As Srdjan Dragojevic sat editing his latest film in Belgrade, his world fell in. The shots he heard from the next room were snipers firing in the streets of Sarajevo. The TV commentary made it sound like a spectator sport. In the coming months, Dragojevic saw old women drag handguns from their handbags. He saw Croats pay Serbs to shoot Muslims. He heard Serbian soldiers beg to wake from their nightmare, to be able to treat Muslim neighbours well again. He saw his neighbours in Belgrade, hundreds of kilometres from the turmoil, try to pretend that this was normal. And in the midst of it all, he made a film. "I was scared to death, really," he says. "I didn't know if I even wanted to shoot the kind of movie that I did. But it was therapeutic for me. It was a kind of exit, a kind of escape."
Pretty Village, Pretty Flame doesn't waste time wringing hands over the war. Focusing on the true story of a Serbian platoon trapped in a tunnel for a week by Muslim snipers, it spins backwards and forwards in time through the hate-crazed mind of a Serbian survivor, his limbs spiked with metal, his body broken. The seeds and absurdity of the conflict are sown through bullish old women and sex-starved young boys, the vicious and the merciful. It's hilarious one moment, horror-struck the next. Rock'n'roll blasts out, bones smash. It's not a static film.
"In my previous career I was a psychotherapist," Dragojevic explains, "and there were some mechanisms I used in the film. I did it spontaneously. I wanted some scenes to show audiences that war is interesting, and to break that the next moment. In ex-Yugoslavia, everyone watched it the same way. They were laughing for 70 or 80 minutes, and in the last reel, there was silence. I wanted to force people to laugh, and after that, to be ashamed of their laughter, I think it's a necessary mechanism, because that kind of attitude was our problem during the war. In Belgrade, people forced themselves to think that nothing was happening 200 kilometres from here. We need to feel shame because of that. The film is popular across the republics, because we are so similar, we are so close to each other. Every artefact which helps us to communicate again, we need."
Pretty Village, Pretty Flame looks Spielberg-slick. But there's something rough and raw in the way it hangs together. It feels like a punk movie. "I was a punk rocker in 1976," Dragojevic admits, "one of the first in Belgrade. The punk movement in Yugoslavia wasn't the same as in Britain. Here it was a rebellion against society, against Tito's regime and its hypocrisy. A lot of punk rockers from my period are famous artists now. I'm very proud of my punk background. I'm still a punk rocker, but in a subtler way."
One of the most confrontational stands Dragojevic's film takes for British audiences is to make us sympathise with Serbs. Though some are shown committing atrocities, Muslims, too, do evil things. Dragojevic claims passionately that he's not a nationalist. But in a climate where the West has settled on a version of the war in which Serbs are bad, he's been treated with contempt. "Sometimes I felt like some black guy from Louisiana in the 1950s," he says bluntly. "In some festivals there was an animosity towards me just because I'm a Serb. It's a kind of bloody racism. To be criticised at the Venice festival because the director Pontecorvo says it's a Serbian fascist movie - it's really bullshit. Probably it proves that in the world, the idiots are equal."
Pretty Village, Pretty Flame refuses any simple solutions. Though vibrant with life, its message in the end is nihilistic. It offers no way out from the war. But surely there must be some way forward? Surely blame can be laid? "I blame our leaders, and the Americans, and the European community, who could have stopped the war before it began," he says. "I also blame the temper of people in Bosnia. You could drink with them for hours, and laugh and joke, and in the next moment, someone will smash a bottle on your head. People there are wild and violent. Probably that's why this civil war was so bloody."
It's hard to imagine that Dragojevic can live in his country happily now. "It's a question of economics," he says. "It is much more dangerous. All ethical and moral concepts are ruined. That's the subject of the film I'm shooting now; it's all about kids who don't have any of the ideals my generation had, because they live surrounded by the war-rich. In my period, if you were rich, it was a shame to show it. Now, the concept of being rich and having money is all. I feel at war with that reality. The war in Bosnia changed my life. I made my first movie in 1992, at the beginning of the war. It was a bizarre teenage comedy. I can never make that kind of film again. The war has stopped me."
`Pretty Village, Pretty Flame' opens todayReuse content