Underground (1995) (Not Rated)

Emir Kusturica's Pamle d'Or winning film "Underground" is a mess of emotions and narrative. It's so jumbled and confused that the viewer is left almost angry trying to keep up with its mad antics. Then again, it's also a film about war, government, and the result of ignorance...so is that permissible?
Set in the times of WWII in Yugoslavia, "Underground" appears to be a black comedy for the first part. As the characters try to out wit the Germans and the Allies—founding their own coalition of Communism—there is a sick sense of humor as bits and pieces of people and animals are thrown around with the bombs.
Marko (Predrag Manojlovic) and his buddy Blacky (Lazar Ristovski) are the ring leaders of the movement to keep Yugoslavia separate from the rest of the world during the war. They want things to remain as they are, but this is hard to do when bombs are dropped on the city and everything is destroyed. Taking refuge in a cellar, only Marko and Blacky dare to venture out to the town, and only then because of love...
Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic) is the source of attention for Blacky, who sees her on the side even though he has a pregnant wife. As things start to heat up, Blacky's wife is killed which leaves the door open for him to make his move...which he does in caveman fashion.
Natalija seems to be in love with a German officer named Franz and that is something unacceptable to Blacky for a number of reason—the most obvious one being that she is not with him.
An actress of the stage, Natalija is taken away by Blacky to the cellar where now a congregation of survivors have huddled together for refuge.
But things are not what they seem.
For a movie that borders on three hours, "Underground" feels like the shortest movie. It's so zany and annoyingly catchy that it whizzes by and before you know it, the movie's end credits are rolling up. They are large problems with the movie, notably the way it skips here and there and leaves the viewer to catch up. If it was supposed to be a cerebral movie, maybe this would be acceptable; but not really. Of course, when the end result is painted for us, the times we were left in the dark are somewhat forgivable.
A movie that spans over fifty years, "Underground"—despite itself—feels very genuine in an Orwellian way. The movie asks a question of power, but doesn't make the mistake of getting too hung up on the politics of the movie rather than the story itself.
Surreal, unnatural, freaky, and hilarious—"Underground" is an entity in of itself and I'm sure that it would be impossible to find a movie that is its equal...but would you want to?
Predrag Manojlovic gives a star performance here with a layered role that seems almost too hopeless to find anything human within, yet he does.
Kusturica here fashions a movie that is meant to be satire, enraging, and a love letter to nationalism. It mocks everything there is possible to mock and always in the most horrible method.
Still, the emotional power of "Underground" is what surprises you. It is a sneaky picture with the remarkable ability to move and though the last thirty minutes are nothing short of miraculous, you have to remember the whole picture. A weak beginning that builds into one of the most original movies of the past two decades, "Underground" is.....quite something.

Score: ★★★

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