Balkan Cinema

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Does the Emir Kusturica’s Underground (1995) represent historical allegory or a political propaganda?

The movie Underground (1995) directed and produced by the well-known Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica is one of the most famous Serbian movies internationally. It was nominated for a number of Best Foreign Film Awards as one of the most notable ones is the Golden Palm award at the Cannes International Film Festival in 1995. The script of the movie was developed from a play by Dushan Kovachevich. Unfortunately, since the time it was released, the movie has been the spotlight of a lot of criticism. Especially, the articles posted from Alain Finkielkraut, who has not even seen the movie when typing his article, in a French newspaper Le Monte, made Emir Kuturica to quit the cinema for a year. Many of the critics have seen the film as political propaganda of ethnic nationalism and glorification of the Serbian nation. However, I believe that their views towards the film are quite wrong. In my paper I will be defending the point that, actually, the movie Underground is not a political propaganda rather it is a reflection of the nostalgia that Kostunica feels for a country that does not exist anymore. This nostalgia is even apparent from the very title of the first part of the movie “Once upon a time there was a country”. Emir Kusturica is born in Sarajevo in 1954. He was raised in a Muslim family but he prefers to identify himself neither as a Muslim or a Serb. In an interview given to IMDb he states “My father was an atheist and he always described himself as a Serb. OK, maybe we were Muslim for 250 years, but we were Orthodox before that and deep down we were always Serbs, religion cannot change that. We only became Muslims to survive the Turks”. He studied in the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in 1978 and has won many awards for his great performance in producing short movies. His most notable movies are Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream and Underground. After shooting the movie Underground, Emir Kusturica has been thought of completely rejecting his Bosnian identity because of the controversial character of the film. Nowadays, he lives in a remote Serbian village called Drvengrad built for his film Life Is a Miracle in peace, away from the noise and dirt of the big cities. The film Underground reveals the history of former Yugoslavia for over four decades, from the very beginning of World War II and the Cold War to the communism; and the fall of the country. The whole story is represented through the individual stories of the three main characters, Marko, the member of the Communist party and later the right hand of Tito, Blacky who is the closest friend of Marko but at the same time is fooled by him to stay underground and Natalia an actor whom the two friends are in love with. The film consists of the three parts revealing a different timeframe in the history of Yugoslavia: The War (1941- ), The Cold War (1961- ) and The War (1992- ). The first part deals with the events occurring around the dismemberment of Yugoslavia and the emergence of partisan movements. Marko, who is a Serbian and a member of the Communist party, is involved in illegal arm trafficking, sending the stolen arms to the partisans in the mountains who defend the country from the Nazi occupation. Blacky, who is a Montenegrin, assists him in his plans. At first the two friends may be seen as national heroes putting their life at risk in order to save their country from foreign occupation; but later in the movie we realize that they are just opportunists thinking about their own gain, money, drinking and woman rather than for their country. The presence of the orchestra everywhere which usually symbolizes the cheerfulness of the Balkan people, in this context plays the role of mocking through humor the way of life of the Serbian people. The third most important character in the movie, Natalia, also is...
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