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KARLOVY VARY 2014 East of the West

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Monument to Michael Jackson: a touching tragi-comedy for all audiences


- Formally classical, Darko Lungulov’s second film features a strong cast and dynamic storytelling

Monument to Michael Jackson: a touching tragi-comedy for all audiences

Serbian writer-director Darko Lungulov has returned to Karlovy Vary, where his debut feature film, Here and There [+see also:
film profile
, screened in 2009 as part of the Variety Critics' Choice after winning the Best New York Narrative Award at Tribeca. His new film, Monument to Michael Jackson [+see also:
interview: Darko Lungulov
film profile
, expertly employs a similar, traditional narrative technique in a touching story of an everyman hero who does not give up on his dreams.

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Marko (Boris Milivojević, returning to the big screen after a five-year hiatus) is a barber in his late 30s or early 40s in a small Serbian town. At the very beginning of the film, he is watching a communist-era monument being removed from the square. The town is dying, young people have mostly gone to Belgrade to look for work, and Marko wants to revive the place, not only because of his romantic altruism, but also to show Ljubinka (Nataša Tapušković), his wife who has left him and wants a divorce, that he is capable of more and that he can provide a better future for her.

Hearing news of Michael Jackson’s new tour, Marko comes up with the idea of putting up a monument to the King of Pop and making the town a desirable tourist destination. He teams up with Dušan (Dragan Bjelogrlić, from Pretty Village Pretty Flame), a former air force pilot who is managing a small military airport that the authorities are planning to turn into a building site, a Gypsy scrap collector (Toni Mihajlovski, from Punk's Not Dead) who is tasked with making the monument in bronze, and a local priest (Ljubomir Bandović) whose physically challenged daughter is a huge Michael Jackson fan.

The mayor, Dragan (Branislav Trifunović, seen last year in KV title Withering [+see also:
film review
film profile
), has his own shady deals that would be ruined if the town came back to life and if it was proven that there was a need for an airport. However, when Marko convinces him that Jackson himself will attend the unveiling of the monument, and hope rises among the citizens, he allows the "crazy idea", while keeping in reserve a right-wing group of hooligans ready to provoke violent incidents upon request.

The old-fashioned storytelling that Lungulov uses is the right choice for this touching and genuinely funny dark comedy. The cast functions perfectly as a whole, and there is a strong chemistry between the several main characters that is impossible to predict, even for the most experienced casting director, so it seems as though the actors built it right there on the set. Milivojević is perfect as the flawed hero whom anyone can relate to, and shows a huge capacity for displaying a wide variety of emotions with remarkable control, never slipping into sentimentality.

The final act of the film, involving a large number of extras, a police squad, a helicopter and stunts, required sure-handed production work, impressively executed in all departments. German DoP Mathias Schoeningh, working with Lungulov for the second time, lovingly captures the decrepit town, providing it with a charm not dissimilar to some of the better-looking Wild West sets in the golden age of the Western.

Monument to Michael Jackson is a top-quality, heartwarming film that should play equally well at festivals and at the box office. Co-produced by Serbia's Papa Films and This and That, Germany's AV Medien Penrose and Penrose Film, Macedonia's Dream Factory and Aka Film, and Croatia's Propeler Film, it is handled internationally by Films Boutique

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