Los Angeles Times

Movie review: 'The Shutka Book of Records'

3 stars (out of four)

"The Shutka Book of Records," opening Friday for a week run at Facets Cinematheque, is a peculiar and often delightful film from the Czech Republic. It's a pixilated, marvel-filled work and it may keep you off balance for its entire running time--wondering how much of it is real, how much is fiction and how much is reality that has been playfully exaggerated.

What is Shutka and does it really exist? As one of Nino Rota's old Federico Fellini scores tinkles away merrily in the background, we're guided by director Aleksandar Manic into a realm where almost everybody is involved in some kind of daffy game or competition. We're taken to goose fights, boxing matches and Turkish musical contests in what's described as one of the largest Romany (Gypsy) communities in the world.But are townspeople such as Uncle Veso, the town's resale clothing king and 75-year-old self-proclaimed "champion lovemaker," real or figments of imagination?

Apparently, they are real. Though "Shutka" is narrated by Bajram Severdzan, an actor from director Emir Kusturica's 1998 "Black Cat, White Cat," much of "The Shutka Book of Records" is non-fiction, albeit self-dramatized. (Severdzan guides us through "Shutka" as the film's fictional narrator, Dr. Koljo.)

The name of the place is actually Suto Orizari or Sutka, a very poor but vibrant suburb of the Macedonian city, Skopje. (It's pronounced "Shutka" by inhabitants.) The characters, except for Koljo, are real-life people, but they're "playing themselves," dramatizing their lives and personalities for Manic's camera. Manic calls his film an "acted documentary."

That's perhaps the most amazing thing about the film, a documentary--or semi-documentary--of such wistfulness, humor and charm that it casts its own tipsy, Gypsy little spell. Manic is obviously very influenced by both Fellini and Kusturica ("Time of the Gypsies"), and, like his model directors, he likes to lyricize life and his stories.

Here he's struck a rich vein. His "Shutka" is a place where everyone seems obsessed with competitions--ranging from those goose fights to one guy who's amassed the town's largest porno collection to another who lives off the local cemetery and claims to be the "graveyard champ." The residents, mostly living on welfare, include whirling dervishes, exorcists and vampire hunters--and one dervish explains to us quite plausibly how to dematerialize in Shutka and rematerialize in America for a quick trip. Even if you don't believe him, you'll probably buy the humanity and enjoy the fun of Shutka's record-breaking citizenry. They put on quite a show.



'The Shutka Book of Records'

Directed by Aleksandar Manic; photographed by Dominik Miskovsky; edited by Ivana Davidova, Manic; original music by Varhan Bauer; also music by Nino Rota, others; produced by Judita Krizova, Manic. In Macedonian, with English subtitles. Opens Friday at Facets Cinematheque. Running time: 1:18. No MPAA rating (adult, for partial nudity, language and discussions of sexual themes).

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