BALKAN BORE

 

REVIEWED - LIFE IS A MIRACLE/ZIVOT JE CUDO: The president of the jury at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Emir Kusturica is one of just four film directors with the distinction of twice winning the festival's major award, the Palme d'Or, writes Michael Dwyer. (The others are Francis Ford Coppola, Shohei Imamura and Bille August.)

However, last year's Cannes jury decided not to give any prizes to Kusturica's latest film, Life Is a Miracle, which treads similar ground to his last Palme d'Or-winning 1995 film, Undergound. That vividly captured the Balkan war in all its horror, chaos and insanity.

Life Is a Miracle begins in 1992, the year before the war, as the inhabitants of a remote Bosnian village vainly try to persuade themselves that the war will never happen. Luka (Slavko Stimac) is a Serbian engineer building a railway line designed to attract tourists to the area.

When the conflict breaks out, Luka's life is turned upside down. His opera singer wife leaves him for another man. His son, a rising soccer star (played by the director's son, Stribor Kusturica) is called up for army service. And, in a heavy-handed spin on Romeo and Juliet, Luka falls for Sabaha (Natasa Solak), the Muslim hostage he is assigned to guard.

Clearly oblivious to the concept that less is more, Kusturica, who spent over a year shooting Life Is a Miracle, populates his picture with a gallery of eccentrics played in outsized performances as he plunges them into an atmosphere of chaos and overflowing nervous energy. There are more performing animals in the cast than in the average Disney animated flick, among them a lovesick, suicidal donkey.

A much lighter exercise than Underground, and sniffing of deja vu, the film is composed as a series of elaborate surrealist set-pieces crafted with Kusturica's trademark virtuosity - the most striking a foggy, floodlit soccer match that descends into cacophonous anarchy - and accompanied by an incessantly boisterous score from gypsy techno-rock band the No Smoking Orchestra, in which Kusturica plays guitar. However, self-indulgently extended to over two and a half hours, the movie ultimately proves exhausting.