More than a decade after his legendary debut Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996), a watershed in post-Bosnian-War cinema, the imaginative director Srdjan Dragojevic shook the foundation of Balkan conservatism with his new creation Parada (The Parade, 2011). In this the theme is familiar and is none other than that traditionally colourful Former-Yugoslavian palette, consisting of every shade of racism, time-honoured Balkan hatred of ‘faggots’, a ton of nationalism and a worship of symbols: everything that characterises a war-torn society trying to get back on its feet. Yet in this struggle the countries have arguably been surprisingly successful, if we take into account the high-quality of films the country has produced in the two decades that have passed since the war’s end.
In The Parade, a side-splitting film, we meet Limon (Nikola Kojo) a Serbian mafia boss who lives with Sugar, a cute bulldog, in the company of an arsenal of weapons and his exuberant and equally bellicose fiancee, Biserka (Hristina Popovic) who is obsessed with their wedding’s preparations. The film’s other strand involves a stereotypical gay couple: Mirko (Goran Jevtic), a theatre director who organizes weddings and his boyfriend Radmilo (Milos Samolov), an industrious vet. The former’s involvement in LGBT activism and the preparations for the Gay Pride parade make bullying and attacks a daily routine. The two stories come together when Sugar is shot and Radmilo saves the dog’s life, to be rewarded with Limon’s firm friendship.
Unfortunately, there is disaster in store for both the couples. Gay activists fail to persuade the police to protect the Parade, and Limon and Biserka’s engagement breaks up. When Radmillo, driven by his boyfriend’s ordeal, asks Limon to protect the pride with his own men – and they refuse – Limon sets off on a trip around former Yugoslavia to enlist comrades from the war for this special mission. The scene is set for a struggle between traditional Balkan prejudice, and an openness to new kinds of pluralism and reconciliation.
Watching this film we notice an unrelenting battle between, on the one side, humanity’s malevolent need to dominate and, on the other, a sense of palpable frustration among the main characters, as the conflict deepens and the need for compromise becomes clear. Gradually, Dragojevic introduces a thread from a quite a different skein, drawn from the more sensitive side of his people. A subtler texture starts to weave its way through the plot as love and sensitivity, care and sympathy make their appearance and seem to affect the decisions of the protagonists, who set aside their old, dysfunctional mentalities and move on from them.
The role of catalyst here is of course played by the woman, dynamic female figures being a standard in gay-themed cinema. There is no doubt that Biserka is well-placed to fulfil this role. With her flaming temperament, she dashes onto the scene, embraces the weak and fights every opposing voice that tries to withstand her will: a woman made of volcanic lava and with a power as seemingly old and mystical as the earth’s. She stands by the persecuted and turns her back on bigotry and prejudice. Limon we see staggering under the burden of his rigid core beliefs – army, nation, heterosexuality – while sentiments sprout hesitantly inside him, slowly annexing his heart. Men appear fearless and invincible but the need for reassurance tends to weaken them. It’s Woman who emerges as both a source of uncompromising affection and a symbol of unity, despite her imperfections.
Dragojevic’s real female obsession is – of course – with Mama Serbia and Grandma Yugoslavia. They are the main theme in his movies, or, to put it more precisely, he sets his films right inside their torn guts, in their still-bleeding wombs and around their gaping wounds. Limon’s trip across the ex-Yugoslavian territories, a still-hostile territory, reveals the director’s compelling need to chart an intricate mosaic, to decipher what divides and what unites the stricken, striving countries. The scene with the Bosnian father cursing his son for having to accept a Serbian vet (Rodmilo) to deliver a foal depicts with amusing accuracy conditions which still hold.
On top of this he adds more fuel to the fire, challenging his compatriots’ homophobic instincts. But his experiment proves successful, for he has discovered the best remedy to his country’s ailment: humour and love. Dragojevic, using national archetypes, presents Serbians, Bosnians and Kosovans united against homophobia, turning the spot-light away from lingering disputes, and rendering them ultimately insignificant in the face of human rights. Eventually, Man, alongside Woman, becomes his fellow fighter. It’s a film that everybody should see – homophobes above all perhaps, from Belgrade to Birmingham, Banja Luka to Baghdad.
The Parade is available from Matchbox DVD at £6.99