Political Film Society - Cabaret Balkan

PFS Film Review
Cabaret Balkan (Bure Baruta)


What happens to otherwise normal people when the amount of civil disorder is so rampant that authorities cannot stop the chaos? Contrast Belgradians and Beirutians in two recently Political Film Society-nominated films: In most Eastern European countries as the Cold War ended, the answer was for the leaders to resign, new leaders to rise to power democratically, and for the situation to calm down as the government was seen as reasonably legitimate. Not so in Yugoslavia, where ethnic scapegoating on all sides led to civil war. We have heard about problems in Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo, but what about Serbia and its capital Belgrade itself? The embargo, the corruption, the mass demonstrations, the repression, the false propaganda, and the wars have so impacted Belgradians that the presumption of civility in interpersonal relations has been totally destroyed, if we are to accept the premise of the film Cabaret Balkan, the American title for Bure Baruta (in France, Paris de poudre, and in England The Powder Keg), a Serbian film directed by Goran Paskalievic, based on the play by Dejan Dukovski. The film consists of a series of episodes in which a minor indiscretion becomes the basis for major retaliation; all perspective is lost because nobody is happy, and someone else must be blamed. Although the film claims that there are one hundred Belgradians for every police officer, we see none acting to stop the massive chaos. Indeed, in one scene a taxicab driver admits to breaking nearly every bone in the body of a police officer who months ago had beaten his testicles to impotence after catching him engaging in petty theft. We also view a minor fenderbender accident so escalates that the owner of the damaged car destroys treasures in the apartment of the owner of the other car and nearly rapes the owner's son, who was responsible for the scratch. A couple are quarreling, and a man with a gun tries to rape the woman while his associate holds her lover at gunpoint. Two boxing partners admit sexual indiscretions to each other, only to punch each other out, and plenty of blood flows. Other stories are even more grotesque. In Cabaret Balkan, a nightclub, a master of ceremonies tries to tell the horror like it is but impresses no one, since words no longer have shock value compared to the reality that anything terrible can happen to anyone anytime. The film dashes any hope that international troops in parts of the former Yugoslavia will return home anytime soon and, more profoundly, asks but does not answer at what point civilized behavior breaks down, and endless feuding and even genocide begin? Analyses of race riots in the United States, feuding in Northern Ireland, and civil war in East Timor have tended to focus on clashes between groups with opposing interests, but Cabaret Balkan presents one interpersonal encounter after another as a clash with no rational basis for compromise. The film has many epigrammatic statements, such as the repeated phrase "I am guilty" in one of the episodes. However, the most appropriate quote that comes to mind is that in Yugoslavia today there is "no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," as philosopher Thomas Hobbes stated in 1651, characterizing the English civil war (1642-48) as a war of all against all. However, there is little likelihood today, based on the film's representations, that any party in Yugoslavia can accept Hobbes's solution-a strong, central state to which all would accord respect. The film is also nominated as best exposť. MH

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