Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cirkus Columbia

If you admired the intent behind Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey but wished you could have seen it done with Eastern European indirection rather than big-footed American sensationalism, you’ll want to check out Cirkus Columbia.

As he did in No Man’s Land, writer-director Danis Tanovic sets this modest but not insubstantial film in his homeland of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the early ‘90s. Tanovic adapted the script from a novel of the same name, which addresses the turmoil that ripped the former Yugoslavia apart by focusing on one broken family.

Martin Buntic (Boris Ler), a restless young man, lives in a lovely Bosnian town with his beleaguered mother, Lucija (Mira Furlan, looking like a feistier version of Dorothea Lange’s migrant mother). The biggest drama in his life, aside from the rumors of war that his mother insists on shutting out, is a new ham radio antenna that can connect him with America. Then the father Martin never knew (a leonine Miki Manojlovic), comes back from a 20-year exile with a gorgeous young girlfriend (Jelena Stupljanin) and a boatload of cash, and everything is thrown into question for the three Buntics.

As the family’s homecoming and love stories unfold, nicely textured interactions between the characters and deadpan developments in their lives often take us in unexpected directions. Meanwhile, the focus gradually shifts to encompass more of the ethnic and political conflict around them, revealing the role that strife has played in creating rifts between them.

We wind up with a strong sense of what makes each of the main characters tick, what they feel for each other, and how the mess they were born into has constricted their choices or increased their suffering. Which brings us to the eternal question posed by Casablanca: Was Rick right when he said “the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”? Or are those little people and their problems all that really matters?

Written for The L Magazine

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