By Don Simpson | February 19, 2012
Director: Danis Tanović
Writers: Danis Tanović (screenplay), Ivica Djikic (novel)
Starring: Miki Manojlović, Mira Furlan, Boris Ler, Jelena Stupljanin, Milan Strljic, Mario Knezovic, Svetislav Goncic, Almir Mehic, Mirza Tanovic, Miralem Zupcevic, Mirsad Tuka, Ermin Bravo, Slaven Knezovic, Izudin Bajrovic, Sead Bejtovic, Jasna Ornela Bery
Writer-director Danis Tanović’s Cirkus Columbia is a slightly absurdist and quasi-satirical tale of Divko (Miki Manojlović), a wealthy and powerful man who has just returned to his native Bosnia-Herzegovinan village after 20 years of exile in Germany. Divko arrives in a flashy Mercedes with a young and nubile crimson-haired girlfriend, Azra (Jelena Stupljanin), a pocketful of German cash, and a black cat. Any uncertainty about why Divko has returned is cleared up when the very first thing that he does is leverage his close affiliation with the town’s new mayor to evict his wife Lucija (Mira Furlan) and their 20-year-old son, Martin (Boris Ler), from Divko’s ancestral home.
When Divko’s prized cat runs away, the narrative quickly shifts to focus more on Azra and Martin. We observe as both Divko’s old and new families crumble apart, just as on the periphery of the narrative Yugoslavia is disintegrating into history. It is 1992 and the Bosnian War is looming on the horizon. Everyone knows it. Certain opportunistic groups are vying for position, as others contemplate whether or not they should run away to Germany (as Divko did 20 years ago). For the most part, though, the characters seem to focus their fretting upon more petty concerns, as if the certainty of war is not nearly as important. Divko worries about his missing cat; Lucija worries about Martin; Azra worries about the recent choices she has made; and Martin worries about a competition to communicate the longest distance with his radio. Additionally, Divko seems to believe that money will solve everything; while Martin believes that real salvation is in the United States. In creating these purely superficial characters, Tanović is pointing out the obliviousness of the general population to the earth-shattering events that are occurring on their doorstep.
Where Tanović gets tripped up is in his portrayal of the two female characters. We are provided with two very blatant sexist stereotypes: the motherly homemaker and the curvy, seductive young sex kitten. In other words, Tanović is suggesting (purposefully or not) that women are good for either cooking and cleaning or for sex. Both women find their lives defined solely by men — Divko and Martin — and cannot be happy without them. Unfortunately, this is all conveyed without a nudge or a wink, as Lucija and Azra seem to be the only characters in Tanović’s film that lack any satirical flourishes.