Underground (1995)

Genres - Comedy Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Political Satire, Anti-War Film, Black Comedy  |   Run Time - 162 min.  |   Countries - Germany , France , Faroe Islands , Hungary   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Elbert Ventura

Emir Kusturica's Underground is a rambunctious, hyperbolic epic that has nothing less than the modern history of Yugoslavia as its subject. Divided into three parts, the movie begins with the country's struggle against the Nazis in World War II, segues into its Communist phase during the Cold War, and ends with Yugoslavia's disintegration during the ethnic wars that racked the Balkans in the 1990s. Employing his trademark magic-realist vernacular, Kusturica cobbles together a seemingly jerry-built saga. This blatantly allegorical movie portrays post-WWII Yugoslavia as an incoherent, Bosch-ian mess, pulled apart by deception, debauchery, and authoritarianism. Recalling Fellini at his most extravagant, as well as Volkor Schlondorff's The Tin Drum, Kusturica serves up a gallery of grotesque, outsized characters and a sustained rush of surreal excess. The crazed and cluttered mise-en-scène threatens to burst the frames at the seams, and works as a visual correlative to the moral chaos at the heart of Yugoslavia's collapse. For all its originality and technical brilliance, the movie met with controversy in its initial release in Europe. Some critics read its take on Yugoslav history -- particularly its attribution of the country's collapse to its Communist legacy rather than the aggression of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic -- as an apologia for Serbia, a reading Kusturica heatedly disputed. The controversy, largely ignored in the U.S., led the Bosnian-born filmmaker to announce his retirement, a declaration he broke in less than a year when he went to work on his next film, Black Cat, White Cat.