Based on the stage play, The Powder Keg by celebrated wunderkind, Dejan Dukovski, director Goran Paskalievic’s Cabaret Balkan is at turns funny, depressing and above all violent. However, the violence doesn’t celebrate or glorify itself. There is never a justification or a rationalization for it. It just is, and it’s ugly and disturbing.
The film opens with a contemptuous Europoet, our master of ceremonies, welcoming the audience of the cabaret (and the filmgoers, of course) into his world, a pastiche of intersecting lives in contemporary Belgrade. We’re invited to witness, over the course of a single night, a minor traffic accident that sets into motion a chain of destructive events. This episode segues into an uncomfortable scene of the homelife a Bosnian Serb family living in a garage, the patriarch, a former professor now bus driver and the son, a wannabe hoodlum. From there, we meet a middle-aged boxer and his best friend as they turn their sparring round into a confessional with murderous results. The episodes continue to spiral in an increasingly destructive direction, the beats become harrowing: bus hijackings, near rapes, explosions and angry mobs.
The performances in this mosaic are outstanding, some of the finest actors from the former Yugoslavia coming together for this project. Particularly notable, young Nebojsa Milovanovic attacks the role of the angry Serb youth who hijacks a bus. Dragan Nikolic and Lazar Ristovski are outstanding as the two boxers in the violent but hilarious confession scene.
Unfortunately, as strong as the performances are, the energy begins to wane in the last reel.
Cabaret Balkan won the FIPRESCI Award at the 1998 Venice Film Festival.