Dir: Emir Kusturica. Fr-Serb. 2007. 140mins
'Never knowingly understated' continues to be the motto of Serbian madcap director Emir Kusturica. All the usual ingredients are present in Promise Me This, the latest knockabout episode of Emir's Balkan Follies - manic overacting, slapstick, wildly cartoonish characters and the usual menagerie of hapless animals (this time including cats, goats, a cow, a warthog and a turkey in a bonnet).
The formula has long seemed overworked, but at least this time Kusturica goes to work with more brio than in his previous Life Is A Miracle. A knockabout comedy rather in the vein of his 1998 film Black Cat, White Cat, Promise Me This could suffer commercially by its lack of the political dimension that made Kusturica's 1995 Cannes Palme d'Or winner a must-see film, but his fans internationally - especially his devoted following in France - will be happy to see him operating on lively form, even if there are no surprises.
A coming -of -age story with a dash of Jack And The Beanstalk, Promise Me This is the story of adolescent Tsane (Milovanovic) who lives in the country with his cow Cvetka and his eccentric grandfather (Bercek). Grandpa is trying to restore an Orthodox church, in between inventing outlandish Heath Robinson-style domestic contraptions (giving the film its best comic moments, and a touch of Wallace and Gromit).
Thinking of his imminent death, he sends Tsane off to the big city, with the cow and three promises to fulfill: bring back an Orthodox icon, buy a souvenir, and find a bride for himself. No sooner does Tsane hit the big city than the cow is stolen by a band of crooks headed by speculator Bajo (Kusturica regular Manojlovic), and falls for the lovely Jasna (Petronijevic), whose teacher mother doubles as a hooker in Bajo's brothel.
Tsane gets the cow back with the help of two goonish demolition experts (one played by the director's son Stribor, who also composed the film's score), and events proceed more than boisterously, with a rate of pratfalls and brickbats that would seem excessive in a Three Stooges short. Things end in buoyant style with two weddings, a funeral and a shootout.
Kusturica's taste for the grotesque and the strident hasn't abated over the years, nor has his somewhat questionable sense of humour: whichever way you look at it, forcible castration, even of an outright baddie, is no laughing matter. It's also an aggressively macho film - the film is essentially about an innocent losing his virginity - but that's par for the course with Kusturica. Leads Petronijevic and Milovanovic show a candid good humour and gentle energy among all the lunacy, and DoP Milorad Glusica gives the colours an appealing warmth.
Stribor Kusturica also contributes a livelier and more varied score than Kusturica films have had in a while, although the oompah factor is as high as ever. There are few surprises here, and non-aficionados will still have ample cause to grind their teeth - but they certainly won't be bored.
France 2 Cinema
Canal +/TPS Star
from a story by
Svetolik Mica Zajc