Do You Remember, Dolly Bell? (Emir Kusturica / Yugoslavia, 1981):
(Sjecas Li Se, Dolly Bell?)

Or: Do You Remember Sarajevo? Emir Kusturica does, fondly and grittily, with the Yugoslavian burg of his freshman remembrance piece surprisingly staid next not only to its encroaching decimation, but also to the director's future cinematic dervishes. Still, there's no shortage of rolling-roistering-slapping in these 1960s: Italian rock 'n' roll blasts from a loudspeaker, and the camera tilts down the post to find Slavko Stimac, the 16-year-old Kusturica stand-in, in the middle of the carnival, with a caged monkey, fervid betting, boys pissing in the same bonfire where books are being torched, and the first of many smacks to the head. Life at home is scarcely less frenetic: Slobodan Aligrudic, the father, comes back drunk from Marxist meetings and wakes the kids up to hold mock-assemblies around the dinner table, Stimac's little brother taking minutes. "Communism is forged in factories. Fuck all the rest," the father bellows, though Stimac is far less interested in the liberation of the proletariat than in trying hypnosis on his pet bunny, a way of establishing some kind of control to his life. Not that human appetites could, or should, be corseted by control for Kusturica, and the town gathers for some communal sensory immersion at the dance floor, shimmering in unison to "Book of Love" or watching reels of Dolce Vita nightlife projected onto a big sheet. A burlesque queen dubbed Dolly Bell materializes in one such kitschy snippet, and Stimac is smitten; his wish is granted, sort of, when the local pimp drops off Ljiljana Blagojevic, who's appropriated the dancer's moniker, in the kid's attic. The bond between boy and older tart provides the anecdotal narrative with its standard arc, but their inevitable consummation does not take place until the two have poured jars of water over each other's heads -- a detail from memory made fecund by time, like Stimac's older bro turning up in a white suit at a sodden family gathering, the uncle strumming and crooning as the kids scuffle in the background. The father dies dreaming of Marx's utopia while Kusturica, the son, is left to see the harsh Balkan reality, and mold it into art. Screenplay by Abdulah Sidran and Kusturica. With Mira Banjac, Pavle Vujisic, Nada Pani, and Boro Stjepanovic.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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