“ Actors: Slavko Stimac, Slobodan Aligrudic, Ljiljana Blagojevic, Mira Banjac, Pavle Vujisic / Directors: Emir Kusturica / Language: Croatian / Subtitles: English / Classification: 15 / Studio: Artificial Eye / DVD Release Date: 21 Aug 2006 / Run Time: 107 minutes „
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The former Yugoslavia, and the now independent constituent countries thereof, are not synonymous with 'world cinema' but there are a handful of stand out movies, and several of those are the work of Emir Kustarica. Best described as a 'renaissance man' Bosnian Kusturica is an actor, musician and film maker who has received the top honours his own country can bestow, as well as international recognition and acclaim. His film works are diverse and range from straightforward dramas and black comedies to documentaries such as a biography of maverick Argentinian footballer Diego Maradona and music videos for the likes of Manu Chao.
'Do You Remember Dolly Bell?' was Kustarica's first feature length film, made in 1981, a couple of years after he graduated from film school in Prague. It's best summed up as a simple tale told well. Set in 1960s Sarajevo, it's a coming of age story which has stood the test of time in spite of key elements in the plot reflecting the changes going on in Yugoslavia at the time.
Like other teenagers, Dino, takes advantage of the relaxation of Communist rule in Yugoslavia; as it becomes easier to get access to western music and films, young people struggle to handle their new found freedoms. At home, however, it's a different story: his father, a loyal party member, comes home drunk and drags his kids out of bed to take part in his version of party assemblies. Dino finds solace in the cinema where he's entranced by western movies depicting crime as exciting and glamorous. One evening in a club, Dino is mesmerised by images of Dolly Bell, a character from a 1950s Italian movie, projected onto the wall in a montage of Italian style images. A few days later Dolly walks into his life for real when Dino gets the chance to enter the criminal world when he's asked to hide a prostitute in the attic of his family's home.
In terms of subject matter 'Do You Remember Dolly Bell?' is hardly original; in fact it has a lot in common with many western movies made around the time, or perhaps just a couple of years later. There's the awkwardness of first love, the conflict between the generations and the dissatisfaction of youth. The story can easily be lifted from the 1960s setting or the Sarajevo backdrop without altering the essence. The 1960s generally saw a liberalisation of attitudes across much of Europe, not just in Yugoslavia although there young people were not rebelling against their parents or 'the establishment' but against and harsh and inflexible regime that had been based on the idea of the collective and not the individual.
If you do wish to think of the film in context, however, there's a lot to get your teeth into. The story may be set in the 1960s but it was made at a time when it was only just beginning to be possible to question the socialist (as it more correctly was in Yugoslavia) system. It would not be another ten years until the break up of Yugoslavia would begin but Kustarica does make a strong, though understated, point in showing how Dino's father, a Muslim who has renounced his faith, remains loyal to the party in spite of his feelings that they aren't interpreting Marxism correctly. He believes whole-heartedly in a system he believes will provide for everyone even though his family has been on the waiting list for a state owned house for over a decade, forced to live in a squalid one room apartment in the meantime while across the road the new houses remain unoccupied.
Kustarica pokes fun at the solemnity and pomposity of the committee and subcommittee of 'the party'. The movie opens with what appears to be a meeting of the most serious kind and the chairman tells the floor "Comrades,the situation is very grave"; the situation is that of the youngsters that gather every night to play blaring western rock music and generally loaf around. It's decided to allow some spontaneous creativity and endorse the formation of a band to channel the energy of the local youngsters. Dino becomes the band's lead singer.
'Do you Remember Dolly Bell?' is not as obviously funny as some of Kustarica's later films and although there are a few moments of real hilarity, this film is best described as 'heart warming'. There are elements that could be depressing but ultimately Kustarica allows humanity to save the day. The quality of the lead performances plays a major part in this. This may be a subtitled film but there's no missing the obvious talents of Slavko Stimac who plays Dino and Slobodan Aligrudic as his father. Ljiljana Blagojevic plays the eponymous Dolly Bell; the character doesn't have the strength of some of the others but the path of the relationship is believable and tender and portrayed with just the right blend of warmth and eroticism.
There are some wonderful shots of Sarajevo and the cinematography in general is well done. Details of Bosnian culture and identity are seamlessly blended in giving a further sense of place. I'm sure that anyone who has visited Sarajevo will find the backdrops fascinating.
I found the picture quality of this DVD a little disappointing but typical of other movies I have seen from around this time transferred to disc. That said, it didn't have an impact of my enjoyment of an entertaining and thought provoking story that is well acted and visually stimulating.
A short filmography of Kustarica and an interesting interview with the director himself form the extras to this DVD.
Rated 15, subtitled
Used copies from £14.38 through Amazon (not including postage). Sadly new copies are expensive and hard to find.