Dir: Dusan Milic. Serb-Ger-It. 2003. 82mins.
Produced by Emir Kusturica (who has the briefest cameo in the film as a police chief), this oddball siege comedy has many of the Greater Serb's traits: a goofball surreal-symbolic take on Balkan tragedies, characters that slip in and out of caricature, and a delirious Serbian reggae soundtrack courtesy of a local wedding and funerals band. But Jagoda In The Supermarket wears the burden of Serbian history more lightly than, say, Kusturica's own Underground. Rather, Jagoda is basically a hard-edged theatrical farce - in the tradition of Dario Fo - which has been transplanted to the Balkans and given a bright cinematic coat of paint. Though Serbian comedies are not high up on most distributors' shopping lists, Jagoda has the legs to travel to a few territories beyond the Balkans if it is targeted at the right sophisticated, urban thirtysomething crowd. The film screened in the Panorama sidebar at this year's Berlin.
Branka Katic plays Jagoda ("Strawberry") a checkout girl at the brand-new "Yugo-American" supermarket in some unnamed Serbian town. Crossed in love by a more upfront colleague, she vents her anger on an old lady who has - ill advisedly - come into the shop at closing time to buy some strawberries. The next day, a gunman breaks into the place and takes everyone hostage as a protest his grandmother's treatment.
It sounds like a recipe for the thinnest of goofball comedies, but two things save the film: a good sense of comic timing (reinforced by some smart editing, especially in a sequence filmed through clouds of tear gas), and an edge of menace which breaks out into violence at a couple of points, and which stops the humour from going too soft. The film also has a couple of likeable characters in the dreamy, insecure but eternally optimistic Jagoda, and the pitiless terrorist (Todorovic) she ends up sharing the supermarket with, who turns out, of course, to be a real romantic at heart.
Occasionally the relentlessly mannered, vaudeville style of acting gets irritating, especially in the character of Jagoda's boss, a corkscrew-haired redhead who has the same limited facial range (from open-mouthed surprise to open-mouthed incredulity) as Harry Potter's friend Ron Weasley. But for those who can put up with the film's lack of emotional depth, Milic has made a mostly likeable comedy with some neat comic details. They include a crowd of onlookers that gather around the siege supermarket like a downmarket Greek tragic chorus, deriding, in football-crowd style, the police's efforts or cheering on the gunman.
A stand-off between the anti-terrorist chief, with his black-beret and guns-blazing negotiation techniques, and the legalistic, flat-capped police inspector, becomes a metaphor for the new Serbia's stuggle to leave strong-arm tactics behind and embrace democracy. Thankfully, though, it is not laid on too thick; unlike Kusturica, Milic does not labour his metaphors.
Prod co: Rasta Films
Serb dist/int'l sales: Media Film
Prod: Emir Kusturica
Cinematography: Petar Popovic
Prod des: Aleksandar Denic
Ed: Marko Glusac
Music: Nelle Karajlic, Dejan Sparavalo
Main cast: Branka Katic, Srdjan Todorovic, Dubravka Mijatovic, Danilo Lazovic, Goran Radakovic, Mirjana Karanovic