The Parade (Serbia, 2011)

In this film, director Srđan Dragojević tackles the contentious issue of gay rights in the Balkans. The opening sequence lists several ethnic slurs as well as who uses each. For instance: “ustasha,” a slur against Croats, used by Serbs, Bosniaks, and Kosovars. But the list ends with “peder”—faggot—”used by everybody.” This suggests that even the ethnically fractured Balkans are united by their extreme disdain for gay people.

Finding Common Ground

The Parade describes the unlikely union between a group of Yugoslav war vets and a group of Serbian gay rights activists. The paths of these two groups first cross in 2009, when Lemon, a Serbian veteran and crime boss, brings his critically injured bulldog Sugar to the (gay) veterinarian Radmilo. “If he don’t make it,” Lemon tells Radmilo, “you don’t make it.” Fortunately (for all three of them), Sugar pulls through.

Meanwhile, Lemon’s fiancée Pearl wants a fabulous wedding, and she trusts that a gay man like Mirko (Radmilo’s much more militant partner) can deliver. Mirko is happy to oblige, until he learns that Lemon is the one who threatened Radmilo. To make matters worse, Vuk, Lemon’s son from a previous marriage, was among the skinheads who broke into a press conference about the upcoming Pride parade chanting “Kill the faggot!” Lemon isn’t thrilled about the prospect of having Mirko plan his wedding, either, but Pearl will have none of it: “You already had one redneck wedding,” she exclaims, “now another one? Not with me! There’s lots of trash out there, take one!” Lemon throws a hissy fit, and Pearl is gone.

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Anti-gay graffiti in Belgrade, 2010. (Image: Mihajlo Anđelković, distributed by CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

All of the threats of violence that Mirko and his fellow activists have received frightens Radmilo, but Mirko is adamant: “I started to hate my own country,” he says, “just because I can’t walk my streets proudly for a single day.” Seeing the depth of his partner’s commitment, Radmilo approaches Lemon with “a business proposal”: for Lemon to protect Mirko and his fellow activists in exchange for providing Lemon with a perfect wedding (and getting him back together with Pearl). “When it comes to love,” Radmilo remarks, “there’s no difference between a criminal and a faggot.” Pearl is thrilled to learn that Lemon has accepted Radmilo’s offer, but some of Mirko’s fellow activists are not having it. “I want police protection!” exclaims the middle-aged fashion designer Djordje. “Everything else is humiliating!”

Lemon’s associates are similarly resistant, prompting him to embark on a roadtrip with Radmilo to recruit fellow Yugoslav War vets. Much to Lemon’s chagrin, he and Radmilo have to share a room at the hotel. After keeping vigil until Radmilo falls asleep, Lemon finally (and hesitantly) gets in bed with him, but only after protecting his ass with a pillow, of course. But the twists of irony do not stop! Lemon recruits a Croat, a Bosnian, and an Albanian Kosovar to join his entourage!!! When Lemon is reunited with his “utasha pussy” friend Rocco, Radmilo whispers “Ben Hur,” suggesting a bromoerotic element to their friendship like that of Ben Hur and Messala.

“You Call This a Success?”

The next few scenes unravel with a great deal of touchingly comic moments. Mirko suspects that Radmilo and Lemon did more than just bond on their trip, and Pearl is thrilled to learn that Lenka, a lesbian activist, finds it hard to believe that Pearl is straight. Then, when Lemon trains the activists in judo, he pairs off the activists and war vets. But Rocco is left without a partner, prompting him to whine “Lemon, where’s my faggot?” The merry band of misfits is really coming together. (A warning to those who watch the film, though: it contains a lot of gay slurs and ethnic slurs, yes. That’s to be expected and hardly needs mentioning. But be warned that it also contains a brutal dogfighting scene.)

Finally, the day of the parade comes. Within moments, an enormous crowd of skinheads arrive, again chanting “Kill the faggot!” This is Rocco’s dream come true: “To beat the shit out of Serbs in the heart of Belgrade.” But some of the paradegoers leave when they see the opposition. Mirko manages to raise morale: “I know that we’re in for the worst beating in our lives! But even this beating is better than the humiliation we go through all our fucking lives!” The activists were prepared to die for their rights; a tearful funeral for one of their own, attended by Lemon and his gang, strengthens their resolve. The film ends with a portrayal of the pride parade the following year (2010), including actual footage from the event, a solemn procession guarded by the police but overlaid with the same angry shouts and slurs as before. Lemon turns to Radmilo: “Finally a success.” Radmilo replies: “You call this a success?”

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Belgrade Pride 2010. (Image: Aleksandar Maćašev, distributed by CC BY-SA 3.0 license)

I think ending the film on that rather pessimistic note was a strong choice. In 2011, it would’ve been hard to call the efforts of LGBT rights activists in Serbia “successful.” Even so, in a review of the film published in the Boston Review, Paul Hokenos opined: “In addition to gay rights, the film affirms the future of the region’s states as mutually respecting, tolerant societies, united not by class consciousness or ethnic blood rivalries but by liberal values.” Considering the fact that Serbia’s current prime minister Ana Brnabić is a lesbian, maybe there’s something to that.

Up Next…

Cage (Malta, 1971)

Kolya (Czech Republic, 1996)

Directed by Jan Svěrák, Kolya is, I believe, the first film on the list to have won an Academy Award, in this case for Best Foreign Language Film. The film also won the Golden Globe in the same category.

Making Ends Meet

Louka (played by the director’s father) is a cellist and inveterate womanizer living in Prague in 1988. He never plans on marriage, claiming it isn’t compatible with the life of a musician. Instead, he calls up each of his lovers one by one, telling them: “I suddenly felt lonely, so guess who I thought of? You, of course!”

Louka’s clearly struggling financially; he has holes in his socks, asks his fellow musicians to lend him money, and moonlights as a headstone restorer. So when his friend Broz tells him of a moneymaking venture to the tune of 40,000 crowns, you’d think he’d snatch it up right away. However, the plan would involve entering into a sham marriage with a Russian family friend named Nadezhda, and Louka is “against marriage in any shape or form”—not to mention the fact that he is staunchly opposed to anything Russian (which, incidentally, makes him vulnerable to political persecution—more on that later).

Nadezhda doesn’t speak a word of Czech, and to make matters worse, she has a young son named Kolya. Tamara, Kolya’s grandmother, tells Louka and Broz: “Do you have any idea what bribes cost in Russia?” indicating that she had to find some poor Czech rube to marry Nadezhda. Besides, Nadezhda is primarily trying to get to West Germany to stay with her boyfriend, which requires becoming a Czech citizen. (Russians couldn’t enter West Germany, but Czechs could.) So, shortly after their fictive marriage, Nadezhda absconds, leaving Kolya behind with Tamara.

Naturally, Broz is terrified that the cops will be suspicious of Nadezhda leaving so soon. But Louka has more pressing concerns: when Tamara has a stroke, he has to look after Kolya, much to his displeasure. Like his mother, Kolya speaks nary a word of Czech, making communication difficult between him and Louka. Kolya is understandably frightened and upset to be away from  his mother and grandmother, and no doubt confused as well. But Broz is thrilled: “Looking after your wife’s child makes your marriage look genuine,” he gleefully tells Louka.

Two Revolutions

Slowly, Louka settles into life as a surrogate parent. Unfortunately, Tamara dies, meaning Kolya is stuck with Louka for the foreseeable future. We watch Louka and Kolya grow closer—the latter even calls Louka “dad.” But much to Louka’s mother’s horror, Kolya is Russian. “First you show no interest in children and then it’s a Russian,” she sighs. Uncharacteristically, given his political leanings, Louka defends his decision to look after the child. But a woman from social services tells him that the Soviets will probably take Kolya back to the USSR and put him in a home, so Louka and Kolya leave their Prague flat to stay with a friend of Louka’s named Houdek.

The end of the film witnesses the beginnings of the Velvet Revolution. Perhaps unwisely, Louka brings Kolya to the protests, inciting a chain reaction that quietly unravels over the final minutes of the film. Thanks to his time with Kolya, Louka is changed (presumably) indelibly. Kolya is an immensely enjoyable film, as its many accolades can attest to. While watching the film, the thought struck me: “Finally, a comedy!” (albeit one that essentially ends with the word “goodbye”). In reality the film straddles the line between comedy and drama, dealing with heavy topics in a witty and often touchingly lighthearted manner.

Up Next…

Things are going to be a little different in the next post. Instead of writing about one film, I’ll be discussing three short films—very short, actually, each under fifteen minutes—that deal with similar topics and follow similar storylines.

Wea Nao Mi? (Solomon Islands, 2012)

Looking for Nelao (Namibia, 2015)

Icimonwa (Zambia, 2016)