World War II Marathon: Underground (1995)

underground

What’s this? This marathon isn’t finished yet!

Screenplay By: Emir Kusturica
Directed By: Emir Kusturica

At some point after the end of World War II Underground began to lose me. I never completely gave up on the film, but it meandered so much after the end of World War II that I had a hard time maintaining interest. Instead of mincing my words I’ll just come out and say it, Underground is too darn long for a comedy. Brevity is the lifeblood of comedy, because even the funniest character, joke or setting can overstay its welcome. Underground overstayed its welcome by nearly an hour and a half. Perhaps that’s a bit too harsh, as the finale of the film does have its worthwhile moments. That being said, more than anything Underground is a black comedy, and when a comedy loses steam it becomes an almost burdensome watch. Near the end of Underground my feelings changed from enjoying what I was watching to striving for the finish line just so I could say I finally watched the darn thing.

The first two thirds of Underground are superb, almost sublime in the way the film chooses to apply its surreal mentality. There’s very little rhyme or reason behind the actions of the characters in Underground. They say the craziest things, act in the looniest way, and are quite funny while doing so. This isn’t surprising, people react to war in very different ways. And like anything else in life there is plenty of comedy to be found in the subject of war. The comedy employed by the film did have me laughing, or at the very least grinning a lot. The structure of the comedy is very well done in the first two thirds of the film. Emir Kusturica keeps the focus of his film on the zaniness of his characters and the world they have created. At a certain point the humor morphs from surrealistic to sad, but it remains funny, if a bit strained, until the very end.

Saying that there’s no purpose to the surreal nature of Underground would be a massive understatement. There are deep undercurrents at play in Gospodin Kusturica’s film. The lies we tell to gain power and get what we want are at the heart of the comedy. So is the idea of nationalism gone wrong, the destructive power of war, and how all the machines in the world can’t measure up to the damage humans can bring about. My problem with these themes resides in the characters of the film. I never felt like I truly got to know the characters in Underground. Blacky is larger than life, and he’s a blast to watch, but it’s tough to feel anything for a character we learn next to nothing about. In his final real world moments he’s supposed to represent the conflict within Yugoslavia as a whole, but it’s hard for that connection to be as deep as Gospodin Kusturica would like because of the lack of depth found in Blacky.

Underground is funny, poignant, surreal, and interesting. It’s also far too long and loses its focus quite a bit during its middle to final act. I can see why people would get swept up in the machinations of Underground, and I was partially swept up by the film as well. Still, I was not completely won over by the film. I’m sure that if the film were edited down and some of the meandering parts were removed it would sustain its comedic momentum much better. As it stands Underground is a funny black comedy that detours into a few too many foxholes and drags on accordingly.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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