Underground (1995)

Underground Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Underground Movie Review

Underground is a 1995 comedy drama film directed by Emir Kusturica and starring Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski and Mirjana Jokovic. It is a pretty solid, yet overrated movie.

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Once upon a time… there was a country…

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Underground Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Underground (or Podzemlje in Serbian) follows an epic story between two friends and it follows Yugoslav history from the beginning of World War II until the beginning of Yugoslav Wars. With this movie, my opinion of Kusturica continues to be the same – he is an incredibly talented filmmaker and even an artist, but he just couldn’t quite make a movie work as a whole. Underground is impressive in its ambition, but that also proved to be its downfall as he just couldn’t realize the whole movie in the best way. The result is a film that is sometimes quite inspired and even artistic, but sometimes quite excessive and ridiculous.

I liked the characters and although they were too crazy, at least they were memorable. Ivan is too goofy, yet very likable. Natalija is unlikable, but well developed. And Petar and Marko are over-the-top, but certainly memorable. The performances here are very good with Lazar Ristovski and Miki Manojlovic delivering the best ones.

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Underground Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Now, as I said before, Underground is just overly excessive in its ridiculousness. That is why its success as a black comedy is questionable and it succeeds much more as an epic war drama. Some of its over-the-top craziness was fun and some scenes definitely made me laugh and were one of the kind, but most were too silly and just too much.

But the film is worth seeing and experiencing for a couple of sequences that are just jaw-dropping in their beauty and authenticity. For one, the character’s realization when out of the bunker that Yugoslavia is no more was just heartbreaking to witness as you could see the sadness in his eyes. That scene was beyond tragic and unforgettable. I loved the first scenes of the movie at the zoo as they perfectly hooked me in the story. I really liked those crazy sex scenes. And of course I loved its imaginative ending which was just beautiful to behold. Watching all of the friends and family, both living and dead, on some sort of separated island celebrate a wedding was emotional and actually a very original, fittingly surreal way to end the film.

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Underground Movie Review……………………………………………………………….

Underground is more style over substance, but what style this is. Of course the pacing isn’t great as the film is very long and it is difficult to edit plus his first cut was even longer, but his direction is very good and sometimes quite inspired plus the acting is excellent. I loved the cinematography here as some shots were brilliant and some of the imagery was unforgettable and very authentic. There are actually a lot of the scenes that are memorable here and that is why the film succeeds. It is very diverse, different and crazy that it stays with you. The emotion is strong and although I would have strengthened the relationships between the characters more, they were still fine and the film is very ambitious in presenting the history of the country through decades using quite memorable historical footage. I also found its dialogue to be very good, excessive once again, but memorable and sometimes very realistic with a couple of hilarious lines. All in all, it is overrated and not the director’s best, but still a solid and ambitious, if not entirely successful experiment.

Underground is style over substance and Kusturica was too much influenced by Fellini. The direction is strong, the acting is also very good, some of the scenery and shots are unforgettable and the film is admirably ambitious, but its ambition was also its downfall as it is a very uneven work with some inspired and even artistic scenes, but many too ridiculous and over-the-top moments. Because the film is so epic, ambitious and sometimes unforgettable in a couple of very authentic sequences, it succeeds, but it is still uneven, flawed, too excessive and frankly overrated.

My Rating – 3.5

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Time of the Gypsies (1988)

Time of the Gypsies Movie Review

Time of the Gypsies Movie Review

Time of the Gypsies (Dom za Vesanje in Serbian) is a 1988 Serbian fantasy drama film directed by Emir Kusturica and starring Davor Dujmovic and Bora Todorovic. It is a very interesting, albeit uneven film.

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“I don’t trust anyone anymore since I caught myself in a lie”

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It follows a young Romani man with magical powers who is tricked into engaging in petty crime. This is a very interesting, often even fascinating film that is unfortunately undone by its scope. I loved the themes here, but because the film has so many of those themes and too many subplots, it unfortunately never explores all of them properly and we are left with some rather rushed subplots. I loved the epic scope of the film, but I wish that it wasn’t that uneven as some scenes were amazing, but some were disappointing. But those that are great are so powerful and instantly memorable.

The character development is for the most part solid, but still that lack of focus hurts some of the characterization here with the supporting characters in particular being disappointing. The protagonist Perhan is pretty good and I liked Khaditza as well. Ahmed is okay, but some supporting characters including Danira and Azra should have been better realized as they are quite forgettable. And the character interactions and relationships should have been better, albeit some of those are pretty good.

Time of the Gypsies is a technically strong work. Kusturica’s directing is strong here with his style in particular being very interesting. The cinematography is terrific with absolutely fantastic scenery and some striking imagery. The tone is also solid as it is dramatic, but also comedic at times. And I also like how it dealt with its crime aspects quite a bit. The film is an interesting combination of drama, fantasy, crime and even comedy. And although the use of magic should have been a bit extended, I still really liked as it led to some phenomenal sequences that are visually arresting and very intense with the levitation scene being absolutely superb and so well realized.

This is a heartwarming film at times and it is also pretty clever. But what I loved about Time of the Gypsies is its sheer originality. The film is incredibly uneven, but it is so unique in its themes and setting, not to mention the fact that it is filmed entirely in the Romani language and that it deals with this rarely filmed population. But it is visually quite powerful and it has quite memorable characters and many unforgettable scenes. The score is stupendous and it really lifts some of the more epic and dramatic sequences. It is one of the finest aspects of the film without a doubt. The movie is also superbly edited and paced. It lasts for almost two and a half hours, but it is never boring or too drawn out. It is quite the contrary, the film is so ambitious that it needed a longer running time in my opinion. That would have helped the end product a lot along with the better focus. The dialogue is also pretty good and the film is grounded in reality. In the end, even though I thought that it could have been much better and much better developed, I still liked this movie quite a bit and I found it to be such an interesting, different experience.

Time of the Gypsies does have a lack of focus and is undone by its epic scope with some of the subplots and themes being rushed, but it is still such an immensely unique and interesting experience not only in its characters and story, but also in its mix of genres and amazing visuals. It is uneven, but nonetheless pretty good and containing many powerful scenes.

My Rating – 4

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Leptirica (1973)

Leptirica

Leptirica Review

Leptirica is a 1973 Serbian horror film directed by Djordje Kadijevic and starring Mirjana Nikolic and Petar Bozovic. It is the country’s classic horror film and it truly is terrific.

Strahinja wants to marry Radojka, but her father refuses the proposal. Afterwards, he along with the other peasants goes in search for the legendary vampire by the name of Sava Savanovic because he, they believe, has been killing their millers during night. The story is excellent here with all of the plot points being satisfying and well executed. The opening is so creepy and sets the mood perfectly whereas the ending is unforgettable.

I loved the use of grandma and she is an excellent plot device resulting in a couple of more memorable moments. The characters are all so realistically portrayed here and the movie is always grounded and believable. Strahinja is very good and of course Radojka is great.

Leptirica has an absolutely amazing atmosphere which is genuinely creepy and at times even frightening. I loved the score in this film and found it to be really good, but the use of sound effects is superb and only further accompanies the endless feeling of unease, felt from beginning to end. All of the scenes, including the quieter ones, have an inherent creepiness factor to them and the filmmakers always let you know that something bad is going to happen.

The imagery is excellent and the film is very well shot with some good camera angles. I loved the village here as it wonderfully transports you back in time and is so memorable. The effects are good as well and I loved how this movie is professional despite its very limited budget. The creature design is so authentic and original, but definitely incredibly creepy. The atmosphere is brilliant and the movie is so well paced with never a rushed or boring moment.

There are only a couple of flaws here. First is the acting which is polarizing. It is at times very good with some actors doing a good job, but others not so much. The dialogue also has some weaker lines and I found the scene where they see the butterfly for the first time really problematic. They couldn’t possibly know what it is and if they knew, the filmmakers didn’t explain that well to the audience.

But other parts of the script I loved as they are so well executed and the film is just immensely entertaining and so engaging to follow. The mill is put to great use here along with the vampire’s grave which is the most intriguing part of the storyline. The dialogue is also really good for the most part with a couple of instantly memorable and fun lines. Djordje Kadijevic did a wonderful job as a director here as the movie is great mostly because of him. He had a vision and he made this movie on such a professional level that it is so admirable having in mind its budgetary limitations. Leptirica has a couple of really fantastic scenes with some being even artistic in the way they’re filmed and executed. The highlights for me, apart from the ending and beginning, have to be the introduction of grandma, the grave digging scene and all of those scenes with peasants arguing about the vampire.

Yes, the one thing that really surprised me here is its humor. Not only is it largely present in a horror film, but it is also phenomenal. I laughed many times and that I did not expect and I really appreciated it. The way the peasants spoke is funny, but some of their lines were so funny and frequently hilarious. But the humor is never forced as it is genuine and realistic as the whole movie is. The film is also unpredictable, really well constructed and always phenomenally paced and immensely intriguing and entertaining. I wish it was longer, but the running time of an hour is still wonderfully put to use with not a single wasted or abrupt scene.

The film is always creepy and atmospheric and despite not being truly scary, it is definitely unnerving with a couple of scenes being extremely powerful in execution. It definitely left a lasting impression on me and the more I think about the film, the more I like it and the more I appreciate it. It wonderfully put to use a great old village and Serbian vampire folklore, leaving us with a timeless creepy story that only gets better with time. I am frustrated with the status of this film. It should be considered a classic of Serbian cinema, but is unfortunately just a cult film that has never received a larger audience and bigger appreciation that it truly deserves. It is to me a very good film that is one of the better films of that year and one of the more interesting and more unique horror pictures I’ve seen.

Leptirica is a gem of a film. It has such a unique ominous atmosphere filled with creepy sound effects and excellent creature design. It has realistic characters, a very well crafted and always intriguing story, an unexpected use of humor which is so good and it has such a creepy, frightening and wonderfully realized atmosphere making you feel unease. It is a well made, very well shot and wonderfully directed movie and it is to me a Serbian classic that unfortunately never attracted the audience and praise that it clearly deserves.

My Rating – 4.5

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