Underground, the other Yugoslavia

Once upon a time… there was a country called Yugoslavia, created and killed by a war. While the Second World War had ended, a group of people was kept hidden for twenty years in the canals under Belgrade, Serbia. Underground, a show time of how easily people can be held in a false reality.

Lights, camera, action!

Made in 1995 by Emir Kusturica, a Sarajevo-born film director, the movie Underground was awarded by the Palme d’Or at the Cannes festival in 1995 and has become a classic. Emir Kusturica is known for his director’s skills, although he is also an actor and musician and appears in his movie for a brief moment. As a mix of an acted movie and authentic news footages, the film presents an interesting point of view on the history of Yugoslavia. However, a spectator looking forward to see a movie documenting the war of Yugoslavia would probably be disappointed. Filled with passion, love, fights and dance, this movie is too spontaneous, free-spirited and maybe even a little bit crazy to be considered as a documentary. Yet, it combines all the charms and all the wounds needed to get closer to the Balkans.

A never-ending war

The plot of the movie (no spoilers included) is divided into three parts – the war, the cold war and again the war. This repartition shows with a hint of irony what fate was there for Yugoslavia, born and dead in a war. Three main characters are presented – Marko and Blacky, two inseparable friends joined in the Communist party and Natalia, a slightly naïve girl and an actress, desired by both men. Marko and Blacky are fighting against the fascists in the measures of their possibilities and to protect as many people as possible, Marko encloses them with Blacky in a cellar beneath his house. After the Second World War is over, Marko makes the “underground citizens” believe that the war has not ended and profits of this invisible gun factory he created. Kusturica employed an original message in the plot, by showing the analogy of the country above the ground that goes through many changes and the “cellar world” underground that remains frozen in the Second World War. When finally the delusion meets the reality, another war has begun.

What might seem attractive and humorous to some can be repelling to others. Underground is one of the movies you either love or hate, but in any case, you would not forget it.

Kateřina Víchová

Read more on Café Balkans (in French) : Les Balkans de Kusturica (30/04/2013)