Cirkus Columbia

Last night was a Friday night that I shall never forget. I saw my third film of the HKIFF. I was deliriously happy about what I saw. It was a beautiful film in many ways. It starts with a shot of a young man getting up, going into the patio to have breakfast and asking his mom to bring him his shirt. He uses his finger to pick up some food on the wooden table and is scolded by his mom, and says he is merely trying to taste it. He is told to wash his hands which he does using the water from the water jug from which he drinks. A military captain arrives and brings him a box which contains a powerful attenae. He goes up the roof and sets it up immediately, dropping things from the roof which nearly hit someone below. He is an amateur ham radio enthusiast.

Next we see a slick new Mercedes Benz travelling down a small country road amidst mottled green leaves, the sun shining behind them as fluttering films of translucence. From the windshield, we see to the left a beautiful slim sexy young red head with a big wicker basket in front of her chest expressing surprise that Bonny inside was vomiting. At the steering wheel to her left, we see a middle aged man with a thick head of hair and bushy eyebrows. A haunting folk melody was being sung by an angel like female voice. The car stops by a gas station. A gauche young man in T-shirt who looks like he hasn’t fully woken up comes up hesitantly to service the novel car and is trying to figure out where the gas tank entry was. He fills her up. He wakes his sleeping companion and signals him to look at the beautiful young lady. The man pays. The young gas station attendant says he hasn’t got change. The middle aged man asks where his boss is. He says his boss is still sleeping and won’t be around until about 10 a.m. The middle aged man shrugs his shoulders and says at least the boy can wash the windscreen. The young man does so but nearly breaks the rain wiper and apologizes. The Benz leaves.

The car arrives at a small town. It owner finds a bar whose boss seems to know him and who brings out his best wine and freshly baked meat. He asks how he can get back his flat and is told that he must go find the mayor. He does. The mayor seems quite familiar with him too. He whisk out a bottle of good wine which he says he has been drinking for the past 20 years whilst the mayor brings out from under his table some ham which he says he has been eating for the past 50 years. They have a good time with the ham and the wine reminiscing good old times. The mayor thanks him for the big donation he made for him. He tells the mayor he has a little problem: how to get back his flat after it has been occupied rent free by others for 20 years. The mayor says there is no problem. We next see a whole team of people of policemen arriving at his flat and demanding that it be returned. A woman pours scalding hot water on the policeman and swears she will die before she leaves. The mayor calls in the firemen. They arrive and ram open the door, rush in and get the screaming and shrieking woman out and lock her up in the police car and later in a cell but the new mayor offers her a run down city council flat. The man goes into his former home, inspects everything and installs himself and his girl friend there. They were supposed to get the divorce papers ready so that he can legally marry the girl. But once he is there, his mind seems occupied by other things.

The young man at the gas station arrives back in a bicycle, finds its door closed against having a new occupant. In the night, he hurls a stone at the bedroom window, breaks it and leaves in his bicycle. The next morning, he climbs up the wall and the metal stairs around the pipes at the side of the house to get back his radio and tries it out. He gets a radio ham signal from America and is ecstatic. Someone hears him. He is found out and is brought down to face the middle aged man. To his surprise, the middle aged man is not angry and give him the keys to the house and tells him to enter through the front door if he like and need not to climb in like a thief. It turns out that the woman the man (called Divko) evicts is his ex-wife Lucija and the gauche young man is his son Martin and Bonny is a black tom cat!

Soon, Bonny is missing. He himself looks for him everywhere and can’t find him. He then sends his son and his girl friend to look for it and became the laughing stock of the town. After a while, he figured out a way to get back at those who laugh at him. He put up notices everywhere that there will be a reward of 2000 Deutsche mark for any one who can bring back the cat and we next see a scene in which we see lights up everywhere in the middle of the night and we hear off screen, everyone calling for Bonny!

The film is a fast moving hilarious, ironic film on the situation in a small village town in southern Herzegovina, a part of the former Yugoslavia which used to be ruled by the Communist Party now overturned and replaced by a democratic party shortly after 1990 but before the Yugoslavian wars broke out. There are conflicts between friends because of political opinions (whether one supports Communism or capitalism), ethnic origin (whether one is a Serbian or a Croatian), class (whether one is rich or poor), official status (whether one is a civilian, a police or a military official). Friends become foes and foes become friends because of such differences.

As the film ends, we see the middle aged man, sending away his son and his new girl friend Azra who has in the meantime developed a romantic liaison whilst searching together for their fiancé’s and their father’s darling Bonny, off to Germany because of certain Serbian military coup, in the middle aged man’s car, together with the head of the local police, with money given to the young man by his father. Seeing that he still has a heart for her son, the mother reconciles with her husband. As the cinema resounds with another beautifully lyrical folk song, we see the middle aged man reaching his hand across the seat of his wife as they were riding the Cerkus Columbia, going up and down and round and round, a look of contentment on their faces as in the distance, we see the smoke rising up from three bombs, one following another, one closer than the other, amidst the roofs of the building, close to a church tower but with the sound of the blast muted to a faint crackle, rather like fire-crackers than those of real bombs. Everything seems just a game. I like the way the director skilfully ties everything up with this final image of the merry-go-round. It is the perfect symbol of what goes on in Herzegovina with its endless changes of place in the musical chair and constant shifts in the balance of power between now the Communist, now the Democrats, now the military, now the police, now the old mayor and now the new mayor, now the husband, now the wife, now the past and now the present, now man, now a tom cat! What started out as a revenge ends with a reconciliation, of a man with his own past which never deserts him and works its magic on him and transforms him back to where he started once he is in touch with it again!

The middle aged man, Divko Buntic is wonderuflly played by Miki Manojlovic, who is most convincing as a monomaniac, his ex-wife Lucija by Mira Furlan, his son Martin by Boris Ler and his girlfriend Azra by Jelena Stupljanin. Miki is simply superb as the self-centred and half-crazed and monomaniacal but generous Divko bent on punishing his ex-wife and ignoring his new girl friend once he is home from Germany after 20 years and on finding his lost cat, which ironically only appears on the branch of a nearby tree when he and his ex-wife are enjoying the swing in the old fashioned Cirkus! The photography is sensitive and the music very listenable!

The director of the film Danis Tanovic co-adapted the film script based on the novel of the same name by the Croatian journalist Ivica Dikic. The film was selected as the Bosnian entry for the best foreign language film at the 83rd Academy Awards but lost.

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