Friday August 27, 1999
Goran Paskaljevic's corrosive "Cabaret Balkan" deftly lifts Dejan Dukovski's prizewinning play off the stage and out into the streets of Belgrade to reveal in the everyday encounters between people a society rapidly disintegrating. The very fabric of civilization is in such tatters that everyone seems vulnerable to regressing to the most savage displays of anger and ruthless survival-of-the-fittest behavior. At the same time, the filmmakers manage to find an exceedingly bleak humor in the absurdity of their country's predicament, which is characteristic not only of the present-day Balkan cinema but also of that of long-beleaguered Eastern Europe.
Much like the effete emcee in "Cabaret," this film's decadent-looking Belgrade nightclub entertainer, Boris (Nikola Ristanovski), opens the film with his pithy, cynical comments on the current state of affairs in the former Yugoslavia. A chain-smoking taxi driver (Nebosja Glogovac) drops off Michael (Miki Manojlovic) at that club. (That driver will reappear, as do many others, as vignettes interconnect.) Michael fled the country five years earlier without so much as leaving a note behind and has now returned, much better off financially and eager to make amends to his abandoned fiancee, Natalia (Mirjana Karanovic), who happens to be Boris' sister.
Meanwhile, a young unlicensed driver, Alex (Marko Urosevic), has collided with a vintage VW belonging to the irate Jovan (Bogdan Diklic), who has owned it for decades without getting so much as a scratch. Alex expresses a desire to resolve the matter amicably, but like many others, Jovan vents upon whoever's handy his displaced rage over what's happening in his country, in this case the hapless Alex and even Alex's father, Viktor (Danil Bata Stojkovic), wrecking the family apartment in the process. Jovan has brought along his boxer buddy (Dragan Nikolic) who, in turn, later gets into a deadly match in the ring with an old friend (Lazar Ristovski); they launch into such a lengthy confession of mutual betrayals that you know it won't end well.
One encounter leads to another until almost all the film's 22 key characters either give way to anger or become its victims. As unflinching as it is, "Cabaret Balkan" is an edgy entertainment that is as zesty as it is mordantly outrageous. Miki Manojlovic, who has appeared in an array of films in Western Europe and even the U.S., is perhaps the film's dominant figure, a character who naively thinks you can go home again, even when your homeland is falling dangerously apart. Everyone involved, however, contributes strongly to making "Cabaret Balkan" a bristling, furious Valentine to the former Yugoslavia.
Cabaret Balkan, 1999. R, for strong violence, including an act of sexual assault, strong language and some drug use. (formerly 'The Powder Keg')Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times