming to keep the dense story focused and clarify the relation among pic’s three parts.

Accompanied by a band of tuba and horn players whose rollicking gypsy music is reprised throughout the film, pic kicks off to a wild and joyous start. Leading the band is Marko (Miki Manojlovic), dancing and whoring his way through 1941 Belgrade. He and his best pal, Blacky (Lazar Ristovski), are at the same

Popular on Variety

time patriots and gangsters, directing a black-market operation from a warren of underground tunnels, where Marko also holds on-the-run Communist Party meetings. In one of the film’s most brilliant scenes, a German air raid strikes the zoo where Marko’s innocent brother Ivan (Slavko Stimac) works. Kusturica’s vision of the bombs destroying defenseless caged animals goes straight to the heart.

Though the Gestapo is after them, Blacky and Marko continue partying. They hide their families in a cellar, where refugees have put together an underground munitions factory. After his wife dies in childbirth, Blacky begins courting headstrong actress Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic). When she rejects him in favor of Nazi officer Franz (Ernst Stotzner), Blacky shoots Franz, but the Nazi survives and throws Blacky in a torture chamber. Marko stages a farcical rescue dressed as a doctor and smuggles Blacky out.

While Blacky recuperates in the cellar, Marko seduces Natalija. As Allied bombers destroy what the Nazis have left of Bel-grade, Marko completes his betrayal: He makes the refugees in the cellar believe the war is still going on.

Twenty years later, Marko has become an important party boss. In the cellar, Blacky and the others keep manufacturing arms while they wait for Tito’s call to “the final battle.” Though they eat dog food and their lives are a lie, the cellar’s inhabitants believe they are living the good life, protected from the world’s evil.

The metaphor obviously relates to how Yugoslavs saw themselves under Tito’s rule. Situation climaxes during a long, drawn-out sequence in which Marko and Natalija, still posing as revolutionary fighters, go underground to attend the wedding of Blacky’s son Jovan. Ivan’s pet monkey frees the community by climbing into a tank and blasting a hole in the wall.

Pic’s final section, “The War,” takes place in 1992. Ivan learns the truth about his brother’s treachery, and the fate of the country he knew as Yugoslavia. Returning home, he finds a crippled Marko and aged Natalija dealing in arms and drugs with anyone who’ll do business. (Kusturica cameos as their unscrupulous client.)

Kusturica presents the conventional view that the conflict is a civil war in which all parties are guilty: The breakup of Yugoslavia is the great tragedy, and violence comes from all sides. Given the film and director’s high profile, this view is bound to be controversial among some viewers.

Manojlovic, a Kusturica regular, is superbly comic as the treacherous Marko. Ristovski has the wild-eyed brute appeal of a silent film comic, while Jokovic as his great love, Natalija, is a convincing opportunist. Stimac’s Ivan paradoxically shows his goodness through his affection for animals and his resemblance to his beloved monkey.

This mammoth film was largely financed by Ciby 2000, with additional funds supplied by Germany, Hungary and Eurimages. Kusturica’s regular cinematographer, Vilko Filac, paints the images like surreal nightmares. When the noise dies down a second, composer Goran Bregovic steps in with a blasting, irresistible score that draws heavily on gypsy source music.

Underground

French-German-Hungarian

Production: A Ciby 2000 (Paris)/Pandora Film (Frankfurt)/Novo Film (Budapest) co-production. (International sales: Ciby Sales, Paris.) Produced by Pierre Spengler. Associate producers, Karl Baumgartner, Maksa Catovic. Directed by Emir Kusturica. Screenplay, Dusan Kovacevic, Kusturica.

Crew: Camera (color), Vilko Filac; editor, Branka Ceperac; music, Goran Bregovic; production design, Miljen Kljakovic (Kreka); costumes, Nebojsa Lipanovic; sound (Dolby), Marko Rodic; sound editor, Svetolik Zajc; special effects, Petar Zivkovic, Roman Tudzaroff, Martin Kulhanek. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 26 , 1995. Running time: 192 min.

With: Marko - Miki Manojlovic
Petar Popara (Blacky) - Lazar Ristovski
Natalija - Mirjana Jokovic
Ivan - Slavko Stimac
Franz - Ernst Stotzner
Jovan - Srdan Todorovic
Vera - Mirjana Karanovic

More Film

  • Sin Señas Particulares

    Alpha Violet Acquires Fernanda Valadez’s Sundance-Selected ‘Sin Señas Particulares’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES  — Paris-based Alpha Violet  has acquired international rights to Fernanda Valadez’s feature debut, “Sin Señas Particulares,” which world premieres in World Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Announced this week, the Sundance selection comes on top of a Films in Progress Prize at this September’s San Sebastian Festival. Studying at Mexico’s [...]

  • Days of Christmas

    Pau Freixas on Netflix Spanish Miniseries ‘Days of Christmas’

    BARCELONA – A Netflix original produced by Spain’s Filmax, “Days of Christmas” marks the new series of Pau Freixas, one of the highest-profile creators on Spain’s vibrant drama series scene. A three-part miniseries, “Days” will be made available worldwide by Netflix on Dec. 6. The story takes place over three different Christmas days, the first [...]

  • Writers-Room-Panel

    Ventana Sur: Argentine Directors on Benefit of Writers’ Room (EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Ventana Sur hosted two of the country’s leading screenwriters to relay the benefits of utilizing a writers’ room while conceptualizing fiction projects, delivered to a packed auditorium on Tuesday afternoon as part of the Fiction Factory series held at the UCA Campus in Puerto Madero. Director Daniel Burman, known for films such [...]

  • Kathleen Kennedy to Receive Prestigious BAFTA

    Kathleen Kennedy to Receive Prestigious BAFTA Fellowship

    Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm and producer of scores of movies, will receive a prestigious BAFTA fellowship, the British Academy’s highest honor, in February. Across a 40-year career, Kennedy has produced pictures that have garnered 25 Oscars and more than 100 BAFTA nominations and 27 wins. She will be honored with the fellowship at BAFTA’s [...]

  • Lee Byung-hun stars in "The Man

    Lee Byung-hun’s ‘Man Standing Next’ Secures 2020 Asia Theatrical Releases (EXCLUSIVE)

    Showbox’s political drama “The Man Standing Next” has secured releases in multiple territories in Asia. The film was picked up by Falcon for Indonesia, The Klockworx for Japan, Viva Communications for the Philippines, Shaw Renters for Singapore and by Moviecloud for Taiwan. Release dates in each territory have yet to be confirmed. Set 40 days [...]

  • Lulu Wang and Zhao Shuzhen'The Farewell'

    Zhao Shuzhen on Stealing Scenes in Her First American Movie, 'The Farewell'

    A year ago, 76-year-old actor Zhao Shuzhen shot her first American movie, “The Farewell,” based on writer-director Lulu Wang’s very personal family story. In November, Shuzhen found herself making her first visit to the States, where she earned standing ovations from audiences and posed for pictures with stars like Robert Pattinson at parties. Then she [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content