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FNE at Venice 2016: Review: On the Milky Road

2016-09-10
On the Milky Road directed by Emir Kusturica On the Milky Road directed by Emir Kusturica

VENICE: Serbian director Emir Kusturica’s On The Milky Road screens in competition at the Venice Film Festival with Kusturica filling the dual role of director and leading actor. 

Unfortunately acting is not the Serbian director’s strongest talent and the film suffers from it.  One can only wonder what would have been if he had chosen to feature one of his veteran team of favourite actors to play the leading role instead.  But the attraction of playing opposite Monica Bellucci obviously proved too big a temptation to resist.

The film is set in a small village against the backdrop of the war in the former Yugoslavia.  Each day Kosta, a milkman played by Kusturica crosses the frontline on a donkey, dodging bullets to bring milk to the soldiers. He is loved a beautiful villager, Milena, a former Yugoslav champion gymnast played by Sloboda Mićalović and a village wedding with Milena seems to be his future.  But everything is turned upside down by the arrival of a mysterious Italian woman, identified only as the Bride, played by Monica Bellucci.

While the Milena is determined to marry Kosta who is the love of her the love of her life another love blossoms between the mysterious Italian and Kosta. But another fate awaits her.  She has been chosen to become the Bride of  Milena’s brother, Žaga Bojović played by the excellent Predrag Manojlović, and a double wedding is planned.  While Kosta is already in love with the Bride Zaga is a fearsome warlord and crossing him is just not on the cards.  But an even more fearful background forbids the Bride and Kosta from coming together.  She is s also the ex-girlfriend of an English NATO general who killed his wife for the Bride and is about to get out of prison. Soldiers are dispatched by the general to hunt her down and get her back and they end up by killing the whole wedding party except for Kosta and the Bride who now go on the run.

But the great love affair of Kosta and the Bride that should be at the heart of the story never sparks at all and there is just no chemistry between the two.  It is impossible to believe in this as a great love and consequently what should be a tragic ending leaves us feeling nothing.

The director has described the film as a modern fairy tale of many layers.  There are indeed many wonderful scenes and episodes throughout the film.  Especially beautiful are the many scenes and episodes with nature and animals.  The milkman has a pet bird and also becomes friends with a donkey, a snake and other animals who magically help him during dangerous adventures.  Kusturica has said that the filming was in line with his philosophy and andh his relationship with nature and the way people really feel about life.

He also has said that he searched for landscapes that captured the profound underlying inner space of the main characters: a man and a woman who fall in love and are willing to sacrifice themselves with nature. The scenes from nature are indeed the strongest part of the film.

There are many wonderful scenes like when a pig is slaughtered and a group of geese dive into the trough of pig’s blood to come out covered in blood and flies.  Or the peregrine falcon that is Kosta’s companion. But the various scenes and episodes seem disconnected and altogether do not really add up to a coherent film even in the context of Kusturica’s unique layered and crazy magical realism approach.

On The Milky Road (Serbia, UK, USA)

Directed by Emir Kusturica

Produced by Rasta International (Serbia) AG Studios (USA), Pinball London (UK), BN Films (USA)

Cast: Monica Bellucci, Emir Kusturica, Sloboda Micalovic, Predrag Manojlovic

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