Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 18th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia / France / Germany / Bulgaria / Czech Republic / Hungary, 1995
Director: Emir Kusturica
Writers: Dusan Kovacevic, Emir Kusturica
Cast: Predrag Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Jokovic, Slavko Stimac, Ernst Stötzner, Srdjan Todorovic, Mirjana Karanovic
BluRay released: February 29th, 2016
Approximate running time: 170 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Rating: 15 (UK)
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 Serbo-Croat, LPCM Stereo Serbo-Croat
BluRay Release: BFI
Region Coding: Region B / Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: £34.99 (UK)
The plot for this film spans over several decades. With the opening setup taking place in Belgrade during World War II. Also the plot revolves round two characters “Blacky”, a grey marketer whose main export is selling weapons and Marko a former grey marketer who now assists those needing refugee from the Nazi’s.
Besides selling weapons, the other thing that links “Blacky” and Marko is their love for the same woman Natalija. And as the story progresses Natalija drifts more towards Marko and they are eventually married. And when the war finally end they firmly entrench themselves in the new government.
Out of sight and mind, “Blacky” and the other refugees have remained in underground despite World War II ended two decades before. Unable to endure their captivity anymore “Blacky” and his son Jovan, now a grown man has concocted a plan to return above ground. Unfortunately for them “Blacky” is believed to have died many years before and he has been given statue for his heroism.
Not wanting to harm his ne position of power Marko decides to get rid of the underground refugee and those who live in it. Fortunately for “Blacky” and his son, they are able to get away and safely return to life above ground. Shortly thereafter another war erupts and “Blacky” returns to the life he once knew as grey market arms dealer.
Content wise, though there are many moments in this film that are based on historical events. The way they portrayed in this film are from removed from the reality that they once shared a connection with. And It is these words “Once Upon a time there was a country.” which are spoken in the film which perfectly surmises this film.
There are three wars represented in this film and each war gets their own act. The opening act revolves around World War II, while the middle act shifts the focus to the ‘Cold’ War’ and the third culminates with third war is a Civil War that would led to the end of Yugoslavia.
Structurally the film’s narrative is meticulously constructed and the characters which populate this film are well defined personas’. This richness that can be found in the main characters makes it easier to sympathize when fate comes to collect what they owe. Also when it comes to pacing there are never any lulls or bumps in the road as things are always moving briskly and in a forward motion.
From a production stand point there is not an area where this film is lacking or does not excel. And to further entrench the viewer into this world that is unfolding onscreen, the filmmakers have done an extraordinary job when it comes to the set design. Another area where this film does not miss a beat is its visuals which go far beyond just capturing what is in front of the camera. With a major component to this film’s visuals look laying in its use of surreal imagery.
The performances of the entire cast are very good. With this film’s standout performances coming from Lazar Ristovski in the role of “Blacky” the arms dealer and Predrag Manojlovic in the role of Marko his former partner and who has moved on into politics. Both actors fully immerse themselves in the roles they are portraying. They have a tremendous amount of chemistry and the moment they share onscreen are without a doubt this film’s most compelling moments. Other performances of note include, Mirjana Jokovic in the role of Natalija, the two leads characters’ love interest and she eventually marries Marko and Slavko Stimac Ivan the zookeeper, out of all of the characters it is his reaction to what has happened to his country that resonates the most.
Considering the bleak subject that is explored in this film it is remarkable how well this film infuses humor. Also there is a lot of ground covered above and below the surface in this film. And this is the type of that requires multiple viewing to fully digest it. Fortunately, this is the type of film that is easy to revisit.
Underground comes on a 50 GB dual layer (42.2 GB) BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. For this release brand new transfer have been crated and when compared to previous home video releases this new transfer is superior in every way. There is marked improvement in image clarity and colors accurate / vibrant. Also grain looks natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression.
This release comes with two audio options, a DTS-HD 5.1 mix in Serbo-Croat and a LPCM stereo mix in Serbo-Croat. Both audio mixes sound excellent. Dialog comes through clearly, everything sounds balanced and there are no issues with background noise or distortion. Range and depth wise both of these audio mixes deliver and then some. With every sound exploited for maximum effect and when it comes to music it always sounds robust. Included with this release are removable English subtitles. It should be noted that there are some moments where the dialog is in German and just like the rest of the dialog occurs throughout this film. There are English subtitles for the German dialog moments.
Extras on disc one a dual layer Blu-Ray are limited to a trailer for the film (1 minute 7 seconds).
Disc two is a dual layer DVD and it contains episodes 1-4 of Once Upon a Time There Was One Country (3 hours 27 minutes 2 seconds, in Serbo-Croat with English subtitles). This is a six part made for television re-working of Underground.
Disc three a dual layer DVD it contains episodes 5 & 6 of Once Upon a Time There Was One Country (1 hour 41 minutes 36 seconds, in Serbo-Croat with English subtitles). Other content on this disc includes an on-set documentary titled ‘Shooting Days’ (72 minutes 40 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles) and twelve EPK’s, ‘Behind the scenes with Emir Kusturica’ (2 minutes 55 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles), ‘Emir Kusturica interview’ (4 minutes 36 seconds, in English), ‘Behind the scenes with Mirjana Jokovic’ (2 minutes 3 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles), ‘Mirjana Jokovic interview on location’ (2 minutes 24 seconds, in English), ‘Behind the scenes with Miki Manojlovic’ (2 minutes 25 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles) and ‘Miki Manojlovic interview on location’ (1 minute 57 seconds, in English), ‘Behind the scenes with Lazar Ristovski’ (2 minutes 36 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles), ‘Lazar Ristovski interview’ (1 minute 35 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles), ‘In the studio with Miljen Kreka Kljakovic’ (1 minute 45 seconds), ‘On location with Miljen Kreka Kljakovic’ (1 minute 44 seconds), ‘Miljen Kreka Kljakovic interview’ (3 minutes 29 seconds, in English) and ‘B-Roll of the Wedding Party’ (1 minute 42 seconds, in Serbo -Croat with English subtitles).
Emir Kusturica: The real life events that inspired the film, making larger than life stories for the cinema, why he does not revisit his films once they are released, working with cinematographer Vilko Filac, Hollywood’s aversion to Art House cinema and the similarities between the circus and making a film.
Mirjana Jokovic: Her thoughts about the film and how audiences might react to it, working with Emir Kusturica and her thoughts on Natalia the character she portrays in the film.
Miki Manojlovic: How Underground was unlike anything film that he has ever seen or worked on, working with Emir Kusturica and his thoughts on Marko the character he portrays in the film.
Lazar Ristovski: When the film’s narrative takes place, his thoughts on Blacky the character he portrays in the film and other production related topics.
Rounding out the extras is a thirty-page booklet with an essay about the film titled ‘Kusturica’s Underground: Obliviousness and Pleasant Madness’ written by Dina Lordanova, a second essay about the film titled ‘Once Upon a Time There was a Country with a Film Industry’ written by Sean Homer, cast & crew information, an essay about the six-part television re-working of Underground titled ‘Special Features’, an essay about Emir Kusturica written by Paul Fairclough and information about the transfer. Overall BFI gives Underground its most definitive release to date, highly recommended.
Note: This film is also being released by BFI on DVD.