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History, it is said, is doomed to repeat itself twice—the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. What, then, to make of director Emir Kusturica's historical tragi-farce Underground? Filmed over the course of two years and released elsewhere to wide acclaim in 1995 (it won that year's Palme d'Or at Cannes), Underground is a bizarre, often repellent anti-war parable that takes forever to state the obvious but hits some scattered high notes on the way. Miki Manojlovic and Lazar Ristovski play high-spirited Belgrade gun runners aiding the Communist rebels in their fight against the Nazis. Manojlovic installs a handful of refugees in his cellar, where they manufacture the guns he in turn sells to the Communists. Fifteen years pass and the war ends, but Manojlovic convinces these cellar-dwellers, now including his former best friend Ristovski, that the war is still in progress, and that their efforts are key to the revolution. Meanwhile, while Ristovski is ensconced and thought dead, Manjlovic makes moves on the woman his friend adores, the shriek-happy Mirjana Jokovic. Most of the lines in this shrill film are shouted, and the key characters (all annoying) are constantly accompanied by a roving brass band. Add to the mix a chimpanzee and more than enough deep thoughts about the then-current civil war raging in the former Yugoslavia, and all that remains is a 165-minute movie that has little more to say than, "War is not war until brother kills brother." Yet at times, the surreal atmosphere (escaped zoo animals wandering the streets, a man furiously masturbating as the city explodes and falls around him) approaches a Fellini-esque cavalcade of chaotic nonsense, and the Nazi/theater subplots bring to mind Ernst Lubitsch's classic black comedy To Be Or Not To Be. It would take some kind of mad genius to stretch this inanity to nearly three hours (cut down significantly from its original length), and certainly the film's obnoxious manner and epic length can be twisted into yet another metaphor for the futility of war. But the same message could have been delivered in half the time, at half the volume.

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