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Immigrants' Rites

hard cash
All You Need is Money: Sergej Trifunovic tempts Zorka Manojlovic with the wealth of the New World in "Someone Else's America."

'Someone Else's America' takes a comic look at the serious subject of cultural assimilation

By Richard von Busack

IN GORAN PASKALJEVIC'S new film, Someone Else's America, protagonist Bayo the Montenegrin--"I am Montenegro; Montenegro never surrender"--is played by Miki Manojlovic as a classic sad-sack, a sort of unshaven ethnic Popeye whose affectionate slap can knock a person nearly unconscious. He lives with his pet rooster in the basement of a Brooklyn bar, from which he emerges to do illegal-alien odd jobs. His pining family back in the motherland misses him too much to carry on, so they decide to book passage to Mexico to enter the U.S. illegally and join him. While crossing the Rio Grande into America, the youngest of the bunch, Pepo, is swept away by the water; his accordion, floating off to oblivion on the river, is a neat visual metaphor for what gets lost during the process of cultural assimilation.

Someone Else's America, a vinegary comedy about the Old Country and the new, contrasts a basic sentimentality with authentically grimy surfaces, and the combination recalls the best of Steinbeck's Tortilla Flat. Manojlovic is a reminder that Walter Matthau's real name is Matuschanskavasky; only two such similar Slavic temperaments could face the world with such bottomless suspicion. With a Lugosi accent and an expression like a rebuked hound, Manojlovic shows us an angle on the New World experience that is a pleasant change from the usual portrait of an immigrant fawning over the Empire State Building. Bayo is right to be suspicious; one of his sons, Luka (Sergej Trifunovic), has been manipulating the family to get them to America faster. Trifunovic gives a balanced, thorny performance full of unscrupulousness combined with forgivable motives; despite his sometimes repellent conniving, you feel sympathy for his desire to out-hustle a hustling nation.

The movie may be about the bitter bread of exile, but it offers a light, comic perspective on a difficult subject. The grandmother (Zorka Manojlovic) weeps in the new country, but what she's weeping for is missing the smell of goats. Bringing her one of the animals is Bayo's chum and foil, the equally hard-luck legal Spanish immigrant Alonso (played with delightful hamming by Tom Conti). Conti and Manojlovic make a pleasing comic team, and it's only when Paskaljevic pumps up the friendship, during the course of an overlong, redundant and eventually sugary ending, that you wish for the delicacy of the way he layered the New World and Old World stories, and his previous careful handling of the emotional material. Someone Else's America isn't just an ethnographic curiosity; this is a genuinely warm-hearted comedy all the more refreshing since it arrives during an era of mean-spirited public attitude toward new arrivals to the U.S. Too many demagogues have forgotten that their relatives were fresh off a boat, once.

Someone Else's America (Unrated; 96 min.), directed by Goran Paskaljevic, written by Gordan Mihic, photographed by Yorgos Arvanitis and starring Tom Conti and Miki Manojlovic.

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From the May 30-June 5, 1996 issue of Metro

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