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Film / Underground

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Underground is a 1995 Serbian historical comedy/drama co-written and directed by Emir Kusturica.

The plot concerns two Serbian rapscallions, Marko and Blacky, who run guns through Belgrade to fight the occupying Nazis but seem more interested in spending their profits on debauchery. When a love triangle threatens their friendship, however, the slippery Marko hatches a plot that tricks Blacky and a large portion of their friends into hiding in a large underground bunker for years, long after the war has ended. Meanwhile, Marko maintains a charade that they are still fighting Nazis above ground.

The film marked Kusturica's second Palm d'Or at Cannes, yet also sparked controversy in the Balkans over accusations that it romanticized Yugoslavia's Communist regime. The short version of the film is almost 3 hours long, but the 5-hour uncut edition was aired as a miniseries on Serbian television.


  • Anti-Villain: Marko and Natalija do terrible things, but we sympathize with them because they do it in misguided love for each other.
  • Bad "Bad Acting":
    • The film being made of Marko's falsified story of Blacky's Heroic Sacrifice includes some terrible acting, most notably the waves of Nazi soldiers who throw themselves to the ground (sometimes belatedly) whenever a prop gun is pointed in their direction.
    • Natalija's play is stilted and cartoonish. She and her co-star alternate between reaching out and recoiling from each other as they say their lines. A shot of the crowd has their heads turning back and forth like they're watching tennis.
  • Big Bad Friend: Marko is Blacky's best friend but functions as a villain in the second half of the film.
  • Blatant Lies: The film's intertitle card claiming that Tito became so distraught by Marko's disappearance that he died... 20 years later.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Marko and Blacky love a good fight, but Blacky is the tougher of the two, which is why Marko must resort to deception to avoid Blacky's wrath.
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with the ever-present brass band playing "Kalasnjikov" while Blacky fires into the air.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: In the end, Ivan turns and addresses the audience to provide a brief ode to Yugoslavia.
  • Butt-Monkey: The members of the brass band occasionally get abused. In the opening, they have to dodge Blacky's random, drunken gunfire. On the boat, their leader accidentally shoots a member in the leg. Underground, the kids pick on the leader by constantly pointing the tank's gun at him.
  • Catchphrase: The band leader saying something is a "catastrophe."
  • Cerebus Syndrome: While the film begins with the bombing of Belgrade and the destruction of the Belgrade Zoo, the tone of the first act is lighter than the rest. The film gets more and more tragic as it progresses.
  • Chekhov's Skill: An electrician by trade, Blacky reveals that he is impervious to electric shocks when he sticks live wires into his mouth while fixing his home's ceiling fan. Later, Nazis try to torture him with electroshock therapy equipment and get a rude surprise.
  • Died Happily Ever After: The final scene appears to show the characters in this state.
  • End of an Age: The dissolution of Yugoslavia after Tito's death is portrayed as a tragedy.
  • "Everyone Comes Back" Fantasy Party Ending: Everyone has died, but they all return in the afterlife having a picnic, celebrating their time together in the old Yugoslavia.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Marko and Natalija start out as protagonists but ultimately become the villains of the film.
  • Failed Future Forecast: The refugees underground think that World War 2 is still being fought 20 years after it ended. When Blacky and Jovan get out in the 1960s, they're trying to find Nazis to fight.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Blacky's position after Marko finally apologizes.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: It's not apparent except in a few fleeting shots, but one of the kids playing soccer underground is actually an adult little person.
  • Hookers and Blow: Marko and Blacky spend their gunrunning profits on women and booze.
  • Identical Stranger: The cast who plays Marko, Blacky, Natalija and Franz all look identical to the real people and are played by the same actors.
  • Love Triangle: Blacky, Marko and Natalija. She tells them openly that, combined, they'd make a great man.
  • Reality Has No Soundtrack: The film turns this trope on its head by having a brass band follow the main characters into a wide range of circumstances to provide a jaunty soundtrack.
  • Running Gag:
    • Marko and Natalija stealing drinks from each other at dinners.
    • Marko breaking bottles of liquor over his head so that Natalija can't drink them.
  • Tank Goodness: Blacky's biggest triumph underground is building a tank from scratch. The fugitives use it as a bomb shelter whenever Marko turns on the air raid sirens. When Soni the chimp fires the cannon, it causes the disruption that Blacky was waiting for to slip away, which causes the third act of the film to happen.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: The villains for the first act of the film, during the war.
  • Time Skip: The film spans about 50 years, with several large time skips.
  • Together in Death: The bittersweet finale involves all the deceased characters having a seaside picnic and resolving their differences. The landmass they're on breaks off and floats into the ocean, mirroring balkanization and their trip into the afterlife.
  • Unreliable Narrator: A title card states that Marko's disappearance caused a distraught Tito to fall ill and die... 20 years later.
  • Warrior Poet: Marko is a former revolutionary and becomes an influential member of the Communist Party known for his poetry. However, he really wasn't as much of a hero as he claims.