"Underground - like a thunderstorm", interview in French magazine Le Point #1205, 21 October 1995

A powerful brass band welcomes the audience at the very first image of Underground. Intoxicating, it follows us until the very last shot. This gypsy music is at the same time the essence and the clue of the kusturician opera, this apocalyptic vision. It gives to Emir Kusturica's film it vital energy, its organic pulse, almost sexual, comparable to the blood that runs in the Balkans at agony.

Spring 1941. Two friends, Marky and Blako, do small business in the nights of Belgrade, taking their ritual drunkery the day before the first German bombs are falling on the city. Before the men, we'll first see the zoo's monkeys dying. Everything is said in this astonishing prologue full of alcohol, fire and blood. Pleasure and pain, laugh and horror, the last tango in Belgrade falls like a thunderstorm on the screen. The virtuosity of the mise en scène is only equalled by its rigour. Nothing free, nothing indulgent in this stage of fifty years of History, where we follow the adventures of an incredible trio. Two men with their common mistress, a little actress that will soon go with the Nazi, dance together into a universe of craziness. It's the farce and the tragedy together that better tell the derision of History.

Marko doesn't hesitate much long before putting Blacky into the cave of the city. The trick will last much after 1945, all along the Titism, of which Marko becomes an honoured apparatchik, still continuing to simulate the war with noises and old news reports for those below. And then, one day, a monkey destroys with a canon the wall of the lies, opening to the prisoners the doors of a world that some - born under the ground - discover for the first time… Is it the moon or the sun, that lightning star that rises on the river ?

Kusturica's poetry is tender and brutal, nostalgic and painful. ”Lying or dying, you must choose”, said Céline. Underground shows an alternative, death at the entrance and the exit of the tunnel, and the lies to stay inside. But the energy of his hallucinated film is so powerful that you don't even get out broken. The famous gypsy trumpets (music is still est signed Goran Bregović) let believe to better tomorrows, like those children smiles that Fellini put on the beaches to say the worst wasn't ineluctable… Filmed between Prague, Belgrade, Berlin and Bucharest, Underground is a sublime funeral song shot by a man that sill believes in men. You can't miss it.

  • Is the project Underground directly linked to the war that bursts in your country ?
    • Emir Kusturica : It's an idea that is much older, which comes from a theatre play written by Dušan Kovačević before the civil war, and that we adapted together. I loved it since a long time, by its allegoric and aesthetic power. My goal wasn't to reply directly to the events that bloodbath Bosnia, because I don't think the mission of an artist is to express “à chaud” on his time. By the way, the last part, the scene around the Christ, on the village's place, lasts only fifteen minutes. The film starts with a war and ends with another one, but it first speaks of manipulation, passion, jealousy, violence and treason. It show how two friends can lie to each other, and how one can hold the other one locked, away from the world, for a long time. It's globally what made Tito with the Yugoslavs during thirty years. The war, the wars, are just frames, the shape of the whole…
  • You've felt the warm and cold in Cannes, with the Golden Palm, but also with bad critics. Were you expecting these The polemic 'Underground' ?
    • EK : I was expecting attacks, but not the one I had. I don't know if all the ones who wrote those articles - some didn't even see my film - knew how much I'm haunted by the doubt each time I shoot a film - the creation process lies on a permanent doubt, so, to read that I'm an impostor or an exhibitionist, or whatever… About the more politic critics, which consider my film is pro Serb and I'm a supporter of Milošević, I can't admit them. Underground is an ironic pamphlet against all the propagandas, wherever they come from…
  • But yet, aren't there some ambiguous shots, like the one at the end ? Isn't there some provocation when you present the film in official projection in Belgrade ?
    • EK : The image of the earth opening, this island that gets isolated, it's the symbol of the tectonic quake that announced the death of Yugoslavia. I don't target neither the Serbs, neither the Croats. I just show the piece that goes away. As to the projection in Belgrade, don't forget two or three things. First, I shot the film in this city, and I thought it was normal to show it the its inhabitants. Then, I'm still citizen of Yugoslavia, and I still have my old passport, even if all this has no more sense today. I've been happy for a long time in this marvellous country, in this city of Saravejo where I lived until I was 18, and which was a symbol of pluriethnic, plurireligious culture, open to all the beliefs. We'll never live those magical moments again. Maybe a new peace shall be built one day, but it won't resuscitate this past inherited from the Europe of the XIXth century… I would like to make you understand that Underground is a film deeply and sincerely humanistic, and which roots belong to my history, to my family, to my dead father fighting against the Nazis, to the Balkans. I made a personal visceral, sentimental opus on a volcanic, explosive, but also full of vital energy region. So, if I'm “politically incorrect”, well, too bad, or rather, good, because I hope to stay like that until my death, to keep my independence and my freedom against the intellectual (or not) terrorism…
  • Which of your films do you prefer ?

Translation by Matthieu Dhennin

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