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A Wonderful Night in Split

A Wonderful Night in Split will always be one of my favourite cinematic discoveries. Not because it's the greatest film I've ever seen or anything, but it's just the act of discovering it that'll always ensure it a special place in my heart. You see, I found it during the summer of 2019, when my obsession with hidden gems was at its peak. At the tame time, i had zero faith in Croats and our artistic talent. So when I found a croatian film that's not just great by our standards, but actually great with no need for qualifiers, it was, as you can imagine, a pretty big deal.
Another reason this film is so special to me, and why I might rate it higher than you would, is because Split is where I moved to for college. I was so relieved to finally be done with high school melodrama that I began to associate Split with comfort, which coincidentally fits with the tone of the film.

But enough about me, here's why you need to watch A Wonderful Night in Split.

To begin with, you rarely see a movie in which all the individual elements - cinematography, story structure, casting, and so on - blend so seamlessly. As I said, its goal is to create a sense of comfort and familiarity among the darkness, and all the choices reflect that. For example, why does it follow three stories instead of one? So we can see the Split ghetto and its community from multiple angles, as if we actually lived there. All the stories make use of certain common elements - the new year's countdown, Dino Dvornik's concert, a bar, an unnamed bum, the drug dealer Crni (effectively the main character of the film), etc., but in each one, they serve a different purpose. I know it sounds gimmicky, but it really succeeds at giving you the full image of all these things when you see them from the perspective of a smuggler, a debtor and a quitter.

Such a thing may seem hard to make without coming ut with some wonky pacing, but that's not the case at all. Despite, or perhaps because of all these connecting elements, all the stories proceed logically and organically. They segue into one another smoothly too, thanks to how each one discretely sets up the following (e.g. when Nike runs into the american sailors that Maja will be whored out to). The dialogue is a little bit stilted, but it's nothing too bad. It does have its moments, specifically in Maja's story. I loved Coolio's character, and there's a certain subtle, but gut-wrenching line from the old lady. I don't know how to translate it into english, but if it wasn't for Ciguli Miguli and him becoming a monument, it'd be the greatest line in all of ex-yu cinema.
The performances are great all around, with my cousin Marinko Prga delivering the best one as Crni.

Finally, most people's main point of praise for the film is its ghostly black-and-white visual style, and I can confirm that it's 100% justified praise. It works to the same goal as everything else I just mentioned, on top of being drop-dead gorgeous.
Anyway, the bottom line is that A Wonderful Night in Split is a fantastic film, even ignoring my rose-tinted glasses. It's just barely good enough for a
, but good enough nonetheless.
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I'm the Yugoslav cinema guy. I dig through garbage. I look for gems.



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Another rant on an overrated serbian film? You bet.

Underground


There are two archetypes which together form my opinion on Underground: Owen Benjamin's ''wizard'' and the Balkans' ''gypsy''. if you don't know what I'm talking about, a wizard (in Owen's lingo) is someone who sells you an idea by manipulating your emotions, while a gypsy (as stereotyped by the Balkans) is vulgar, smelly and has no interests outside of satisfying his primal urges. Examples of the wizard include Edward Bernays, John Lennon and Steven Spielberg, while examples of the gypsy include Benito Mussolini and Lil' Wayne.

Emir Kusturica is, well, a gypsy trying to be a wizard. Let me explain.

Underground follows a family over the span of 50 years, kicking off at World War 2 and ending at the Yugoslav Wars. While there's plenty of characters to keep up with, only three are really important - the protagonist, his poet friend, and a retard who's supposed to be a Forrest Gump-esque moral crutch. For the duration of the film, set during the cold war, the poet keeps the protagonist and his family locked up in an underground asylum, producing weapons, convincing them that the war against nazis is still in full swing. The plot consists of the three gradually falling out. Let's not beat around the bush any further and acknowledge the fact that the three characters are supposed to represent Croatia (the poet), Serbia (the protagonist) and Bosnia (the retard). Kusturica's message is neither that of a typical četnik, or a typical yugo-nostalgic, but a mixture of the two. I.e. ''Yugoslavia was awesome, but it fell apart. It's those poopyhead Croats' fault!''. It's blatant propaganda, but not the skilled, rousing, Sergei Eisenstein kind. This is the Steven Spielberg kind, but even sappier. The dialogue and acting is like something you'd see in a parody. Yelling, hand-waving, bawling, and lines that sound like ''Oh dear brother mine, for why hast thou forsaken me?''. The poet's decision to deceive the protagonist is so baseless, and he himself is portrayed as so irrationally evil, you'd think Kusturica has nightmares about Ante Pavelić coming to eat him. The movie's calling me a rat to my face, and I'd even get mad if it wasn't so pathetic.

And here's the real kicker: I respect the poet more than the protagonist. You know why? Because, while Kusturica tries his best to portray the protagonist as virtuous, he still comes across as a worthless baboon. The poet may be irrationally evil, but he's the only one who actually keeps things organized. Honestly, the protagonist seemed to be right in his place when producing those guns. His family was also really well-off, all things considered. All because of a strong leader. Remove the black-and-white propagandist morality and what you're left with is one character who builds empires, and another who sits around and masturbates. This film is so bad it portrays its own country like A. Wyatt Mann portrays black people, and thinks it's a compliment.

Just ignore the allegory and enjoy the story
That's exactly the problem. You can't ignore the allegory when the story is completely built around it.

But at least the film is technically sound
Nah. Kusturica's style is all about levity. His only good movies, Time of the Gypsies, Life is a Miracle and Black Cat White Cat, were the ones that were satisfied with just being entertainment with no grand political statement. All the booze, dancing and trumpets fall flat when you put them in the context of previously-stated bull****.

If you're talking about production values, than yeah, it has that, but that's no reason to praise a movie. It's not about how big of a budget you have, it's about how you handle the budget that you do have. Lord of the Rings cost a fortune, and it was amazing. H-8 cost peanuts, and it was also amazing. You can't buy talent, period.

So yeah, this is what happens when the archetypal gypsy tries to be a wizard. He makes the spell as loud as possible - not layered, or even intelligent - just loud, because his kind is all about following whoever has the biggest dick. Don't bother, unless you have empty bottles of Ožujsko lying around your house.




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Di je Karlo?
Battleship Potemkin

We've discussed substandard wizardry in Underground, now let's discuss the other end of the spectrum. While the medium of film has no shortage of quality wizards, the one I'd point to as definitive is Sergei Eisenstein. If Kusturica is a gypsy wizard, with dreamcatchers and tarot cards, then Eisenstein is the kind of wizard that lives in an ivory tower and works obsessively on perfecting his craft. His most famous creation, Battleship Potemkin, is the perfect product of that personality. That is to say, it's a tech demo, but one that boasts tech that'll make you **** your pants.

You already know what I'm referring to: its montaging techniques. That's what it's famous for, in fact, it's what launched Russia (soviet union, whatever) into the spotlight of world cinema. For a tech demo to single-handedly earn a country the same reputation as Japan or Italy, it'd have to be nothing short of earth-shattering, and that's exactly what it is. Take a look at some pre-Potemkin films - Nosferatu, Sherlock Jr., Birth of a Nation - all great films in their own right, but whatever implicit message they wanted to convey was done in the same way you'd do in a book or a play. Potemkin communicated in a new way - through what I can best describe as complementing images. For example, everyone knows the Odessa steps sequence, in which the people face off against the military: there it contrasts the images of the ascending crowd running about and the descending army mowing them down at a mechanical rhythm. It's a show of oppression by the enemy, but it's more eloquent than anything cinema has ever had up to that point. I can't even begin to imagine what a big deal this was at its release. It must've been like working a hundred kilometres from home, and one day accidentally discovering you own a car.
True, it was intended as propaganda, but the same techniques would later become essential tools for great directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Vatroslav Mimica, so I'm not gonna complain.

Mind you, Potemkin has more to offer than just the Odessa steps sequence. That kind of technique is present in the whole film, and even besides that, it would've never been remembered this well if it wasn't for the amazing cinematography. Montage aside, all the individual images look amazing. Noone can deny Eisenstein was a visual genius, and his style fits this kind of film like a glove. The world is in constant motion. Something is always askew, or tumbling down, or flailing wildly. You don't get a moment of peace up until the end. I usually watch films slumped in my couch, but if it's by Eisenstein, I'll watch it sitting up like a jumpy merkat. It just has that effect on you. Of course, you can't not bring up the amazing score accompanying the visual chaos.

Battleship Potemkin is usually considered the best Russian film of all time, and I heavily disagree with that. Most important one, absolutely, but not the best. Good art, to me, comes from a mix of good technique and strong personality. As amazing as Potemkin's technique is, it still has the soul of a tech demo, and thus can't be as memorable as Come and See, The Return, or Stalker. I'm a neckbeard zoomer who considers Russians to be the most talented people on Earth, so I don't take the title of ''best russian film'' lightly, but I still respect Battleship Potemkin as I should. Because of that weird dynamic I have with it, I'm gonna do something I've never done before - not give it any rating. A 9 feels disrespectful, a 10 feels insincere. I'm gonna recommend you see it, more as a matter of literacy than pleasure, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy it.

Edit: apparently it needs a rating to be approved. Here's a
based purely on subjective enjoyment



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Idiocracy

If there's ever a film I get to call ''nostalgic'', it's this one. I first saw it when I was so little my family was still using VHS tapes, it later became the first film to ever influence how I behaved irl, and when I found out it's by the same guy as Beavis and Butthead, you can only imagine what a ''bruh'' moment that was. While I don't think of it as highly as I used to, I still like it a lot. That often gives people the wrong impression of me - I know that Idiocracy has built up some bad connotations over the years, so let me clear it up right now that I mainly like this film because it's funny. In fact, for a film known as ''the comedy that became a documentary'', the actual satire is ironically the worst part about it. Not that it's bad, it has just aged poorly. It makes fun of the white trash pop culture of the early-to-mid 2000s - the age of Halo, Nu-metal, and George Bush - which just isn't a thing anymore.

Mind you, even if the satire doesn't resonate with you, Idiocracy is still enjoyable. Why? Because it goes in with the right additude. If those garbage serbian comedies have taught me anything, it's that if you approach comedy with an overly stuck-up additude, you don't stand a chance at ever being funny. Idiocracy passes that test with flying colours. All the jokes are delivered in the same way as in Beavis and Butthead. They don't feel like scripted jokes with setups and punchlines as much as just stupid people being stupid. Mike Judge knows how to make that sort of humour work, and you can't deny it.

Granted, it's also important that you don't put too much focus on the message, but I've found another ''don't'' of satire that Idiocracy smartly abides by. When you make fun of something, in essence telling us not to be like it, don't try to suggest what we should be like. That's patronizing. Thinking back, it's the reason Birdman left such a bad taste in my mouth, when it suggested artists should be more like Marina Abramović. Likewise, if Idiocracy suggested we should all be vegans and drive hybrids, it wouldn't be as fondly remembered. I guarantee it.

Plus, having Terry Crews play the president was a stroke of pure genius.




I still enjoy Idiocracy, and I'll argue the satire still plays well given the current political climate....



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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


The good, the Bad and the Ugly is one of the most enduring films ever made. More than 50 years since its release with no sequels, remakes and video games inbetween, it is still a film everyone and their dog knows about. But why? What did it do that made it click so well with people? That's what I intend to find out.

The most obvious point to make is the score by Ennio Morricone. There's no denying it, the score is amazing, as is the entire stylistic aspect of the film. The cinematography manges to stay fresh throughout without being distractingly flashy, and has an excellent sense of scale. No matter if you're in a bustling town or a heated battlefield, you always feel like you're there. The directing, too, is truly inspired (for the lack of a better word).

One, more specific, perk of GBU that you don't hear much about is its efficient writing. Its main trio is introduced quickly and elegantly in the first 20 or or minutes, giving you a general idea of who these characters are, how they go about their business, and what are their strengths and weaknesses. There is depth to the setting and characters, but it is achieved with the minimal exposition. Hell, you can tell who these characters are just by looking at them. Clint Eastwood is the definitive ''lone badass gunslinger'', but Eli Wallach embodies the ''greasy loudmouth bandit'' just as well, as does Lee Van Cleef the ''stone cold hitman''. If brevity is the soul of wit, then The Good, the bad and the Ugly is a very, very witty movie.

If I had to explain the essence of this film in one word, it'd be ''clash''. You have Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eyes racing to get the buried gold, using the opportunities and avoiding the threats that come from the ongoing civil war. The goal, combatants and setting are all in place. The entertainment value is in watching the tides turn and the characters gain the upper hand over one another in ways that make sense for them, within the context of the setting. It's sort of like watching a boxing match between two very unorthodox fighters.
Needless to say, there's an emphasis on action over words. If the writing is concise and the goal is as simple as ''get $'', then why is it 3 hours long? Because, to put it simply, the characters go though a lot. The setting gives them a lot of ways to get screwed over, and screwed over they get.

Still, that doesn't answer my question. Many adventure films before and after it have had good directing and writing, and they haven't clicked nearly as well with everyone. With that in mind, I have found one thing GBU does better than any other film I've seen so far, and I don't think there's even a word for it. It's the fact that all the depth, both in the characters and the setting, are implicit. For example, Blondie seems like a very one-dimensional character, but the bits where he plays with a kitten or offers some whiskey to a dying soldier gets you thinking if he's really all he seems to be. The same goes for Angel Eyes and his position within the Union army, and the legless drunk veteran who implies the state regular society is in. Tuco is the most explicit character, but it makes sense for who he is. Anyway, that tinge of mystery makes a lot of difference. Every action carries a lot more weight when you know there's something deeper brewing beneath it, but can't put your finger on what that something is.

(duh)



Nice review! I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the film. I think my favorite thing about The Good, The Bad and the Ugly is that it can feel simultaneously epic, yet intimate at the same time. With my most recent viewing, I noticed how, besides the three main characters, barely anyone else gets much screen time. Like, Angel Eyes' henchman in the Confederate Army gets a decent amount of screentime. However, the Union general from the bridge sequence, Tuco's brother, Bill Carson, and Bill Carson's wife (?) only get a couple scenes at the most. Hell, Angel Eyes gets somewhat limited screentime as well. In spite of this, however, it also feels quite expansive given how it's an incredibly vivid depiction of the Civil War, showing the philosophies of both sides quite thoroughly.