The Powder Keg

on August 27, 1999 by Luisa Ribeiro
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   Clermon-Tonnere and Goran Paskaljevic. A Paramount Classics release. Serbo-Croatian-language; subtitled. Rated R for strong violence including and act of sexual assault, strong language and some drug use. Running time: 101 min.
   Set in Serbia just before the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, "The Powder Keg" is an incendiary tale full of harrowing images. Seething with frustration and rage that propels everything in its path towards disaster, there's also a peculiar edge of hopefulness hovering over each vignette, making it by far the most affecting film (the first from the Serbian point-of-view) about the degradation of a country suffering from eight years of bitter internal strife.
   Adapted by director Goran Paskaljevic and Dejan Dukovski from the latter's play, the film compresses the play's rambling wartime setting into one night in post-war Belgrade, which a character refers to as a place "without light."
   Reminiscent of "Short Cuts," where several unrelated characters' stories intertwine, the night begins with a simple traffic accident that explodes in an unexpectedly vicious fashion. Each event mirrors this same pattern of chance erupting into fury that eventually morphs into a handful of shocking murders and suicide.
   Characters include a bitter, chain-smoking cab driver; a teenager rebelling a little more than usual against his uncomprehending parents; an unemployed man forced to drive a bus who abandons his waiting passengers to listen to radio reports on the Accords signing while the bus is abruptly hijacked; a young woman passenger on the same bus whose evening amazingly drifts from bad to worse; and, most fleetingly and horrifyingly, a young woman who shares her train compartment with the wrong man.
   Most memorable in capturing the madness, bleak humor and tragedy of modern day Serbia is Lazar Ristovski as a boxer, both betrayer and betrayed, whose devastating passion anchors the random events that resonate with sad despair.
   Winner of the 1998 Fipresci (European Critics Award) at Venice, "The Powder Keg," despite its horrific events, incorporates a delicate innocence, an edge of tenderness and even a wry sense of humor that gives a dignity to the Serbs justified despair. While this goes a long way to humanizing the dark events, one remains deeply affected and depressed over this penetrating exposition.    Starring Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski and Mirjana Jojovic. Directed by Goran Paskaljevic. Written by Dejan Dukovski and Goran Paskaljevic. Produced by Antoine de
Tags: Miki Manojlovic, Lazar Ristovski, Mirjana Jojovic, Goran Paskaljevic, Dejan Dukovski, Servia, Paramount Classics, Antoine de Clermon-Tonnere, drugs, adult, accident, rebbelious, train
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