Zivot je cudo (Life is a Miracle) (2004)
Director: Emir Kusturica.
Starring: Slavko Stimac (Luka), Natasa Solak (Sabaha), Vesna Trivalic (Jadranka ), Vuk Kostic (Milos), Aleksandar Bercek (Veljo), Stribor Kusturica (Captain Aleksic), Nikola Kojo (Filipovic), Mirjana Karanovic (Nada), Branislav Lalevic (President), Davor Janjic (Tomo), Adnan Omerovic (Eso), Obrad Djurovic (Vujan), Dr. Nele Karajlic (Cymbal Player), Dana Todorovic (SF TV Reporter).
in Bosnia 1992, a man ignores the signs of the coming war
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
A man named Vujan comes walking across a meadow. He walks by the sheep herd. Postman Velho uses a hand trolley on the railroad tracks. The postman travels up to a station stop. There Milos, a young man, is playing with the soccer ball with his father, named Luka. Luka kisses his wife Jadranka, who is an opera singer.
Milos and his friend, a young Muslim man known as Eso, clear the railroad tracks of the chickens. They talk about going to see their soccer coach. Milos mentions that it has been eighteen months since he and his family left Belgrade.
The postman knocks on the door of a local house. All of a sudden the door comes loose and is pushed down to the ground by a huge brown bear. And inside the house is a a second bear. The postman is stunned with shock. He then looks up into a tree and discovers the corpse of a human being hanging up there, presumably thrown up there by one of the bears. The postman runs like hell to get away from these fierce creatures.
The postman uses the hand trolley to try to get to the center of town to warn the mayor of what has happened. Rushing down the track, Velho has to stop. Vujan's donkey is standing in the middle of the railway track and he won't budge. Velho gets off the trolley and tries to move the donkey, but he has no luck. He tells Vujan that the bears killed Joksa!
When the postman finally gets into town he finds the people he wants to warn are all at a large band practice. He tries to tell Luka, but he, like the others, are swept up in the band practice. Luka only says that strongman Tito killed the last bear in Bosnia. Velho says that maybe the bears are fleeing the war in Croatia and have come to Bosnia.
The mayor is riding in an automobile on the railway track with his assistant Filipovic, the party secretary. Also with him is his wife Nada and the driver. The wife flirts with the party secretary shamelessly. The mayor and party secretary arrive at the band practice. Luka introduces the mayor to the musical conductor. The mayor says he is the President of the Town Council. Velho corners the mayor and tells him that if they don't do something about the bears, all the people will be slaughtered by them. Luka gets notice of the approval for the purchase of a Sneider-Holstein locomotive.
Luka has come to Bosnia to set up a tourist scenic railway. He loves railroads and it's his passion to establish this tourist railway. He shows people his model train layout on a topography matching that of the local area. He says that one track section of 12 miles in length will link Bosnia and Serbia. Part of his dream is to build another tunnel through a critical piece of real estate in time for Liberation Day.
Milos and Eso are sitting in the automobile of their friend Tomo Krotolina. They are singing along with the music on the car radio. Tomo is very drunk. He drives through the tunnel that is still under construction. He then stops and takes Eso into the tunnel. Milos stays in the car. Tomo tells Milos to come out and watch as Esoo stands in front of a side shaft. He places a bottle on top of Eso's head, tells him to stay still, fires at and hits the bottle. Eso now demands that it's his turn now. He places a bottle on the top of Tomo's head. Eso tells Milos not to worry because he and his Uncle Faik have been out target shooting a bit. Milos tries to stop this, but Eso ignores him and fires at the bottle. The bottle breaks.
The postman Velho and Luka are in a track car. Their ride is interrupted by Vujan's donkey. The two men have to work on getting the donkey off the tracks.
Milos and Luka have lunch by the station where they live. Jadranka is very frightened. She tells Nada on the phone that the next stop for her will be the nursing home. Jadranka says she heard Luka talking about it. The lady works herself up into such a state that she starts quickly rolling from the foot of the bed to the head of the bed and vice-versa over and over again.
Luka carries his wife up the steps of the hospital. Two nurses, one blonde and one brunette, are watching Luka carry his wife. They think Luka is very handsome and his efforts very romantic. The brunette says that the wife is a very good opera singer. She even heard the wife on the radio. But Jadranka is also a bit crazy, she adds. Both nurses are of the Islamic faith. The brunette says she is not interested in Luka because he is not a Muslim. The blonde, named Sabaha, says that doesn't matter to her.
The brunette nurse gives Sabaha, laying on a gurney, a terrific push and Sabaha and the gurney fly down the hallway. The gurney runs into Luka and he falls backwards onto the gurney next to Sabaha. This pleases Sabaha a great deal as together they go farther and farther down through the hallways.
Luka and Jadranka are in the bleachers as their son Milos plays in a soccer game. The crowd around them all root for Bosnia. Milos gets hit on the field and goes down. Jadranka is upset about this and she goes down to sit on the Bosnian soccer bench. She talks to coach Zurovac. As they talk, two pranksters get behind the Bosnian goalie Eso and point a pipe toward the back of Eso's head. The tall prankster urinates into the pipe and the urine slides down and onto the head and neck of Eso. Meanwhile, Milos scores a goal for Bosnia.
A fight develops between Eso and the two pranksters. A policeman starts using his baton on Eso. Milos comes to the rescue. He jumps at the back of the policeman with both feet landing right in the middle of the policeman's back. He slams his feet into the man's back and he goes flying off Eso. Soon a riot breaks out and lots of policemen are out trying to restore order. Milos's mother runs out to help her son shouting; "You did it, Milos!" Milos's uncle pulls off one of the legs of the metal holding the soccer nettling together, and uses the pole to hit people and knock them down. He accidentally knocks down Jadranka and Luka, who are trying to help Milos.
At home Jadranka is sure that her boy will be chosen for a soccer team. Milos is working outside with his father and he tells him: "I want to go back to Belgrade. I want to play soccer there." He is very angry with his father for draggling him out to Bosnia. Jadranka joins in on the criticism saying that Luke dragged her off the stage to come to Bosnia. A little later, they all are on better terms with each other and they sit in a swinging seat for three.
All of a sudden there is a huge explosion. It comes from the tunnel construction site.
Today is the opening of the bear hunt. The party secretary tells the mayor that he just got a call from the party in Sarajevo. There is a difference of opinion as what they should do about this. They finally agree to disagree and go their own ways. A man with a rifle has been listening to the conversation between the two politicians. After the mayor leaves, the party secretary and the rifleman confer.
The assassin, the fellow talking with the party secretary, puts a silencer on his rifle and shoots the mayor from his hidden position. The mayor goes down. Nobody realizes what happened as the mayor is drunk and a bear has come charging at the crowd. They all make a run for it, leaving the mayor bleeding in the snow.
There is a big celebration in town for the arrival of the new locomotive and the mayor is supposed to be coming, but only the party secretary shows up and he's not interested in the mayor's whereabouts. Jaranska sings opera songs with a male opera singer to entertain the crowd. At the end of the entertainment the locomotive is shown by tearing a banner down that hid the engine.
On the television Jadranka listens to a report about a murder at a Serbian wedding. The victim is Nikola Grdovic. He was shot outside an orthodox church in Sarajevo. The Bosnian authorities advises all citizens to stay home. Jadranka tells her husband about what's happening in Sarajevo, but Luka doesn't want to hear it. He says all the news reports about violence are lies. He says war is never going to happen. His wife is just as certain that war is coming.
Bad news comes for Milos. He has to report to his Bosnian army unit. Luka is very happy about this, whereas Jadranka is fearful of what might happen to her son. She speaks with Luka and gets madder and madder at him. She shouts at him: "I should never have let you bring me out here!" Jadranka adds that all he thinks about is his tourist railway. She starts breaking up his train displays and she completely destroys a bust of Luka's father. Then she runs of the house. Luka chases after her. Eso drives up in his car to drop Milos off. Milos tells his parents that soccer manager Zurovac called him and made him an official offer to join his Partizan soccer team. Everyone seems pleased at this.
At night at the railway station, there is music and dancing. Jadranka flirts with the Hungarian in the band. Milos learns about having to go into the army and he gets very upsets. He gets drunk and throws things around. Tomo is there with some girls in the band to try and calm him down.
Luka goes to his old friend, the military officer Aleksic, and asks him if there is going to be a war? Aleksic says there will be a lot of talking, but they will be able to avoid war. Luka is ecstatic to hear his friend's opinion. Milos tells people that he will be nearby, stationed in Novi Sad.
Jadranka is flirting with her Hungarian boyfriend. Aleksic tells Luka that if their military chiefs in Moscow would let them, the military could take over and put an end to all this talk of war. Luka goes to Jadranka to tell her that he has learned from a high source that there will not be a war. Jadranka doesn't believe it. She goes back to dancing with her boyfriend. Jadranka cries as she dances thinking about what might happen to her son. In fact, the Hungarian and Jadranka keep dancing even after a mischievous set of twin brothers open the water valve and the dancing couple get absolutely drenched.
The next morning Luka tells Milos that he took his mother to the hospital again. But the truth is that Jadranka and the Hungarian ran off together. Milos believes the lie and gets on his bus to report to the army. By himself at the station, Luka is upset and he starts turning over the party tables that have still not been cleared. On the television the report says that Sarajevo is under fire big time by the Serbians. Luka doesn't want to hear it, so he throws the TV out of his window. The television set is on a long cord and even after fit lit ands on the tracks, it continues to broadcast. So Luka gets out his shotgun and blasts the television set into silence.
The postman speaks with Luka. Many people are hiding their families, but he isn't because Luka, an engineer, is not hiding his wife. Velho tells Luka that he saw Jadranka leaving with the Hungarian.
Luka sees Aleksic in a military convoy. He jogs alongside the jeep and Aleksic tells him they must keep the railway here going. He wants Luka to watch the track and report any damages to him.
There are a lot of explosions at night. At the station a troop train goes by. At first, Velho thinks it is Bosnian troops, but after a closer look he sees that it is the enemy troops moving in. Velho is shaken by the long bombardment, but Luka remains surprisingly calm, given the seriousness of the situation.
At basic training, Milos makes a big mistake. He is going to fire a bazooka, but he winds up pointing the bazooka backwards. The instructor is distracted by a pretty female recruit. Milos fires the bazooka. The shell heads backwards instead of forward and the explosion makes a big whole in one of the buildings. Men come pouring out of the building in a daze.
A soldier tells Luka that Milos is home now. Luka races homes, but he finds Milos sleeping. He notices that the young man's right had has a case of the shakes. In the morning Milos awakens, but now his father is sleeping. Milos puts a blanket over his father and then has to run to catch the passing train. When Luka awakens, Milos is gone. So he goes and plays with his model railway set.
Velho comes over to see Luka and tells him that Milos is now a prisoner of war. Luka jumps on the horse behind the postman and they go to see Capt. Aleksic. Luka tells Aleksic that he wants to join the army in Milos's place. Aleksic will not permit it. He says: "It's not a private war." Aleksic talks about the pain of losing his brother, who just vanished one day two years ago. Luka says he is going to kill himself if he doesn't leave the encampment with an assignment. Aleksic expresses his disappointment in Luka for even thinking about suicide.
Tomo arrives at Luka's place with a tied-up woman prisoner. He goes inside to tell Luka that he now will be responsible for the prisoner. He urges Luka to keep the girl and then when the times comes, exchange her for Milos. Luka likes that idea. He is shocked, however, when he sees the girl is the blonde nurse Sabaha. After Tomo leaves, the jailor and the prisoner talk. Sabaja says that the male nurse at the hospital was shot dead by the soldiers. And she was afraid for her own life. Luka brings her some tea and has her lay down on the sofa.
Luka asks Sabaja to write a nice letter to her parents to notify them that she will be exchanged for prisoner Milos. On an optimistic note, he says that Bosnia will soon be at peace. They just have to be patient. Velho arrives and sees the pretty blonde working hard for Luka. The postman comments that Luka has got some good-looking house cleaner there. Luka tells him that she is doing all this voluntarily. She is not his personal slave. Velho asks Luka if he isn't afraid that the woman will slash his throat one day? No, he's not worried.
Sabaja becomes so relaxed in the house that she tries on Jadranka's clothes. She comes out to show Luka and he goes ballistic. He tells her if he sees her again in Jadranka's clothes, he will kill her. He becomes almost abusive and scares Sabaja. Velho tells his friend that he is being too angry and too hard on the girl. Luka says Sabaja is dressing up like this is a party, while he himself doesn't even know where his son is. He sends Sabaja upstairs.
The cat knocks the soccer ball down outside and it rolls across the tracks and starts heading down the hill. Lukas chases after the ball and dives at it to stop it. The ball reminds him of the days he played soccer with his son. Upstairs in the house, Sabaja plays with the train set. All of a sudden, a bunch of clothes comes her way and she gets frightened. It is Luka bringing her the clothes of his sister-in-law for Sabaja to wear. Sabaja tries on the different clothes and models them for Luka.
Luka closes one the of tunnels by boarding it up. At night back at the house he tells Sabaja about a Muslim friend that he had when he was younger. The explosions start again and Sabaja shouts from the sofa that she is scared. Luka invites her to jump in the bed with him and the dog. Sabaja runs and quickly gets under the covers. Luka tells her not to be afraid. The explosions will stop. Luka and Sabaja start kissing each other, but now comes all the refugees led by the postman. They are fleeing for their lives. Velho tells Luka that the Muslims are advancing. "Run for it!" Luka stays put for now.
Velho comes at night to ask Sabaja to come with him. A woman is having a baby and they really need the help that her nursing skills can provide. Sabaja goes with Velho. When she returns to Luka, she explains that everyone thinks she is from a rich family, but she is not. Luka goes ballistic again. He says: "You never think of Milos." He claims that Sabaja misled him and led him astray. He declares that now Sabaja is nothing to him.
The next day Luka starts leaving all by himself. Sabaja follows behind him. He tells her to go to the postman because he will help her. Sabaha cries. As he walks away from her, she runs up to him and jumps on his back. He throws her off. When she recovers her composure she goes looking for Luka. Sabaja starts finding a trail of the clothes Luka was wearing. She follows the trail collecting the clothes while she goes. She comes to a cabin where an old man lives. Sabaja goes inside the cabin and finds Luka wearing only a blanket and sitting in front of the fireplace. Luka tells her that the cabin was his late father's house. And now it's like nothing ever disturbed their relationship.
The two start horsing around with each other (brief nudity). Sabaja runs outside and Luka chases after her. In an embrace, they start rolling down the hill away from the railway. They scare the sheep who leave. They end up knocking over a big hay stack. Next we see Sabaja nude under a waterfall and still horsing around with Luka (some nudity). While they are having a great time, Aleksic and a few of his men show up in the area. Aleksic speaks with Luka, telling him that Filipovic wants him dead. So he wants to know how does he get to tunnel 46. Luka leads the men to tunnel 46. There they find an enemy train stopped. The commander makes a sex phone call in order to have phone sex. He goes into the tunnel and masturbates to the voice of the woman. When the commander is so distracted, the bazooka is used to explode a big part of the train.
Luka is back home at the small cabin. He imagines that he and Sabaja fly high in their bed over the trees and to the reservoir.
Velho stops to talk with Luka and Sabaja. With him he has brought Jadranka. He tells Luka that it didn't work out between Jadranka and the Hungarian and now she's back. Jadranka comes into the cabin. Luka tries to conceal Sabaja from his wife, but when Sabaja starts talking to Velho, Jadranka looks for the other woman. She demands to know who is this hussy? She is much bigger than Sabaja and starts to beat up Sabaja. Luka tries his best to run interference for Sabaja, but Jadranka chases Sabaja out of the cabin. Sabaja keeps running. Luka runs after her. He calls out to her, but she just keeps running. They run through one of the tunnels. Luka has to stop running because he is very winded. While he catches his breath, he sees Sabaja on the railway tracks looking as though she is thinking about committing suicide by train. He goes over to her and she tells him to go home, but Luka convinces her to stay with him saying he needs her.
Luka and Sabaja walk over to Aleksic's encampment. When the soldiers see the Muslim girl, they are going to take her away. A jeep will take her to the Red Cross. This is the last thing Luka wants. He grabs a pistol and starts running away with Sabaja, all the while firing his weapon to warn the soldiers not to follow him. They decide to run down to the Drina River. Sabaja goes to a private area to go to the bathroom. Meanwhile, Luka sees a dead body floating down the river. Unfortunately for the two of them, on their way down to the river, they caught the attention of some enemy soldiers at an outpost. The soldiers shout out to them: "Hey, Chetnik!" When Sabaja stands up, she is shot through the left leg. The wound is a bad one and Luka has to put a tourniquet on it. The soldiers continue trying to kill both of them even though neither is a soldier.
Luka is able to move downriver to get away from the firing. He then uses the fireman's carry to haul the wounded Sabaja to a Bosnian military medical camp. As he walks, blood from the wound leaves a trail behind them. After a long time, Luka gets Sabaja to the hospital and she is immediately treated for her wound. Aleksic is there. Luka sits beside Sabaja and tries to keep her spirits up by talking about the two of them going to live in Australia.
There is an exchange of prisoners. Jadranka is there. In an ambulance Luka and Sabaja arrive at the prisoner exchange site. Sabaja, on a stretcher, is going to be exchanged for Milos. But Sabaja starts screaming that she doesn't want to go home. She wants to stay with Luka. The soldiers ignore her and make the exchange. Luka tries to get up there to be with Sabaja, but the guards keep stopping him. He sneaks around and runs onto the bridge between the two enemies, but before he can reach Sabaja, he runs right into his son. Luka is crying and is distracted thinking about Sabaja. Milos hates to see his father cry and he tells him to stop it.
Milos takes his father to the other side. An American female journalist tries to talk to them, but she doesn't know the language. She talks to the camera saying that this is a typical soldier's homecoming. These soldiers have been fighting against Serbian aggression. Milos goes over to his mother and gives her a very warm embrace.
Back home at the station is Jadranka, Milos, Luka and Aleksic. Aleksic and Luka talk about love. The captain thinks Luka should just forget about that Muslim woman of his. But Luka can't forget about her. One day he jumps on the hand trolley and leaves. After awhile, he stops and decides to lay his head on the track in order to commit suicide. But that same old stubborn donkey blocks the tracks in front of the tunnel. The train stops just inches away from the animal.
Luka sees this and realizes that he doesn't want to commit suicide after all. He runs over to the donkey and gives it a big embrace and a kiss.
We see a smiling Luka and Sabaja riding together
on the donkey', headed back to the station house.
I really enjoyed the movie, but at times was confused about who was fighting at any given time. Luka brought his family out from Belgrade, Serbia so he could build a scenic railway for tourists in Bosnia. But now war is approaching between Serbia and Bosnia, even though Luka chooses to be totally convinced that there will be no war. His wife is just as certain that war is coming. The love story between the parents and their son Milos is a good one, but the parents themselves don't get along. And soon the wife runs off with a Hungarian musician. This opens up for Luka a chance for a new love. Much of the rest of the film deals with the love relationship between Sabaja and Luka. The ending was one I didn't expect. Most of these movies about the Serbian-Bosnian conflict don't have nice endings. It's more likely in these films that either Luka or Sabaja or both would be killed. So the film is more upbeat and it's fun to watch Sabaja and Luka fall in love, despite the war raging around them.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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