Review: Underground – Emir Kusturica

Rustic mise-en-scene and a gritty wartime backdrop meets peculiar comedy in Emir Kusturica’s Underground.

Interjections of jutty, informative subtitle screens, World War II footage and the smoky, yellow-tinged lighting seem to pave the way for a war-time drama. However the comedy sub-genre guns down all dramatic, gritty expectations: enter a woman tied to a man’s back, torturously comical electric-shocking and some token chimpanzees with farcical brass band musical accompaniment.

The plot itself – which goes off on various absurd comical tangents – follows Marko and Blacky two drunken friends who join the Yugoslavian Communist party and set up a weapons manufacturing business.

At one point, Marko rescues Blacky from German torture and bundles him into a trunk. At which point Blacky obviously requests a grenade incase he is captured by the Germans again. Why would anyone ask for a grenade to be locked inside a trunk with them? Who cares! Chekov’s rule is, as expected, fulfilled: if there’s a grenade, it’s gonna blow up. Blacky accidentally drops it inside his trunk, kaboom! the trunk blows, but amazingly Blacky is left alive, legs askew and hair hot-wired. This pretty much sums up the general direction of the film.

One can only admire the strange mix of plot and at times, Monty Python-esque comedy. One can only criticise that 3 hours is undeniably lengthy for almost any film, especially when it features long scenes of drunkenness involving banging fists on tables and terrible dancing somewhat too frequently.

The random boat loaded with watermelons remains my favourite part of the film, only because I have no idea why the watermelons are there. Did the former Yugoslavia, or current Serbia and Montenegro for that matter, farm watermelons? This will all remain a mystery to me.

Oddly, though not so much by Shakespeare’s definition of a comedy, the final scene reunites all characters, living and dead, dancing on an island of land floating out to sea. Well, sure, whatever.

Underground, dir. Emir Kusturica (1995, Yugoslavia)

Winner 1995 Palme d’Or

Thanks to James for giving it to me for my birthday 🙂

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