Monday, October 31, 2005

Ferdinand, Put Your Boots On

Thanks to Mostar Sevdah Reunion plus the vocal talents of Ljiljana Buttler for playing at the Marquee Club on Wednesday night, keeping things going till well after midnight, and reminding a jaded Gazette that there is life beyond turbofolk.

Thanks to them too for opening a four-day season of Bosnian cinema at Riverside Studios, split into a series of double bills and mainly pairing a nineties or noughties film with a Sarajevan production from former Yugoslavia on the model of Riverside's mini-Croatian season last year. 2003s' tragicomedy Gori vatra, for instance, teamed up with Veljko Bulajić's 1975 blockbuster Sarajevski atentat, a Yugoslavian-Czechoslovakian co-production incongruously guest-starring none other than Christopher Plummer. (Or not so incongruously; Bulajić's Partisan-movie classic Bitka na Neretvi, aka The Battle of the Neretva, included Orson Welles, and Richard Burton was brought in to play Tito in 1973's Sutješka.)

Sarajevski atentat cuts back and forth between the Austro-Hungarian establishment and the group of Young Bosnia members led by Gavrilo Princip (briefly including a youthful guest appearance by who I'm sure - IMDB confusion notwithstanding - is the Branko Djurić from No Man's Land). The action's preceded by an opening sequence playing ominous piano chords over thirty years' worth of headlines about the annexation of Bosnia, Austrian police brutality and Bosnian students' attempts to assassinate Habsburg officials at any chance they got. Smrt fašizmu!

This dedicated, exuberant version of Princip the zealot, baby-faced Trifko Grabež, and a Nedjeljko Čabrinović whose attitude to poetry and women would come close to Captain Jack Sparrow's if it were laced with extra rum, hardly resembles the band Misha Glenny described in The Balkans as 'one of the most disorganized and inexperienced squadrons of assassins ever assembled'. For a London-based audience watching 36 years later, the youthful martyrs' journey to the capital has a jarring resonance; and even the hilltop cannon salutes which welcome the Archduke's party to Sarajevo are more jolting than Bulajić would ever have expected them to be.

On the Schwarzgelbe side, meanwhile, Plummer quite simply is Franz Ferdinand. No, not a Glasgow art-rocker (although the Gazette digresses for just long enough to hope that Eleanor, Put Your Boots On from their new CD will make it out as a Christmas single), but the detached yet ultimately well-meaning Archduke whose hunting lodge is adorned with 5,001 (count 'em) stags' heads on plaques. No mention of how some South Slav politicians at the time saw Ferdinand as their ally against the nationalising Hungarian tendency from Budapest, or the pivoting power structure of the Dual Monarchy: in fact, Budapest figures only as one more name-check on Ferdinand's rail trip.

Otomar Korbelár's Emperor Franz Josef is suitably doddering, and chief of staff Baron Conrad with his (accurate) obsession with an invasion of Serbia and Montenegro comes across as the Edwardians' answer to the Project for a New American Century. If there's a flipside to Plummer's presence, it's that one continually expects to catch sight of Julie Andrews, some holier-than-thou kids, or at least a few brown paper packages tied up with string. Florinda Bolkan rises to the challenge instead as Archduchess Sophie, the Viennese court's answer to Camilla Parker-Bowles, decked out in a suitably Andrews-in-Princess-Diaries dress/tiara combination.

To be fair, an administration in the hands of people like Baron Cheney Conrad was hardly doing anyone - except the Škoda works - any favours. And yet.

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