The issues of poverty and lack of small-town opportunities in Serbia are approached obliquely in Monument to Michael Jackson, a commendable comedy by Darko Lungulov that is screening at the Raindance Film Festival. It concerns a nicely absurd idea to increase tourism but also reflects real issues that affect rural areas around the world.
Local barber Marko – played by Boris Milivojevic – is an enthusiastic dreamer. He has a track record in unsuccessful schemes to help his small town prosper. But suddenly he has another motive to save the local economy. His wife wants a divorce and plans to move to a more prosperous life in Germany. If he can reinvigorate the town then maybe she will stay.
Marko’s small Serbian town has a disused airport that was bombed during the Serbian war. Run by a friend, this could be a means to bring in international tourists with piles of Yen, Euros and Dollars. All the town needs is something to actually attract visitors. You can guess what Marko plans from the name of the film.
Inspired by a real life story of a Serbian town building a statue to Rocky, as lunatic ideas go Marko’s latest is a corker. The totalitarian monument in the centre of town is pulled down and needs replacing. Now democracy rules Marko only needs a bit of support to see his plan come to fruition. With some help from the local priest and his army buddy the scheme rolls into action.
With its tale of a few friends against the world, Monument to Michael Jackson is reminiscent of classic Ealing comedies. Like the best of them the film has serious things to say. There is a lack of opportunity and a lack of hope for local people. Business men have too much influence. Public officials are corrupt. Community spirit does still exist.
The bittersweet plot shows life in rural Serbia and demonstrates that comedy is a good way to approach topics that are otherwise serious and potentially dull. Real-life events help shape a satisfying climax though on the way there the script isn’t quite funny enough.
On the surface light-hearted, Monument to Michael Jackson includes plenty of social commentary. It is one of the competitors for the Best International Feature at Raindance and has a good chance of winning.
Verdict: Underneath the fun a serious film about rural Serbia. But mostly it’s fun.