Celebrating Balkan spunk in “Zivot je cudo” [2004 Serbia, France]

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Emir Kusturica revisits his favourite time and space – the Yugoslavian conflict, in his inimitable style of course, through the romantic comedy “Zivot je cudo” [Eng. Title: Life is a Miracle].

Storyline:
It’s the summer of 1992. Luka (Slavko Stimac) is a happy man after he’s put in charge of his pet project – rebuilding a pre world-war mountain railway that’ll pass through his village, hopefully bringing in tourist traffic from Belgrade and beyond. He loves wife Jadranka (played well by Vesna Trivalic) dearly enough to allow her to walk all over him as she pleases. He’s also greatly fond of his footballer-son Milos (Vuk Kostic) who’s about to be signed-up by a major league. All’s well in the idyllic vale until fault-lines of war crack across his village, stopping in its tracks the launch of his scenic railway. Until then, he never quite gave a thought to the fact that he was a Serb, and that his village was perched between a region that’s predominantly Serb-Christian on one side, and Bosnian-Muslim on the other. And despite the approaching sound of guns and the bombing, Luka refuses to acknowledge that there is a war under way, and that pretty soon his village will also be in the firing line. His wife doesn’t – she nonchalantly elopes with a visiting foreigner, and neither does his son – after being conscripted into the National Army.

The son is taken prisoner by the Bosnians, and in a desperate bid to obtain his release, his colleagues kidnap Sabaha (Natasa Tapuskovic, credited as Natasa Solak) – a young Bosnian nurse, for a potential prisoner-swap, and force Luka to hold her hostage in his house. Luka couldn’t keep her chained up, and before long they fall head-over-heels in love. Their romance will head for rough waters when Luka’s wife Jadranka returns to stake her claim, having gone tired of her foreign lover. But Luka refuses to let go of Sabaha, even when events on the ground will pull them apart after UN peacekeepers arrive. Will Luka now resume his once tranquil existence, or go seeking the love of his life in the newly formed Bosnia – only time will tell…

The film is apparently an abridged version of a television series, but having seen only the film, I’m satisfied that it is complete as it stands and there is no need to compare it with other earlier versions. However, I couldn’t help comparing it with some of Kusturica’s earlier work, notably the brilliant Underground, and Black Cat – White Cat, also made earlier – mostly because of the backdrop of the Balkan war against which they’re set. The emphasis on each of the films are different, but there are some noticeable overlaps among the three. This film is nevertheless sunnier, beautifully filmed, and the breathtaking locations are as much the star as the protagonists.

Kasturica has made a conscious effort to project the film as a comedy, as evidenced by scenes of hyperbolic Fellini-style humour and slapstick featured throughout. There are touches of symbolism too, particularly in the use of animals – for instance through the frequently bickering cat and dog of Luka’s household (comparable to the Serb-Bosnian conflict, or differences among Serbs themselves), and the lovesick ‘suicidal’ donkey – also used as a metaphor for destiny, or even wishful thinking. However, this film isn’t Kusturica’s finest – it is a much simpler film when compared to Underground in terms of depth and calibrated nuance, and is specifically targeted at a mainstream audience with a feel-good craving. The film’s tone isn’t dissimilar to that of a Roberto Benigni, and for those who enjoyed La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful), this would be Recommended Viewing.

Amazon.it DVD Link [PAL]
English Subtitle

 

The Nudity: Natasa Solak (Natasa Tapuskovic)
The building sexual tension between Luka and Sabaha spills over three quarters into the film, in the form of an exuberant lovemaking scene, followed by some autumnal skinny-dipping. The build-up to the love scene is interesting in that, after an argument, Sabaha will catch up with Luka at his hideout using clues left in the form of discarded clothing. Women obviously love this kind of stuff. 🙂

Natasa Tapuskovic in Zivot je cudo

Natasa Tapuskovic in Emir Kusturica’s “Zivot je cudo” aka “Life is a Miracle”.

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