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The Powder Keg, also called Cabaret Balkan and Bure Baruta (1998)

Film directed by Goran Paskaljevic
Based on the play by Dejan Dukovski
Original Music by Zoran Simjanovic (plus Divertismento in D-dur by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart)
Actors: Mira Banjac, Ivan Bekjarev, Aleksandar Bercek, Vojislav Brajovic, Azra Cengic, Bogdan Diklic, Milena Dravic, Nebojsa Glogovac, Mirjana Jokovic, Dragan Jovanovic (I) and others
Produced in Yugoslavia, Macedonia, France, Greece and Turkey
Running time: 102 min1

"Tonight, I'm gonna... fuck you... and you... and you all", says a bored, stocky man dressed up like Mephisto, blowing smoke into the audience, when the music starts in the bar called "Cabaret Balkan, and he is right.

Although, in this film, the only thing that reminds you there's a civil war going on in mid-1990s' Belgrade, Serbia, Yugoslavia, is the sound of bombs falling miles away, unnoticed by any of the protagonists and even the statists, to me, this is the strongest movie about what a diseased society can make out of its citizens, for example by war, without them even noticing it.

The film consists of short scenes, playing in several places in Belgrade, and dealing with the encounters of different people. All of these scenes are linked by links between one or more protagonists, as well as by all circling around Cabaret Balkan where nowadays' Mephisto, though not relating to any of these scenes in particular, promptly supplies the (tv and bar) audience with the interpretation.

The first shot you see is the median strip of a road driven over by a taxi driver asking his guest who just returned to Yugoslavia, "This is a goddamned lousy country, why would anyone want to come back"?.

Well, I can tell you why he came back, because a few scenes later we learn that he planned to reconquer the heart of the woman he deserted because of reasons he can't explain himself, leaving her in a complete mess. So, he decides to make her visit him at the pier where he pretends to commit suicide, this scene underlaid by beautiful classical music performed by an orchestra he hired for this, driving around the corner in a huge ship just as he enters the water. The woman is horrified, screaming and crying in remorse, and we can see him, hidden near the water, smiling to himself. He stops smiling, though, when the woman's new boyfriend says "Hello" and smashes his head.

A young man gets into a bus where some passengers are already waiting for hours for the driver to reappear from having a cup of coffee. (Sic. Nothing matters anyway.) After hearing this, the young man gets angry, talking himself into rage and starting to harass the other passengers, threatening them with a knife and shouting what a "Godforsaken" country this is. He sits down next to a young woman (which the now-dead passenger saw on the street during his taxi ride when she was insulted by another young man), starts harassing her sexually, gets into a fight with the passengers and is finally killed by bus driver who's back from his coffee break. This young man (small-time D-Fens, "Falling Down") never even touched anyone before the fight that a nice old grandpa started began.

Some scenes later, the same young woman meets her boyfriend who starts another fight, being jealous because she has been harassed when a hooligan spots them. It ends with the hooligan being killed by the girl's boyfriend for breaking her various fingers while listening to Mozart. In the distance, final shot, you can see a fence, a teenage boy clinging to it, being hunted down by ordinary people for stealing a canister of gasoline.

These being only some of the scenes, the film is extraordinarily brutal, and as soon as you start to identify with any of the characters, you get hit in the face by his or her depravity, and everyone you get to know as a victim being insulted or hurt sooner or later turns out to be a culprit as well. The only exception is the girl in the bus who impersonates the victim per se, but after you see her drive and walk through Belgrade right past aggression, not even winking once, even she gets repulsive. There is no Good or Bad left, nothing to cling to or rely on but aggression.

So right now, we are back in Cabaret Balkan where poor Mephisto blows smoke into people's eyes and hasn't got anything to do. Just like his predecessor Mephistopheles complained in Goethe's "Faust", people are doing his work for him so ambitiously that he even pities them. What else should he do anyway?

(This film knocked me out, though I think it's right. Don't watch this if you're in a bad mood already.)

1Taken from http://www.imdb.de

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