'Beautiful People' paints a rich portrait of a group of Bosnian refugees
By Nicole McEwan
"WAR IS LIKE LOVE," wrote Bertolt Brecht. "It always finds a way." But somehow the survivors endure--even prosper--just beyond its shadow, suggests Jasmin Dizdar in Beautiful People, his kaleidoscopic portrait of a group of Bosnian refugees trying to make sense of their new lives in London, circa 1993.
They're strangers in a strange land, and their sense of wonder and confusion is succinctly captured in a film that applies comedy like a salve and accepts the deepest absurdities as routine occurrences. From its opening, in which two passengers brawl on a packed city bus, to the scene in which a naive housewife discovers heroin in her son's jeans, takes a sniff, and proceeds hanging laundry, stoned out of mind, the film creates a tableau of wildly intersecting lives in which anything can happen, and does.
Drawing on a huge cast of characters, the former Yugoslavian writer/director takes on the human condition and the way synchronicity sometimes creates order out of chaos. It's a style of storytelling commonly associated with Robert Altman, although Dizdar's vision is not quite as sprawling and considerably shorter, at a mere 107 minutes. The result is a film that leaves you wanting more.
As it turns out, the transit hooligans were former neighbors in Bosnia, one a Serb, the other a Croat. Their passion-driven fisticuffs lands them both in the hospital--in the same room. Beside them, a sour-tempered Welsh anarchist stews in his own political agenda.
Angered by the bourgeois gentrification of his poor, yet picturesque village, the anarchist had attempted to firebomb some luxury vacation homes--the one plot that literally blew up in his face. Now his task is to keep his irrational roommates from killing each other--a pointed reference to the way war is more a state of mind than a point on a map.
The film's other characters include the black-sheep daughter of a politician, her penniless ex-Yugoslavian beau, a BBC reporter whose latest trip to Bosnia brings on a spectacular nervous breakdown, and a harried OB/gyn (and father of twins) in the throes of a nasty divorce. The relative insignificance of Dr. Mouldy's marital turmoil comes into sharp focus when he meets a young refugee couple who beg him to kill the baby he is about to deliver--a child conceived of rape.
Whimsical, tragic, but ultimately hopeful, Beautiful People is an intelligent, though flawed look at life after wartime. Particularly clunky is the too-rapid redemption of some fairly unredeemable characters in the film's final moments--a regrettable dip into blatant sentimentality. Still, Dizdar is first-person-familiar with the material's emotional landscape, so it's hard to fault him for celebrating survival. Dr. Mouldy sums things up nicely in the film's final line: "If life changes just a little bit in your favor, it can be so beautiful." Lying in a cradle nearby is a cheerfully gurgling infant. Her name: "Chaos."
From the April 27-May 3, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
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