We lived in Belgrade between 1985 and 1988. The day we left, I said to my husband, 'I never, ever want to come back here again.' I haven't changed my mind, but enough time has passed for me to be mildly curious to see what the place looks like now, provided I can view it from a cinema seat rather than having to actually visit.
Which was why I chose to go to see 'The Old School of Capitalism' at the Melbourne International Film Festival last night. I suppose I don't regret buying the ticket. After all, I met a very nice Hungarian from the Vojvodina and his charming Irish wife. Also, it is always interesting to discover that a new benchmark for utter hopelessness has been set.
For 'The Old School of Capitalism' is almost certainly the worst film I have ever seen. The acting is breathtakingly terrible and you couldn't say the thing has a story or a plot. Instead, without explanation, the film plunges us into the lives of a collection of muddled people who are having a lot of financial problems. We watch as they attempt to resolve their problems by all shouting at once and then smashing down a building, shouting some more, shooting at each other, shouting again, tying up some of their number, shouting again, and eventually ploughing, possibly inadvertently, one amongst them into the ground. The scenes of shouting are occasionally intercut with arguments about Communist theory between the character who is eventually ploughed under and another character, unrelated to the main action, who runs a left-wing magazine in Belgrade, funded by the proceeds of his father's career on Wall Street.
Leaving aside the unfortunate ploughing incident, the events of the film did not seem all that different from what I observed of daily life in Belgrade - no planning, no structure, no vision, just a lot of shouting. I found it pretty wearing - and, once I discovered that the men shuffling about in their pyjamas fingering things in our local supermarket were actually patients from the infectious diseases hospital across the road, I really felt I'd had enough. Leaving the theatre last night, I felt exactly the same way.