Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Beautiful People

By Marc Savlov

APRIL 3, 2000: 

D: Jasmin Dizdar; with Charlotte Coleman, Charles Kay, Rosalind Ayres, Roger Sloman, Heather Tobias, Danny Nussbaum, Siobhan Redmond, Gilbert Martin, Nicholas Farrell, Faruk Pruti, Dado Jehan, Edin Dzandzanovic, Julian Firth. (R, 107 min.)

Beautiful People is the best film about the English immigrant situation since Stephen Frears' My Beautiful Laundrette. Boy, can't you just see that as the film's U.S. tagline? They'll pack 'em in in droves. All comparisons aside, this is an absolutely stunning debut by Serbian filmmaker Jasmin Dizdar, who manages the near-impossible his very first time out of the directorial gate: Beautiful People both encompasses the tragic dynamics of the ongoing situation in the former Yugoslavia and its impact on refugee-heavy London, and manages to keep you laughing throughout. To be sure, it's a very black sort of humor that's involved here, but Dizdar is aided and abetted by a tremendous cast and some glorious camerawork by Barry Ackroyd and score composer Garry Bell, whose work here, apparently his first, is hauntingly frenetic, if such a combination is possible. The film opens aboard a London bus where a pair of disheveled Serb immigrants (Jehan and Pruti) glare at each other and then attack, fists flying, their exertions taking them off the bus, onto and down the street, and, eventually into a state hospital ward shared with a Welsh firebomber. Their bitter feud ­ it rages and sputters throughout the course of the film and serves as the film's moral statement ­ is but one of a handful of stories within the film (the sheer amount of characters peopling Beautiful People puts you in mind of Robert Altman's best work, or, more recently, P.T. Anderson's Magnolia). There's also the gruff civil servant and his wife (Sloman, Tobias) and their soccer hooligan/junkie skinhead son, Griffin (Nussbaum), who's content to travel to Rotterdam with his equally thuggish mates to catch Tottenham in the World Cup qualifying playoff. Stoned out of his gourd, he manages to take a wrong turn in eastern Europe and ends up in war-torn Bosnia, dope-addled and utterly lost, before aligning himself with the U.N.'s baby blues and becoming something of a hero. There's also the tale of the doctor (Farrell) who's in the midst of a spousal meltdown and must deal with a young Serbian couple who are none too anxious to have their ready-to-drop baby, itself an unwanted product of an enemy rape. At the same hospital, nurse Portia (Coleman, of Four Weddings and a Funeral)falls in love with an injured Serb immigrant and must confront her blueblood Mum and Dad with her choice of marriage partners. There's plenty more, but to call Dizdar's debut "crowded" misses the point entirely. What he has done, and done astonishingly well, is to capture that great beast London, the whole of it, odds and sods and anti-immigrant legislation, in one fell swoop, at this very instant, and all without ever losing touch with the pulsing and often violent rhythms of its multi-ethnic citizenry. Some will say that Beautiful People has much more to do with the Serbian situation portrayed here ­ they're the film's linking characters, after all ­ than it does with London, but I disagree. This is very much a London story, and one that couldn't have been staged anywhere else in the world. It positively reeks of the U.K.'s stiff-upper-lipped "We will endure" ethos, while simultaneously commenting on not just the Serbian immigrant experience, but all similar experience, everywhere. It's an audacious, affecting, and unexpectedly hilarious debut, and most definitely the most original film I've seen all year.

4 Stars


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