A jolting bumper-car ride across five years of recent Yugoslav history through the story of two on-the-make teenagers, Srdjan Dragojevic’s “The Wounds” plays at times like a Serbian “Trainspotting.” Latest feature from the director of “Pretty Village, Pretty Flame” is a more in-your-face, blackly comic look at recent Yugoslav history, lensed in a style halfway between frantic Balkan tragi-comedy and MTV, and as a result lacks the earlier pic’s slow-brewing visceral punch. However, the often scary rawness of the emotions on display still makes for a powerful viewing experience, accessible to discerning auds not yet burned out by daily reporting of the region’s miseries.
Film opened in Belgrade in May and in its first three months racked up some 300,000 admissions, despite the Serbian government ordering a total publicity blackout in state-controlled media after a week in release. Pic is hardly a tourist brochure for the place or its people, and at its Toronto screening Dragojevic announced that it’s probably his last movie in Serbia for some time.
Spaced-out start, set in the fall of ’96, intros viewers to Pinki (newcomer Dusan Pekic), the film’s narrator, and Kraut (fellow newcomer Milan Maric), two kids high on drugs who are hot-rodding through Belgrade’s streets at a time when the city is celebrating the end of war. In short order, we meet Pinki’s family, led by his excitable father (veteran Predrag Miki Manojlovic, in a funny turn), and the two boys’ Slovenian friend, Dijabola (Andreja Jovanovic), butt of their jokes, as we flash back to 1991 and the tide of Serbian nationalism then engulfing the country.
Though foreign sanctions are in force and the family is busy stockpiling goods, Pinki and Kraut are more interested in other things — small-time crime, girls and masturbation. The young teens hang out with Dickie (producer Dragan Bjelogrlic, in a richly etched perf), a flashy trafficker who uses his wild g.f., Suki (Branka Katic), to demonstrate sex to the boys and introduces them to the world of smart cars and easy money. Their ambition is to be invited onto a TV talkshow, “Street Pulse,” chaired by Dijabola’s sexy mom (tube star Vesna Trivalic) and showcasing the toughest members of the city’s streets.
Though many of the local jokes don’t translate for non-Serbs, this opening 40-minute section is a rambunctious, often wildly funny roller coaster ride. Thereafter, things turn progressively darker: first in the segment set in 1993, as the country enters its darkest hours of shame, and Pinki and Kraut (following their mentor Dickie) are shown getting heavily into chemicals; and finally in the 1995 section, by which time our young heroes are drug-crazed killers and even Kraut’s grandmother is doing lines of coke.
The movie’s relentless progression from light to dark is valid in terms of Dragojevic’s thesis — that a whole generation of Serbs has been robbed of its youth and given psychological scars that will never heal. Dramatically, however, the pic has problems in its final reels, in which Pinki and Kraut’s friendship breaks down, leading to a weird, bloody finale in a graveyard that would be more at home in a B-grade gangster movie.
Despite its visual flash, torrent of four-letter dialogue and evident desire to push the taste envelope in every direction, the picture is, in fact, carefully directed for the most part: As in the very different “Pretty Village,” Dragojevic has simply adopted a surface style that fits the subject matter. As a writer, however, he seems unable to make the transition in the final stages to portraying characters who can really engage the audience’s emotions on a deeper level.
From the get-go, these are clearly people on a one-way ticket to hell, and, once the laughs stop, interest in their fate diminishes as the pessimism piles up. Redemption never enters the picture.
On a technical level, pic is fine, with editing done in Athens. Performances are all rich down the line, with special mention to Milan Maric’s Kraut, a study in mentally fried psychosis that’s up there with Robert Carlyle’s Begbie in “Trainspotting.”