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[whitespace] Nikola Ristanovski
Life Is a Weird Stage Show: Nikola Ristanovski's cabaret performer is one of the many characters whose lives intersect in 'Cabaret Balkan.'

Belgrade Blast

'Cabaret Balkan' looks at Belgrade life after the war and before the bombing

By Don Hines

THE NEW FILM Cabaret Balkan is less a cabaret and more a macho series of Balkan set pieces ending in bangs, not whimpers. Powder Keg, the film's original title, fits better but doesn't appeal to fans of Weimar decadence or Liza Minnelli. Bob Fosse's musical Cabaret celebrated and mocked decaying '30s Berlin. Goran Paskaljevic's Cabaret Balkan follows two dozen Belgrade residents resigned to trudging through a night of drudgery, black-market goods and black humor.

The film is set in 1995; the city is in turmoil by Western standards. In the Balkans, this is peacetime, after the Balkan war but before NATO planes bombed the city. The residents are displaced and shellshocked. The camera follows a teenager harassing a young woman from his car window as he accidentally rear-ends a VW bug. The car's owner, John (Bogdan Diklic), weeps and rages as if his child has been killed. He and a boxer pal chase the kid to his father's apartment, where John smashes mirrors and chairs. A few scenes later, the boxer spars with his best friend (Lazar Ristovski) and confesses to bedding his friend's wife while his friend was away during the war. The two joke and fight to death. Next the camera follows the vodka-soused friend to a railway car where he menaces a young woman with a hand grenade. "Why are you doing this?" she asks. "I just killed my best friend," he replies. "Why?" she asks. "He was fucking my wife," he answers, then pulls the pin on the grenade.

Throughout this cabaret, the camera follows a character from the side of one scene to the center of another. Quentin Tarantino worked such segues successfully in Pulp Fiction. Here the technique is an excuse for lazy links between scenes. Cabaret Balkan remains disjointed as film narrative, yet the strong male actors convey Slavic fatalism: each scene ends with a last great act of defiance. And as during war, women are given little to do but much to fear. The outlook may seem bleak and the humor sardonic, but Belgrade is the city where friendly NATO bombers destroyed the Chinese embassy last Spring. Absurdity and nihilism are constant companions along with the poverty, embargo and food lines. Every character acknowledges hope and irony, regardless of circumstance, by prefacing each drink with the Slavic toast "to your health."

'Cabaret Balkan' (R; 100 min.), directed by Goran Paskaljevic, written by Dejan Dukovski and Paskaljevic, photographed by Milan Spasic and starring Bogdan Diklic and Lazar Ristovski, opens Friday in San Jose at the Camera 3.

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From the September 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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