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  • TBC
  • Comedy, Drama
  • 1981
  • 105 mins

Do You Remember Dolly Bell?

Do You Remember Dolly Bell?

Synopsis

Emir Kusturica's debut feature is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale set in 1960s Sarajevo

About

With his feature debut, Emir Kusturica did what so many first-timers have done before and since, telling us what he knows and drawing from his own adolescent experiences to deliver a nostalgic rite of passage within a modest budget. Yet few aspiring directors came of age under the 'soft communism' of 1960s Yugoslavia, and even fewer have gone on to win the coveted Palme d'Or at Cannes on two separate occasions (for When Father Was Away on Business and Underground). So despite following a well-worn path, Do You Remember Dolly Bell? is a cut above your average semi-autobiographical juvenilia.

Teenage Dino (Stimac) lives with his family in 'temporary' accommodation on the outskirts of Sarajevo, and is drifting towards a life of petty crime while dreaming of a day when the world will be transformed into a better place. Then, over one long summer, Dino discovers sex in the cinema, forms a dance band with his delinquent friends, watches his communist father (Aligrudic) succumb to cancer, and experiences love and loss with the young prostitute (Blagojevic) named Dolly Bell by her pimp after a stripper in the film Europa Di Notte. By the autumn, Dino has grown both wiser and sadder, but is still armed with the idealism that he has inherited from his father to face an uncertain future.

In Do You Remember Dolly Bell?, Kusturica lays the foundations for what would later evolve into his most treasured motifs: roguish characters from the Balkan demi-monde, farm animals everywhere, and a heady blend of naïveté, cynicism and absurdity. Yet his first feature is less carnivalesque or unhinged and more bittersweet than any of his subsequent films. And at a time when most of his Slavic contemporaries were taking up strong stances against their socialist masters, Kusturica adopts an altogether more humanist attitude towards the prevailing ideology.

Certainly there is gentle satire in his portrayal of Dino's bibulous father as an unreformed Marxist, presiding officiously over his family as though it were a Party committee, and communicating with his children in what can only be described as materialist dialectic; but he is also depicted with affectionate sympathy as a dreamer, and his firm belief that the year 2000 will usher in a communist utopia is no more (or less) ridiculous than Dino's own faith that the world will be improved through the occult powers of hypnosis (or his sister's equally vain, albeit more mundane, hope that one day the family will take her on a trip to the seaside).

All these characters are innocent fantasists, yearning to rise above their bleak realities into a better life, and it is their quixotic imaginations that make them such attractive warts-and-all heroes of the human spirit.

At the time that Do You Remember Dolly Bell? was being made, of course nobody knew that it would herald the beginning of such an extraordinary career in filmmaking, but hindsight brings one of the film's subplots into sharper focus. For as Dino is shown first hearing an Italian love song at a fair, then rehearsing it with his new band, and finally giving a heartfelt performance of it, enriched by his personal experience, what we are seeing is the emergence of an artist and the birth of a talent - and it is this, as much as the film's Sarajevan setting, that makes Do You Remember Dolly Bell? very much Kusturica's own story.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Slavko Stimac, Nada Pani, Pavle Vujisic, Ljiljana Blagojevic, Zika Ristic, Mira Banjac, Boro Stjepanovic, Slobodan Aligrudic
  • Director: Emir Kusturica
  • Writer: Abdulah Sidran
  • Photographer: Vilko Filac

In a nutshell

Ideals are retained and growing up is never finished in Kusturica's droll, moving debut.

by Anton Bitel

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