“I was born in a country where hope, laughter and joie de vivre is stronger then anywhere else – and so is evil too – therefore you either become the evil-doer or the victim.
When a group of people crawls out of their cave after a couple of decades and sees a war still raging, they yearn for their underground life, convinced that war had never even been interrupted. They have been deceived, only to discover the passionate, humiliating, bloody truth, that all of it is true after all.
In the film, the world above the ground is depicted in full real-life colour and dimensions. We see the underground world in the faded, theatre-like colour of manipulated lies. The two worlds will finally communicate, exchanging their values: decadence and suffering. They will laugh at each other, at us, and when they finally meet, they will laugh at each other too.“
Shooting of the motion picture UNDERGROUND begun in the Barandov Studio in Prague, on October 1993, and was completed in Belgrade on January 1995. This is the first movie Kusturica shot in Yugoslavia since 1988, and represents his dramatic reaction to what happened in his country in the meanwhile. “I live in a country consumed by the fire of a passionate war. I sought a story which would not only answer historical questions about the country but also those that arise with regard to its people.”
Kusturica found the embryo of the story he was looking for in a story written many years ago by Dusan Kovacevic. “Twenty years ago, I wrote a story about a man who holds people locked up in a cellar, making them believe that there is still a war going on”, Kovacevic remembers. “Only the skeleton of the story was left unchanged, everything else was changed. The initial idea helped Emir and me write a story not about a family, as it originally was, but about a country. We wanted to show people, who generally speaking know very little about our country, how we used to live and what brought about this passionate war.”
In UNDERGROUND all the key creative talents from Kusturica’s previous films gathered once again. The trio behind the scenes includes DP Vilko Filac, who filmed all Kusturica’s movies, composer Goran Bregovic and set designer Miljen Kljakovic Kreka, who were all part of the TIME OF THE GIPSIES film crew. Kusturica describes the team work as follows: “People I work with join the project at a very early stage. It becomes a happening which evolves out of our different experiences. Kreka begun drawing as soon as we started working on the script, and his drawings in their turn influenced the further development of the script.”
Kreka, CESAR and FELIX award winning set designer, built 28.650 m2 of sets for UNDERGROUND, including a cellar which during the film grows to meet the size of a little village. From its centre, 32 tunnels ramify, connecting all European capital cities. “It was a wonderful task for a set designer”, Kreka explains. “We had to build almost everything, including exteriors. I was fascinated by the idea of two parallel worlds, one above and the other under the ground. It is a fantastic idea, but I wanted it all to look as something that could actually exist.”
Kusturica has the last word: “Somehow, consciously or subconsciously, every single member of the crew contributed in a special way to the making of this film. Because of the story itself and the way we did the movie, people felt that they could build in it their own feelings about this country that no longer exists”.
UNDERGROUND is a unique film experience, which will forever change the way in which we perceive lies.
UNDERGROUND is an epic film poem about mistaken notions, allusion and illusion. This European co production of companies CIBY 2000, Pandora film, Komuna, RTS, Tschapline films and Novo film, is a story about partisan families hiding in a cellar during Nazi occupation of Belgrade in 1941. With the help of an adventurous profiteer, they manufacture arms for the resistance movement. At the end of war, their noble effort goes on, since their benefactor gives them fictive reports about German victories, so that he can keep up production for his own profit. This profit becomes even more perverted when he persuades his best friend to hide in the cellar, only so that he can win the girl they both love to himself.
Twenty years go by, and in the course of an underground wedding, some of the deceived partisans find their way up into the world above. Despite the fact that it is the year 1961, they believe that the Nazis are still in power, because they happen to run into a film crew shooting a war film, showing German occupation of their country. Thirty years later, some of these patriots are drawn into the war taking place in Slavonia – 1991…
The originality of UNDERGROUND, reminds us of Franz Kafka’s adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland”, or even better of Lewis Carrol’s adaptation of Kafka’s “The Trial”. It is a love story noire, coloured with the romantic imperatives of greed and treason. This demoniac vision of eternal war, is continuously being intersected by humour. Humour is the balm Kusturica uses to ease the pain caused by war wounds, but not to cure them. There is no cure for those who live underground. It if a Falstaffian fantasy, kept alive by the absurd. The young director is the anarchist artist who uncovers the chaotic madness of war and turns it into something so sadly normal.
A line of the dialogue goes: “You lie so wonderfully”. This saga encompasses half a century of Balkan history, in which not one of the characters manages to learn a useful lesson. This dream inside a nightmare looks as if Hyeronimus Bosch had been art director and Francis Bacon director of photography. There are traps in every shot. The times are unreliable, one cannot even trust tears. Finally, this is Kusturica’s magical allegory in which the seven mortal sins take the place of the basic virtues. UNDERGROUND proves that film can be our strongest form of artistic expression. It follows the tradition of humoristic anti-war films such as TO BE OR NOT TO BE and CATCH 22. Besides, it proves that the Devil has a sense of humour.
UNDERGROUND intertwines the lives of four characters: Marko, poet and profiteer, his wife Natalija, his best friend Crni, brave hero of the resistance, and his brother Ivan, stammering Zoo custodian, the only innocent character among these liars, big and small, throughout half a century of Balkan upheavals. Kusturica, the artistic father of the four, says: “They are all liars, all with the exception of Ivan”.
Miki Manojlović, who portrays the role of Marko, was literally born an actor, both of his parents were professional actors in the theatre. He first performed on stage as a child. Later on he graduated from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, his professional debut in 1970 marked the beginning of a successful career in the theatre as well as on the big screen. Manojlovic worked with Kusturica for the first time in 1985, as lead character in his film FATHER ON A BUSINESS TRIP. Recent films in which he played include among others Nicole Garcia’s EVERY OTHER WEEKEND starring Natalie Bay, Goran Markovic’s TITO AND I, starring Lazar Ristovski, his colleague from UNDERGROUND, Goran Paskaljevic’s AGE OF MIRACLES starring Mirjana Jokovic, whom we have also seen as his partner in UNDERGROUND, and Goran Paskaljevic’s TANGO ARGENTINO.
“The character I played in UNDERGROUND is many-sided”, explains Manojlovic. “I have portrayed an amalgam of our entire history on the Balkans. An amalgam of beauty, evil and inventiveness in slaying. I have portrayed the last 50 years, I have done even more than that, I have portrayed our very soul.”
Manojlovic compares his UNDERGROUND experience with his work with Peter Brook on the Mahabharata: “That was the only similar experience that I, as an actor, have had before. But we went even deeper than Peter and I did, deeper into matter. It was an unforgettable experience.”
Lazar Ristovski, who portrayed the role of Crni, is one of the leading Yugoslav actors, with an experience resulting from performance in over 2000 theatre plays and over 20 films. He also starred in one of the most popular Yugoslav movies of the post-communist era, Goran Markovic’s TITO AND I. “In all my films, I generally play the hero,” he explains, “But I portray the hero as a character”.
The decision to accept the role of Crni in UNDERGROUND was not his alone. “All the scripts I get, I read with my wife first, then we tell the story to our children. They were all enthusiastic when they heard about this character, I really had no choice.”
In Ristovski’s opinion, UNDERGROUND is based on elements which go deeper than contemporary history of the nation. “My impression is that it all happened in some prehistoric period, when good and evil, light and darkness were created, when the human race was born. There were many things that appeared impossible when I first read the script. But then, I am the kind of guy who likes to fight for things that seem impossible.”
Mirjana Joković, who portrayed the role of Natalija, made her debut on the stage of the National Theatre in Belgrade when nine years of age. As a girl of sixteen she fought to be accepted at the Academy of Dramatic Arts. She became the youngest student of her generation. Jokovic made her debut on the big screen with the lead role in the Argentinian-Yugoslav co production ROAD LEADING SOUTH, then she played beside Daniel Day Lewis in EVERYSMILE, NEW JERSEY, with this role she won the Best Actress award at the San Sebastian Film Festival in 1989. Among her recent films are: Predrag Antonijevic’s THE LITTLE ONE, Peter Sehr’s SERBIAN GIRL in which she also plays the lead role, and so on.
Today, Mirjana Jokovic lives in Los Angeles, she returned to Europe in order to shoot UNDERGROUND. “I am unable to talk about it as if it were just a movie”, she confides in us. “All of us who worked on it will carry it within us forever. This film brought us together because of our personal confusion in relation to the chain of events which brought to the breakdown of our country, it forced us to find a language wherewith to express our feelings about it all. We drew energy from life and put it into the movie, and from the movie this energy would spring back to life again. The emotional price we paid was that of ten films put together. However, all of it was part of the ecstasy built into this film”.
Slavko Štimac, who portrayed the role of Ivan, has been an actor ever since he was eleven. “In other words, I grew up on the screen”, he remembers. “I have done 36 or 37 movies since, and in most of them I played the lead role. For and actor, to acquire such vast experience, already as a child, can come in handy, it becomes routine work. The rest is up to personality.”
Stimac first worked with Kusturica in 1980, when he played lead role in DO YOU REMEMBER DOLLY BELL. “The main thing Emir does while directing, is to maintain good interpersonal relations among film crew members. He gives you freedom to do your own interpretation, and then comes up with suggestions and his own ideas. He has great respect for people, especially actors.”
“UNDERGROUND is a very interesting movie, unusual in every way. I played Ivan, Zoo custodian, who has difficulties in communicating with people because of his stammering problem. Therefore, he turns to animals in search of friendship. People don’t stammer because they are dumb, but because of strong emotions which bring them to a state of excitement. This is how I wanted to portray the role, by depicting these emotions as authentically as possible.”
- Franc – Ernest Stoetzner
- Jovan – Srdjan Todorović
- Vera – Mirjana Karanović
- Jelena – Milena Pavlović
- Deda – Bata Stojković
- Golub – Bora Todorović
- Bata – Davor Dujmović
- Ciganin koji pada – dr Nele Karajlić
- Mustafa – Branislav Lečić
- Filmski reditelj – Dragan Nikolić
- Janez – Erol Kadić
- Tomislav – Predrag Zagorac
- Dr Strasse – Hark Bohm
- Dr Mirkovic – Petar Kralj
- Diler – Emir Kusturica
- Ruski vozač – Pierre Spengler
- Kapetan – Branko Cvejić
- Policijski inspektor – Josif Tatić
- Debela žena – Zdena Hurtečakova
- Skripterka – Tanja Kecman
- Devojka iz tunela – Albena Stavreva
- Žena šaptač – Elizabeta Djorevska
- Oficir – Piter Mauntain
- Istražitelj I – Mirsad Tuka
- Istražitelj II – Batica Nikolić
- Žena u pozorišnoj loži – Desa Biogradlija
- Partizan I – Zoran Miljković
- Partizan II – Dušan Rokvić
- Komandos – Radovan Marković
- Pomoćnik reditelja – Miodrag Djordjević
- Prostitutka – Ljiljana Jovanović
- Plesačica na brodu – Danica Zdravić
- Vozač u tunelu – Stojan Sotirov
- Ciganski orkestar – Orkestar Slobodana Salijevića
- Ciganski orkestar u kafeu – Orkestar Bobana Marković
- Čarli – Soni
Dušan Kovačević was born in Sabac in 1948, graduated from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade in 1973. Since then, he has written twelve theatre plays and ten film scripts. His greatest achievement is “for twenty five years I have managed to live off my work as professional writer”. His plays were translated into many languages and staged all over the world. His play THE PROFESSIONAL was recently staged on Broadway. His film scripts THE BALKAN SPY (which he directed himself), MARATONCI TRCE POCASNI KRUG (Marathon runners make their honorary round) and KO TO TAMO PEVA (Who’s there singing), resulted in success and brought him significant awards at international festivals. UNDERGROUND is an original script written together with Kusturica, although the idea can be traced back to an early work of Kovacevic. “It occurred to me that this story could be a good basis for a movie about absolutism, that is, about how one or two people can hold in their power a much greater number of people by means of endless manipulations. To put it simply, this is a film about the ruling technocracy.”
“We tried to follow the changes that former Yugoslavia went through in the past years, when those who held other people prisoners in cellars declared themselves democrats, and then still went on creating new cellars. I believe that this story, brought to life as a comédie noire, depicts human relations which cannot be traced back to only one specific country.”
Goran Bregović was born in Sarajevo in a mixed marriage as so many millions of Yugoslavs. He climbed his way up from a player in a bar at the Konjic bus station, to leader of the most popular Yugoslav rock band – Bijelo Dugme. The offer to compose music for Kusturica’s TIME OF THE GIPSIES, came at a time of his search for a new form of musical expression. Bregovic’s contribution to the success of the film, enabled him to embark on a brilliant career as film composer. Co-operation with Kusturica continued in ARIZONA DREAM, the soundtrack of the film was a true hit and resulted in a definite international breakthrough of its composer.
Music in UNDERGROUND vibrates with energy. The film contains a wide selection of songs and melodies from contemporary pop songs to odes to the party, all performed by brass orchestras and gipsy musicians. The music he created this time, not only enhances Kusturica’s visual eloquence, but also incarnates the feeling of grey loneliness which permeates the film.
Vilko Filac graduated from the Film and Television Academy of the University of Prague. For seven years in a row, he lectured at the Film Academy in Ljubljana as Professor of Camera. He was best camera award winner at the Yugoslav Film Festival in 1985. In addition to numerous films in which he was Director of Photography, he also directed a number of documentaries. For one of these, he was awarded with the Grand Prix at the Nice Documentary Film Festival in 1980. Filac has worked on all Kusturica’s films, to begin with his first television exploits in 1978, all the way to UNDERGROUND. Among his other recent films are James Keasch’s THE FORGOTTEN, Michele Placido’s PUMMARN and Ali Dagenturk’s CIPLAK.
Miljen Kljaković Kreka has over 20 years of experience, and has previously worked with Kusturica in THE TIME OF THE GIPSIES and ARIZONA DREAM. In 1991, he was awarded French prize CÉSAR and European Film Award for his work in Jenuet’s and Caro’s DELICATESSEN. Kreka’s enthusiasm for UNDERGROUND was awaken as soon as Kusturica sent him the first draft of the script. “I started drawing sketches before the contract of production of the film was even signed. I said: “I do not care whether this movie is going to be made or not, I will do the sketches anyway because I find the whole project really exciting.” “Emir gave me complete freedom in my work because he trusts me. The two of us know each other very well by now. I know exactly what Emir wants, and how Vilko will photograph it, and they both know how I think, and what I can offer. There is great mutual trust and this is what really counts.”
Branka Čeperac is a doyen of Yugoslav film editing. In her long and fruitful career she has worked with numerous artists and was award winning editor at various film reviews in former and present Yugoslavia. She has shown her knowledge and talent in Vlade Pavlovic’s OSEKA (Ebb Tide) and Branko Bauer’s SALAS U MALOM RITU (A farm in the little swamp).
Her cooperation with Srdjan Karanovic proved exceptionally successful in his projects: the serial GRLOM U JAGODE (Up to the throat in strawberries – Idiom which stands for “unprepared”) and his films JAGODE U GRLU (Strawberries stuck in the throat), PETRIJIN VENAC (Petrija’s wreath), NESTO IZMEDJU (Something in between) and ZA SADA BEZ DOBROG NASLOVA (Until now without a good title), for which she was awarded the Golden arena for editing at the Pula festival in 1988. She was also editor of the Yugoslav box office hit film, Mica Milosevic’s TESNA KOZA I (Tight skin I).
Among other things she was also awarded with the first Yugoslav Film Academy Crystal Prism for editing in 1992, and won the Golden Mimosa award at the Herceg Novi Film Festival in the same year, for best editing in Srdjan Dragojevic’s film entitled MI NISMO ANDJELI (We are not angels).
Nebojša Lipanović was born in Sarajevo in 1958, in a mixed marriage. He graduated from the Academy of the Fine Arts in 1984.
He made his debut in Zlatko Lavanic’s STRATEGIJA SVRAKE (The strategy of a magpie). He was assistant costume designer in the following films: Miroslav Mandic’s ZIVOT RADNIKA (The life of a worker), Kaleb Desawel’s ROBINSON CRUSOE (Yugoslav-American co-production), and Emir Kusturica’s DOM ZA VESANJE (Time of the Gipsies).
He was costume designer on the following projects: Mladen Mitrovic’s HAUSTORCI (Guys hanging out in the door passage), Bata Cengic’s GLUVI BARUT (Deaf gunpowder), Benjamin Filipovic’s PRAZNIK U SARAJEVU (Holiday in Sarajevo), Vuk Janjic’s PSALM and Emir Kusturica’s UNDERGROUND.
About his experience with Kusturica and other members of the crew, he says: “I have the feeling that we painted in Verrocchio’s workshop, shot Chagalle and experienced Veronica Messina.” and …”I have known Vilko Filac for a long time, but God forbid that I should ever get to know Emir Kusturica.”