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Kusturica plays a role (as a taxi driver) in a Russian film to be released next year, Balkanski rubezh or The Balkan Line, about the Russia/Nato stand-off in 1999 at Pristina airport remembered (by us) for General Mike Jackson telling US commander Wesley Clark that he wasn’t prepared to start World War III for Clark’s sake. Directed by Andrei Volgin — a director none of the Russians I ask has heard of, but whose previous work looks uncannily similar to the Hollywood trash Kusturica calls “a cinematographic graveyard” — the film shows “how our Russian brothers brought money and talent to show how much we were bombed . . . and where the new colonialism started. It’s very good the Russians made the film — because we [Serbs] didn’t do it; it seems something is not regular in our social life if you don’t make for memory and artistic vision something that is extremely important in our history.” No prizes for guessing how the flick depicts the rapacious Nato gang.

Kusturica’s an old hand on RT, and pops up a lot on intra-Russia media too, one of those foreign showbiz figures (a tatty gang: Gerard Depardieu and Steven Seagal are the other big shots) who can be whistled up to disparage the West, support Russia on Crimea and Ukraine, and so forth. He has called RT “the best example of what a TV station should be — unlike CNN and the BBC, which broadcast one-sided information”; praised President Putin’s “gentle nature”, which is bringing Russia “back from the knees” of the Yeltsin era, and laughingly offered — during what sound like peculiar discussions with Putin about “the establishment of Russian military bases in the Balkans” — to let him put missiles on his balcony.

It is standard RT pap for Western conspiracists, and for a Russian audience increasingly fed a diet of paranoid ravings. Kusturica obviously likes hobnobbing with Putin, enjoys the lavish patronage of Gazprom, and is no doubt flattered to be cast as the “spiritual father of Serbia”, as a Russian journalist tells me (an idea that would flabbergast plenty of Serbs). But the mean-spirited new-Russia tone — familiar from the aggressive, sarcastic scorn we get from the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov and the Russian ambassador in Britain on the cases of Alexander Litvinenko and the Skripals — sits oddly on Kusturica. When I finally catch him off-duty in the bar he is (as his reputation leads you to expect) expansive, relaxed, warm and likeable in his shaggy, old-reprobate way, and his films are clearly the product of a big-hearted man who strongly believes art transcends pettiness and politics.

It’s easy to see him as the old rebel with standard generational angst as the world again betrays the liberating dreams of youth, though this hardly explains his attachment to the Kremlin’s peevish paranoia. His entertaining shtick about the horror of Hollywood, McDonald’s culture, corporatism and consumerism comes with a dollop of self-parody; but there’s not much humour in the apocalyptic stuff about war and invasion, and indeed his next film project — Lermontov’s classic novel A Hero of Our Time recast in the Syrian war — sounds a lot less fun than his old ones.

As the festival draws to a close, a warm, bohemian atmosphere resurfaces. Happy as anyone must be to walk down a street named after Joe Strummer, I have to ask: why him? “He was the last real rebel in music,” says the Professor, a sentimental nod to the good old days; and I don’t have the heart to disabuse him about fraudulent old Telegraph-reading Joe. On the last night, Gary Lucas (of Captain Beefheart and Gods and Monsters) jams on stage with grizzled veteran Macedonian rocker Vlatko Stefanovski. In the end it is left to Vlatko to sum up the happy retro spirit of things more neatly than anyone: “Use the Stratocaster,” he growls at Gary. “Gibson is a right-wing guitar.”
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April 4th, 2019
2:04 PM
This writer is a pretentious snob hob-goblin wanna-be critic.

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