I'm getting better"
Dino, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981)
Our journey back to Kusturica's films takes us to his first feature film, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? Kusturica, fresh back from film school in Prague had created a couple of TV shorts before he created Dolly Bell in 1981. The film is set in 1960s Sarajevo, where young Dino and his friends pass their time with music, cinema, experiment with hypnotism lessons, exaggerate about imaginary girlfriends and also do the odd bit of pocket-picking at the market. When a local tough, Sonny, tells Dino to hide Dolly Bell, a local prostitute, in the loft, Dino falls in love with the girl and has an awakening.
This film tells a coming-of-age tale very lovingly, and is based on Kusturica's own growing up in Sarajevo. It depicts a world where traditions and socialism exist, where the father returns home drunk only to wake his sons up to convene a committee meeting with an agenda on the happenings of the day, while the youngest son, Midho, writes the minutes:
"Well, good. Now write. First item: school."
"Dad, it's the holidays. There's no school."
"Excuse me, Midho. Cross that out. Write: report on financial undertakings.""That's first."
"Write "shit." Write it!"
"Kerim, shit, too."
"Kerim will chair the meeting. So you don't think your dad's drunk."
(Kerim) "I hereby open the meeting. Dad to speak."
"I propose we be brief. We must be more constructive.""I personally have nothing against private, that is personal, initiative. We must stimulate individual creativity in our socialist society."
Kusturica's storytelling, his eye for a scene and his sentimental involvement with the subject make this film a beautiful story, one that does not require high drama, special effects or complicated plots. It rather describes a life which was simple, when people used to be happy with the few things they had and always made time for enjoyment and friendship. Central to the film are the themes of friendship, adolescence, poverty, tradition, religion, with a bit of Marxism thrown in between glasses of Slivovica (šljivovica) for good measure. Ultimately, Dolly Bell depicts a world that was to be eventually ruined by the war in a time when its inhabitants were blissfully unaware of their future. It most certainly pains my heart to watch the happiness in a 1981 Sarajevo film, with the hindsight of the horrific war of the early 90s. None of that here though. Besides, the film is set in a time when optimism about the socialist society was at a high. A subtle masterpiece.
“On the sea's blue beach