Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Mirjana Jokovic

Visiting 'Cabaret Balkan'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Mirjana Jokovic is 31, passionate, energetic, and very European. So much so that the Prescot hotel has allowed her to smoke in their conference room the day I met with her. She is in town to talk about Cabaret Balkan (formerly The Powder Keg), a new movie by Yugoslavian director Goran Paskaljevic that is going to blow away everyone who sees it. Unfortunately I don't think many people will see it because they're too busy giving their money to such high-class fare as Entrapment.

Mirjana had just been to a screening at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and she was thrilled. Even though she was jet-lagged and exhausted she stayed late to answer questions after the movie. She was surprised and enthusiastic about the quality of questions asked. "This was the first time that I was able to see the movie on the big screen. I was very surprised by how [the audience] reacted--in a good way. There were some Yugoslavian people, and of course, Americans, but they reacted to the same moments in the same way. They were really together in the whole experience. I turned around before the film, and I thought about how long I haven't seen such a good audience. Because there were no people by accident there. They were all people who wanted to see this particular film. And it gives a special intensity."

Mirjana is mostly unknown to American audiences. She has been living in the US for about 8 years now, mostly in Los Angeles and New York, though she made most of her movies in Europe. She was in Emir Kusturica's Underground, which screened at last year's SF Film Fest. And she was in the flop Eversmile, New Jersey with Daniel Day-Lewis. (Day-Lewis was also in another movie the same year, My Left Foot, and went on to be a star.) However, Mirjana had just completed a successful Broadway run of Electra, featuring an international cast of actors like Claire Bloom (best known for Charlie Chaplin's Limelight and Robert Wise's The Haunting). Between Electra and Cabaret Balkan, Mirjana feels very good. "I'm usually not this crazy about work that I do, There were people who were deeply moved by the fact that this is our reality, and there were people who didn't like it, and there were people who loved it a lot. But I think this film has a longer life. I think that it will have a long life. And as longer time is going by, it will mean more. I really think this is one of the most important films made in Yugoslavia in the last decade."

And it's happening in devasating time when we are all trying to stay normal and sane and trying to live with this new situation. It's almost like adopting some new illness that you have to live with, and nobody ever told you how to prepare for that.

The movie has a dismal view of life in Belgrade. But Mirjana assures me that life is not like that for all Yugoslavians. "This is only one side of the people. They were deliberately shown as people who lost any patience for any sensible or happy ending. Of course there are other people. As much as they're unhappy living in Belgrade, all of them are still there. At the guy in the beginning in the taxi cab who is saying, 'everybody who has any sense [has] left.' You can have different opinions about something, but you cannot dismiss you who are. You cannot dismiss love for your country, for your hometown, for your people, singularities, and beauty, when you meet them again, when you find that you are readjusting your strings of being, certain things that you forgot about yourself. So it's a big conflict. It's contradiction in its own being, about being unhappy, and at the same time being very determined."

Although the movie is a dark and violent view of Belgrade, audiences find themselves laughing at ceratin scenes. "It's really absurd. What else can you do? Just laugh for no reason. It's almost like a moment of relief. Ahh. OK I can laugh here. I can make some more space for the next 15 minutes. That's why I love this film, and I think it's very good because every here and there it gives you some kind of pause. That you can re-arrage yourself and be ready for another tragedy."

Although she lives full-time in America, Mirjana wouldn't mind doing a big American movie. "But in some other way, we all feel after this that our life changed and we have a bigger repsonsibilities and we are obliged, at least to try as much as possible, to make something out of our lives. That I think doesn't depend on money. It depends on people. And for me it's most important thing people that I'm working with."

April 30, 1999

Movies Unlimtied