Magazine article The Christian Century

Scenes of Serbia

Magazine article The Christian Century

Scenes of Serbia

Article excerpt

WITH THE PREMIER of The Cordon at the Montreal World Film Festival in August, Serbian director Goran Markovic completed his trilogy on the fall of Slobodan Milosevic. Earlier films in the trilogy are Burlesque Tragedy, which won an award at the 1995 Montreal festival, and Serbia, Year Zero (2001). The Cordon, named best film of the festival by an international jury, tells a story of the impact of Milosevic's years in power.

I asked Markovic about how he merges television news coverage of the 1996-97 Belgrade street protests with the tightly focused story of an exhausted police unit that randomly beats protesters. "Those street scenes were not from television footage," he told me. "We re-created all of those street scenes, based on what we knew had happened."

The film opens with images that have been shot by a young television cameraman who is running from police. With him is the daughter of the captain of the police unit. The cameraman and the girl are lovers, and they celebrate an escape from the police with a brief interlude of lovemaking under a stairwell.

Unfortunately, the young man forgets to turn-off his camera. When he is eventually captured by police, his camera contains incriminating evidence that is viewed by all members of the unit, including the daughter's outraged father. The policemen are exhausted, angry with the protesters and eager for revenge.

In his book The Fracture Zone, Simon Winchester writes that "the bewildering variety of unfamiliar names that appear in any writing relating to the Balkans seems dramatically to inhibit any average reader's sympathetic understanding of the story." The Cordon overcomes that inhibition with a story and images that transcend political complexities. In one scene, for example, the daughter angrily confronts her father at the foot of the hospital bed where her lover lies in critical condition. The father's repentance does nothing to appease her. Yet The Cordon does not demonize the police but sympathizes with their anger and exhaustion. The demons are higher up in the chain of command. Markovic makes the point that when political leaders operate without moral constraint, police brutality is inevitable.

Burlesque Tragedy employs a comedic tone to depict a doctor's attempt to return mental patients to their families when his hospital can no longer care for them. Serbia, Year Zero, begins on October 4, 2000, the day Milosevic is arrested and ousted from power, and tells the story of the chaos left behind by a dictatorial rule. Now isolated in his prison cell in The Hague, Milosevic awaits the resumption of his trial for war crimes and genocide. The ease against him is based on atrocities in Kosovo, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The ease will also address charges of crimes committed by Milosevic inside the current borders of Yugoslavia. Markovic's trilogy won't be part of the evidence given at the trial, but it could be.

Polities and recent history, were also evident in a film from India, In the Forest ... Again, directed by Goutam Ghose. Ghose is paying homage to famous Indian director Satyajit Ray and his film Days and Nights in the Forest. Ray envisioned Days and Nights as the first of four films examining the theme of complacency among middle- and upper-class Indians. On their journey into the forest, four young men (in 1969) encounter lower-class tribal members and display the snobbery and arrogance of their class. In the words of critic Pauline Kael, they offer a "study of the cultural tragedy of imperialism; the young men are self-parodies--clowns who ape the worst snobberies of the British. …

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