In 1985, four middle-aged Yugoslav emigres return to Belgrade for the funeral of Mariana, their beautiful compatriot. They called her Esther, for Esther Williams, she was the coxswain for ... See full summary »
In 1985, four middle-aged Yugoslav emigres return to Belgrade for the funeral of Mariana, their beautiful compatriot. They called her Esther, for Esther Williams, she was the coxswain for their four-man rowing team, and they each loved her. They'd last seen her in 1953, when they rowed her across the Adriatic, pregnant, to join her exiled father in Italy. In flashbacks we learn the story of their youthful baptism into sex, smoking, rock and roll (Hey Ba-ba-re-bop), Hollywood and Swedish films, blue jeans on the black market, and their rivalry with Ristic, the Communist Party youth leader for whom they had instant antipathy. Written by
In the mid 1980s--before Yugoslavia broke apart and unleashed the strife and ethnic cleansing that prompted international intervention--Torvill and Dean skated "Bolero" on the Olympic ice rink at Sarajevo, and the not yet fractured nation gave us one of the more memorable European films of the era.
Hey Babu Riba presents the beautifully bittersweet story of a quartet of teenagers who form a rowing team, and the female coxswain with whom each is in love. The movie is set dually in summer 1953 and September 1985, in the first case just after the death of Joseph Stalin. The Soviet dictator, despite his demise, has a residual presence in the form of a forearm tattoo and a menacing group of apparatchiks from the ministry of culture (propaganda).
Glen, Sasha, Kicha, Pop, and Mirjana are a "four"--referring to the number of oars, not the number of friends--with quadruple aspirations to become a pair. They are Yankophiles, and take English classes from a woman in Belgrade. When Glen asserts, "I know that Glenn Miller is the best musician in the world," their teacher coaches them that an English speaker would not say, "I know ." in such a context, but rather, "I think ." When the young man applies the lesson at (what appears to be) the U.S. Information Agency office, he finds to his astonishment that his rehearsed memorization works conversationally, although the hip young African-American who staffs the office prefers Gershwin.
Which sets up some background from which the ensuing plot unfolds. Hey Babu Riba opens on a boxcar, approaching the northern Croatian coast, to the singing of "Te Quiero Dijiste" (1929) by Mexican female composer Maria Grever (1894-1951). It comes to the group by way of its use in a 1944 Esther Williams movie, Bathing Beauty. The coxswain thus becomes not Mirjana, but Esther, and the song, which pervades Hey Babu Riba, imprints itself as the movie's signature. The result is a classic of nostalgic youth. Jovan Acin (1941-1991) is the director.
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