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Zivorad 'Zika' Mitrovic
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IN A NUTSHELL: A film that will stick with you for a long time; it brilliantly portrays the miracle of rebirth that can happen when the elderly and young are thrown together, and left to their own devices to create a real "family." I saw this film at the 1993 San Francisco film festival.
Set in that brief golden bubble of time, between the fall of Communism in Yugoslavia, and the outbreak of ethnic bloodshed, the movie was made almost entirely in Belgrade (now in Serbia). A beautiful portrait of the breakdown of one family, and the miraculous creation of a new one. Director Goran Paskaljevic chose 12-year Nikola Sarkovic from over 800 boys. Their teamwork brought one of the most compelling performances by a child actor to the screen. The film was completed in Aug 92, only days before the escalation of the bloody civil war in Serbia that made on-site location work for *any* films impossible. If this film ever finds distribution, you can NOT afford to miss it.
Nikola plays a gritty young capitalist-wanna be. He has far more sense and maturity with money than either of his parents, (his self-obsessed mother, Ina Gogalova, or philandering father, Miki Manojlovic). While his father dreams unrealistically of building a home based on income from being a wedding musician, Nikola dreams of getting a pop corn machine at the race track, so his family can make "real" money. The boy has gradually assumed many of his parent's adult responsibilities. He helps relieve his mother, by caring for her elderly charges, and even surreptitiously prompts his father with the right things to say to overcome serious marital rifts based on the father's philandering.
After his father gets a promotion in a music academy, with strings attached, Nikola steps in to center stage to hold things together. He must care for the three elderly charges his mother runs errands for (she's in Bulgaria> seeking a quack cure for the ailing sister) *and* he must take on two new charges, relatives of his father's boss. Nikola has already grown close to Señor Julio Popovitch (brilliantly portrayed by former Yugo mega pop singer, Mija Aleksic.) Nikola finds a deep friendship with the spunky old Tango singer who refuses to "give in," even though he's virtually bed-ridden.
[In the director's talk after the screening, Paskaljevic revealed that the ailing Aleksic hadn't been able to work for 7 years. He was only allowed to work for two to three hours a day, with his doctor in attendance. With Life imitating Art, this wonderful performer grew stronger and stronger as the film progressed, and his doctor's new "prescription" was for Aleksic to make more films!]
With the company of a dog he's inherited from a recently deceased "client," the pragmatic Nikola decides to simultaneously baby sit all of his elderly charges by bringing them together in a friendship club. Therein the magic of this film begins; like parched flowers in a spring rain, these wonderful old people "bloom" through friendship, romance, and a new-found sense of purpose. The gift of Goran Paskaljevic's direction prevents this from turning into sappy, sentimental sop like SMALL CHANGE. In a sense, each of Nikola's charges finds their own "tango," or dance of life. The film follows a path pitted with the very cul 'd sacs and dead ends that await any of us cursed with living long enough to become a "bother" to our adult children.
Much of the film's freshness comes from a deft script and Zarkovic's no-nonsense portrayal of the determined twelve-year-old. Far from being the lovable "artful dodger" type of moppet most of us were weaned on in countless Disney films, this is a pint-sized "adult" with a mission. He'll stop at nothing to build a stable financial base for his family. Like many work-a-holic adults, he's become so enmeshed in enabling others, that he's forgotten how to care for his own needs. Only briefly, near the end of the film, when we see Nikola frolicking nude on a Montenegro beach under the loving, watchful eyes of his elderly `tango singer' friend, do we see him act freely and fully as a child. While his "real" family crumbles around> him, he unknowingly brings together an enduring extended family. Warning: TANGO ARGENTINO has one of the most devasting, loving endings you will have ever seen. (I saw it 8 years ago).
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