There is still a very special breathtaking feeling of being through another culture shock from the magnificent cinematographic piece which looks impeccable in all respects – the plot, the screenplay, the cast, the images of nature and everyday life in the Godforsaken village somewhere in the middle of Yugoslavia, fabulous soundtrack, both modern and Serbian folk music sounding at the local weekend parties and weddings often turning wild and drunk, picturesque Yugoslav mountains, valleys and full-flowing clear rivers at their Summer best, animals – mostly birds, sometimes with some human features and sometimes acting like real characters. Lots of symbolism – and very Slavonic one at this. Wonderful details like the main characters breathing through cane pipes while escaping from their death beneath the water or the Bride (that is the only name of this main character we know) getting caught in the traditional Slav peasant fish-trap called ‘versha’. And of course, all the heroes. And two brilliant actors Monica Bellucci and Emir Kusturica. It is really a feast!
And this is just the introduction to my short tribute to the latest masterpiece by Emir Kusturica called ‘On the Milky Road’ (2016) being launched these days in Russia.
The main theme of the film is Love. It may appear quite trivial since Love is the mainstay of thousands of plots. But in Kusturica – the Filmmaker’s hands it is very different and special. It comes by chance and almost from nowhere, in a different way to the different heroes. For Kusturica – the Actor’s character Costa, a milkman who brings milk and eggs to his neighbors from a Serbian village fighting for their homes and lives, who rides his ‘racing donkey’ to the frontline seemingly oblivious to life and death and never bearing arms communicating more with this donkey and his tamed sparrowhawk, Love comes out of the blue as a nameless woman (the Bride, brilliantly played by Monica Bellucci), half-Italian and half – Serbian, a refugee from a detention camp on the run from her ‘liberator’ – a British general from NATO’s ‘peacemaking’ KFOR (Kosovo Force)… For the Bride herself Love also comes suddenly, evidently not as a result of her desire to escape from the dangers and loneliness, or cool reasoning but as a thunderbolt, just like a feeling described by Mario Puzo in his ‘Godfather’… And of course there is jealousy from Costa’s named bride Milena (Sloboda Micalovic) that often goes hand-in-hand with love.
There is also War in Kusturica’s film. Not a primitive fight enhanced by state-of-the art visual effects (though there are impressive scenes with gun-fire, explosions, snipers shooting at everything that moves, sadistic mass murder of civilians by the Western ‘peacemakers’ after the Dayton ceasefire) but War as a philosophical and psychological phenomenon affecting Life and Love, the souls and behavior of the heroes. In Kusturica’s film the War is Fatum, a fierce and merciless hurricane that absorbs and destroys everything on its way. Or almost everything, since it cannot destroy Faith, Remembrance and Redemption that stay with those who survive like Costa in the epilogue of the film.
The film is also full of symbolism. Take the scene of a pig brought to slaughter and literally shrieking in a human voice from deadly horror and a crowd of goose joyfully bathing in her blood, or Costa’s falcon (a Slavonic symbol of manhood and strength and at the same time a harbinger of war and death), or the old Austro-Hungarian clocks carefully set by the local peasants until destroyed by the War embodied in the ‘peacekeepers’.
It is also full of magic – with magical escapes of the heroes from the Death or birds and anaconda-sized animated snake in an attempt to save them.
The film is very patriotic and quite political, very much like other films by Kusturica when it comes to Yugoslavia. Not in a straightforward way at all. But it is full of love to the Serbian land and the people, their traditions, language, music and characters. Every detail, hero and turn of the story is definitely attributable to the realities of the recent wars in Yugoslavia as seen by a Serbian patriot and artist. Maybe, it was a reason for ‘On the Milky Road’ missing the awards of the past Venice Film Festival?
It takes a great talent of Emir Kusturica to put together all this philosophical, psychological, ethnic and political themes into one magic film, to produce mental and visual pictures and put them in flesh and blood on the screen. Chapeau bas, Maestro!