Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Neglected Gem #10: Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996)

It’s a funny thing about movies. They may get critical acclaim, even score some box office success and years later they’re barely mentioned by anyone or even remembered. And there’s often no discernible reason for their fates. I really can’t tell why Neil Jordan’s terrific and accessible heist movie The Good Thief, which got good reviews when it came out in 2002, has pretty much vanished into the ether. Or why Steve Jordan’s powerful documentary Stevie (2002) failed to match the impact of his earlier 1994 doc Hoop Dreams. Or even why The Lord of the Rings’s Peter Jackson’s mock 1995 documentary Forgotten Silver didn’t become the cult hit it should have been. In any case, here is the latest entry in a series of disparate movies you really ought to see.

The long-running, bloody Bosnian conflict is the backdrop for this forceful anti-war drama, which opens and closes with newsreel footage of politicians dedicating monuments to friendship among Yugoslavia 's various factions. In each case, the dignitary cutting the ribbon cuts himself instead. That gives an idea of the tone of this cleverly named film, which largely takes place in an abandoned tunnel in which a group of Serbs are besieged by Muslim soldiers. But the movie opens in a hospital ward where the tunnel survivors try to keep their old hatreds alive. It also flashes backward to the pre-war relationship between a Serb named Milan (Dragan Bjelogric) and a Muslim named Halil (Nikola Pejakovic) who later become bitter enemies. With some scenes worthy of Vonnegut at his most hallucinatory, Pretty Village, Pretty Flame, ably guided by director Srdjan Dragojevic, barrels its way forward, forcing the audience to pay attention. The film, which won the best film award at the Stockholm fest and was Yugoslavia 's foreign-language Oscar entry, is somewhat clich├ęd and a little more pro-Serb than necessary, but it packs a genuine punch.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular courses at Ryerson University 's LIFE Institute, where he just finished teaching a course on the work of Steven Spielberg. He is currently teaching a course there on the films of Sidney Lumet, which began on Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.

No comments:

Post a Comment