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Through a variety of film styles that provide a surrealistic sensory overload, Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko provides three war stories that treat the fragility of the humankind through different approaches, with Death as a common denominator appearing in all stories. In the first chapter (WWI), a gypsy deserts the army to return to his town for a wedding. To protect himself, he dresses up as a woman. However, the Hussars spot him, unleashing violent confrontations in the village. In the second chapter (WWII), Russian partisans kill an old man suspected of being a German spy. The news that the war is over scatters. Celebrations begin. But a German unit is unaware of this, and stumbles upon the celebration. In the third chapter (Post-Apocalyptic Nuclear Holocaust), two survivors begin an extensive search for other remaining people, but Death seeks them out too. Written by
I waited a long time to watch this film, first reading about it in an issue of Shock Cinema and later in Amos Vogel's Film as a Subversive Art (two very different but equally interesting publications). The descriptions in both sources painted the picture of a howling, surrealist anti-war film. I was curious. After a decade, I tracked down an English subtitled copy through All Clues No Solutions. Was it worth the wait?
Made during the 1968 Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, The Deserter and the Nomads is an anthology of war, opening with a story set in WWI, then one at the end of WWII, and, finally, in a post-apocalyptic world. One reoccurring character is the only narrative link to the stories. In the first episode, a gypsy soldier deserts and returns home. The gypsy hides out from his troop who want to kill him. This story, my favorite, brought to mind some of Emir Kusturica's work (Black Cat, White Cat, particularly) with its view of gypsy life. However, the humor here is much darker. In the second episode, a seller of eggs stumbles into a village where a rag tag militia is imprisoning and executing all strangers. The setting is the close of WWII. This story builds to the best scene in the film, involving guns and a flock of geese. The final story opens in an underground asylum/nursing home. The lone nurse, a young woman, has apparently lived underground her whole life and has never seen the outside world. She and a mysterious stranger escape into the world only to find no one left. This episode dragged. Once the couple came out of the underground asylum, they talked, moped around, and not much happened. The cinematography was still good, but the drama was not there. I was reminded of Glen and Randa, another meandering late 60's apocalyptic film.
The Deserter and the Nomads: Two good stories and a fair, at best, one. Not bad percentage wise, but my expectations were high. Those with lesser ones, may like the film more. Incidentally, this is the third Juraj Jakubisko film I have watched and it falls in the middle. An Ambiguous Report on the End of the World was better, but Birds, Orphans, and Fools was, in my opinion, much worse.
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