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Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981)
Director: Emir Kusturica

A young man grows up in Sarajevo in the 1960s, under the shadow of his good, but ailing father, and gets attracted by the world of small-time criminals.

Do You Remember Dolly Bell? (1981)

The Lost First Time

Kusturica is something of a challenge for me to parse. The experience is a bit troubling because it seems so genuine that we should be ashamed for intruding. He does not seem to accomplish this by ordinary means. Yes, the acting is good, but what works here is something quite a bit deeper than usual.

Instead of the world of the film coming to us, as is usually the case, he inserts the camera in such a way that we — or rather our intent to see — brings it into being. This is an early film, and already he seems to have mastered the art of composition. This has a couple of his trademarked panning sequences that are the most elaborately choreographed I know. But more than that, each scene progresses through what seems to be an ordered diorama of gypsy projection. It is intensely human. I can imagine the filmmaker crying as he blocks the shot and places the actors, lights, camera.

I can imagine him obsessing over how objects and shadows form families that work the way the central family does here. I can see his passion in how he guides the camera in arcs that are unnatural. It is a wonder he continued to make films, such is the obvious cost.

A lost nation. A lost larger family. A lost love. Do we remember? Can you?

Because I encounter young filmmakers, and see their first works, I know it is possible to spring whole into the art, allowing open completion of soul to make up for insufficient craft. As time went on, Emir learned to layer humour and circumstance, to tell a story. But nothing he will do can match this, his first love.

Posted in 2011

Ted’s Evaluation — 3 of 3: Worth watching.


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