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‘Underground’ a Melancholic Farce on the nature of Masculinity, Patriotism and Tubas

‘Underground’ a Melancholic Farce on the nature of Masculinity, Patriotism and Tubas


Written by Emir Kusturica and Dusan Kovacevic
Directed by Emir Kusturica
Serbia/Germany/France, 1995

Quite often there’s discussion of how to adapt famous authors’ beloved works to the screen. One such author is Kurt Vonnegut, with his awe inspiring, philosophical, literary masterworks providing much speculation on how to visualise his stories. But there’s really no point. Not only because his books are great enough as they are, but because Emir Kusturica’s Underground, has captured the insane energy and brilliant, tangential allegories and discussions that are rarely seen in film.

The film follows three characters: Marko, Blacky and Natalija and their escapades from WWII to 1992, a period that sees the three friends and their country lurching inexorably to their eventual, respective demises. The characters are used as an allegory for the formation of the Balkan nations that they inhabit through the film’s three hour runtime. On top of that, the film looks at heady themes such as the validity of fantasy and reality, national propaganda, the limits of patriotism, national and personal identity and the meaning of life. The film requires multiple viewings to peel back its many layers.

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Another one of the film’s many achievements is its successful use of humour and fantasy to enhance the questions the film asks without diluting the fascinating thoughts that the filmmakers had to offer. Possibly the best example of this is the ending, one of the greatest ever committed to celluloid. Blacky, having destroyed everything around him in a fit of greed and grief, dives into a well and emerges as he was forty years earlier, joining his friends and family on a floating island as they party off into the sunset. This is a continuation of the characters’ obsessions with fantasy, whether that’s living and partying underground, oblivious to what’s taking place on the surface, or having a twelve piece brass band trailing a character during his moments of denial. All of these fantastical elements culminate into an ending that re iterates the fable-like structure of the film when repeating the opening line, “Once upon a time, there was a country…” This quote, added to the boisterous climax, provides the audience with a perfect capper to a film that’s filled to the brim with subtle and over the top symbolism, rambling metaphors, philosophical questions and the odd tuba player.

– James Waters