Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Cabaret Balkan

By Marjorie Baumgarten

OCTOBER 11, 1999: 

D: Goran Paskaljevic; with Miki Manojlovic, Nikola Ristanovski, Vojislav Brajovic, Sergej Trifgfunovic, Nebosja Glogovac. (Not Rated, 102 min.)

More than anything you're likely to see on the nightly news, Cabaret Balkan cuts to the quick of the ongoing madness in Belgrade. Not a movie of politics, this is instead a movie of emotions about a place where war and blood feuds have corrupted the population for so long that a culture of violence and insanity has become the norm. Random frustrations erupt into outpourings of hatred and sexist bile. The movie shows us the physical and human ugliness that is the residue of this war. Adapted from an award-winning stage play by Dejan Dukovski, this corrosive film drama (which was formerly titled The Powder Keg)takes its madness to the streets. Cabaret Balkan is told in a series of interwoven vignettes. The episodes all have different tales with different characters, although several of the characters wander between one tale and other. No matter, though, it all seems part of the anarchic state of things, and even our discrete sense of these characters starts to merge into the idea of one big bully. The film begins in a cabaret as a decadent Joel Grey-like emcee promises to "fuck with our minds." Episodes that follow include a fender-bender in which the victim starts jumping on the hood of the car that hit him and smashing its windshield before going to the driver's home and vandalizing that. Another episode has a wild kid hijacking a bus and sexually tormenting one of the women passengers, who escapes only to be harassed by her jealous boyfriend. While fighting, the couple is taken captive by another demented pair, who brutalize them both even more perversely. This consistent violence against women throughout is one of the movie's most striking points, as if it were explaining the logical outcome of a people who use rape as a strategy of war. One character explains that the Balkans are the "asshole of the world" and then goes on to explain that the Cabaret is the "hemorrhoid" on the asshole. It's difficult to argue his point. Stunningly filmed, Cabaret Balkan is always stirring to look at. A popular success in its homeland, the incisive wit and commentary of director Paskaljevic (Someone Else's America) has seemingly struck a chord. And it is a chord that is more likely to resonate with foreigners than do the complexities of internecine politics and bloody sieges. So come to the Cabaret, old chums, and be thankful that life is not a cabaret.

4 Stars

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