The polemic 'Underground'

The day after the Prizes were announced at the Cannes Film Festival in 1995, the Golden Palm being given to Underground, the jury of Jeanne Moreau saw its decision criticized by some French journalists or philosophers morally engaged in the Balkan war.

The first who publicly reacted was Alain Finkielkraut, though an article published in newspaper Le Monde, even though he hadn't seen the film. The polemic started then to spread into the media. Emir Kusturica officially reacted only several months later, when the film was released in the theatres. He declared he wanted to quit cinema. Fortunately, he came back on his decision a year later.

The third article of this polemic is the one Alain Finkielkraut wrote after he finally went to see the film.

This “anecdote” was greatly reused in the film Rien sur Robert by Pascal Bonitzer, with Fabrice Luchini who plays a critic that writes an article on a Croat (sic) director whom he didn't see the film…

L'imposture Kusturica

LE MONDE - 2 June 1995 - Page 16

The audience who acclaimed upright Underground, the great fresco of Emir Kusturica over the fifty years of Yugoslav history, and the jury who gave him the Golden Palm at the Festival of Cannes have certainly had the beautiful certainty to striking twice. At the same time they were celebrating an artist with all the external signs of a genius, this frantic public and this enthusiastic jury expressed their indignation of the carnage of Tuzla and their solidarity with the victims of the war. The homage they returned to the Sarajevian director extended quite naturally to his compatriots. They married these two requirements so often contradictory : aesthetic requirement and urgency of engagement. Beauty merged in their enthusiasm with the good, the love of art with the participation in the History and admiration for the formal audacity of a masterpiece with the sympathizing zeal for the unhappy ones.

As said by his author, Underground is however a nostalgic good-bye to Yugoslavia. The subtitle “there was once a country” avoids any doubt. And for Kusturica, the destruction of this country is not ascribable with those who, as of the occupation of Kosovo, claimed their intention to make a “Serboslavia” of it. It falls in its whole on the nations which chose independence to escape their announced spiritual death.

In October 1991, i.e. in the first months of the conflict, Kusturica wrote : “There are a lot of things I didn't know when I was a child. Now I know. Slovens always dreamed their sloven dream, the dream of an Austrian rider. But it's our ancestors who, during the First World War, saved these Slovens from the shits of Vienna” (see “L'acacia de Sarajevo”, Libération of October 21 1991).

Four years later, tens of thousands died and some “urbicides” later, Kusturica persists and concretizes his words : “the files used in the film show the Nazi troops entering in Slovenia, where they are acclaimed as if they were at home [… ], which is always the case today, because Slovenia was conceived as a Germanic projection in the orthodox world [… ] then they arrive in Zagreb, where it is the same thing. But when they enter Belgrade, you see nobody in the streets [… ] they are on foreign ground.”

And, revolted by the support some intellectuals could bring to Bosnia in flames, Kusturica concludes : “You must be stupid to refuse to understand that the fall of the Berlin Wall completely upset these so fragile places, and especially all these small satellite Nazi countries, like Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary [… ] and Bosnia ! There is a completely stupid word we hear everywhere, that of “Great Serbia”. How a country of nine million inhabitants can be described as “great” ? At the same time, there is the United Germany, with eighty million inhabitants and who is really big, and nobody notices it.” (Les cahiers du cinema. June 1995, page 70).

Nazification of the victims of the ethnic murders, denunciation of the IVth Reich, defence of the Serb David in his heroic combat against Germanic Goliath, covering of all the crimes currently and daily committed by the self-altered image of the Second World War : what Kusturica put in music and images, is the speech of the assassins to convince and to be convinced that they are in a state of self-defence because they deal with a powerful enemy. This director of disproportion capitalized the suffering of Sarajevo whereas he completely makes his the stereotyped ideas of his starvers and besiegings. He symbolized Bosnia as a tortured country whereas he refuses to say he's bosnian and he enters in a holy anger when one dares to treat Slobodan Milošević of a fascist or the Serbs of attackers.

By rewarding Underground, the jury of Cannes thought honouring a creator with plentiful imagination. In fact, it honoured a servile illustrator and full of clichés criminal stereotypes ; it carried the rock'n'roll, post-modern, Americanized, and filmed in Belgrade, version of the most untrue Serb propaganda. The devil himself could not have conceived such a cruel insult to Bosnia nor such a grotesque epilogue to western frivolity and incompetence.


Alain Finkielkraut is philosopher and director of ” Le Messager européen ”

Mon imposture

LE MONDE - 26 October 1995 - Page 13

When Le Monde published, on June 2, the article of Alain Finkielkraut “L'imposture Kusturica”, I first felt a great sadness then a rather great anger, and finally a kind of uncertainty. I would have liked to answer immediately; but what to say ? Not that I was missing imagination, but I did not find words to answer the author of the article, who, obviously, had not seen my film Underground. Finally, I arrived to the conclusion that we were indeed an “imposture”, me and the films I make.

It is a feeling which becomes prevalent at the time of filming, when doubt invades me. I believe that all my films were born from the doubt, because in the contrary I would be probably today in America, making films for the box-office. But the belief that there is always a difference between films and hamburgers pushes me to continue to live here, in Normandy.

I still don't understand why Le Monde published the text of someone who had not seen my film, without anybody thinking it should be mentioned. If there was a deliberated will to destroy myself by insinuation, amalgam and spreading rumours on myself, I suggest to help your readers forging a much more effective document, and especially founded on a local knowledge, such as only a director who lived almost his whole life in a communist regime where denouncement and manipulation had become an art, can acquire it.

Image #1 : a journalist and a photographer would have “infiltrated” my family and would have been able, for whatever reason, to penetrate in my modest property in Normandy. Under the appearance of an innocent cottage, this house shelters an unutterable secrecy : these men would have discovered “the cave of the beast” ! Under the Persian carpet of the living room, a trap door. They would open it and with their greater fear would reveal the entry of an underground. This obscure area would shelter a great number of refugees of ex-Yugoslavia.

These poor men, thrown without pity in the half-light and the cold, would miserably survive in what should be described as hell of Milošević. Dope, heavy and light weapons, strange and secret objects. While the slaves would pack up drugs, my son, an enormous kitchen knife between the teeth, would direct military exercises for the young refugees. These underground operations would have as a code name : “Normandy, integral part of Great Serbia”.

Theoretical teaching would be ensured by my wife : this brain-washing would be run with the slogan “Any territory where is a single Serb tomb, is by definition, part of Great Serbia !”. She would have found indeed, in the cemetery of my small village, the burial of a Serb immigrant (employee of a cleaning company) and apparently died of natural death.

In a unanimous movement, all the humanistic French-speaking people rise and ask for my trial.

The crowd (humanistic), wants to lynch me.

The military operations would comprise three distinct axes : a) aggression ; b) genocide ; c) elimination by the fire of all the partisans of a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

Meanwhile, my daughter, with discretion but effectiveness, would introduce pictures of Slobodan Milošević in the bags of her schoolmates, at lunch time.

Image #2 : setting sun. The East is red. In an impressionist light à la Monet, my wife and I would distribute the material of propaganda (videotapes of the film Underground and icons of Milošević) to the middle-class peasants, farm workers, and small Norman stockbreeders.

Le Monde publishes as a head title “L'imposture Kusturica”. In a unanimous movement, all the humanistic French-speaking people rise and ask for trial. The crowd (humanistic), wants to lynch me. “No freedom for the enemies of freedom !” Télérama reveals, the same week, that the Kusturica family plays Wagner with their orchestra of prisoners, while the partisans of a multi-ethnic Bosnia are exterminated by the fire in their cellar.

Then would Le Monde open the debate by offering a right of reply to me… I would state I have always been for a multi-ethnic Bosnia, I have always known that Milošević was fascist, but I have never been able to publish my positions because of the pressures of my wife. I would thus give the image a weak and contemptible man, ready to sacrifice his friends to escape from the difficulty. In this same text, I would greet the presidents of the new Republics of ex-Yugoslavia like real combatants of democracy.

But this text would not mislead the vigilance of the French philosophers, who would notice that while praising the democracy I would say nothing on what always constituted the sharp force of the independence movements : nationalism. My ridiculous efforts to claim the immediate secession of southernmost Normandy from the French territory would be regarded as insufficient.

Le Monde would thus organise a symposium bringing together lawyers, Nobel Prizes, international magistrates and politically correct philosophers (approved by television advertisers). The unanimous assembly would ask, at the end of a passionate weekend, me to go before an international court for “apology of war crime”. Your newspaper would conclude this event by publishing a sharp article : “The spiritual son of Fellini, main architect of the ethnic purification”.

Image #3 : somewhere in one of the large tunnels connecting Rouen to Belgrade, Kusturica and Milošević would stand up, in front of an enormous globe, surrounded by their militia where tchetnik and communist uniforms mix. Their flag would associate the six heads eagle of the Great Serbia (for the six old federate Republics), a red star and the orthodox cross. The two friends would raise their glass of champagne to celebrate the Golden Palm won in Cannes (a new jury, entirely altered, would have meanwhile relieved the traitor to reward an authentically Bosnian film, collective and anonymous work entitled Long life to the Handjar division !) Thanks to a miniature tape recorder, one would have recorded the following conversation :

  • Milošević : ”Do you see the same thing as me, comrade Kusturica ?
  • Kusturica : ”What are you talking about, respected and beloved comrade president, about this map of the world ?
  • Milošević : ”You, fool, don't you see this constitutes the Great Serbia ?

Here is how you could have treated this affair with credibility, in a picturesque style and thanks to first hand information.

Be sure that I regret that you preferred to call on some second zone intellectual guide who risks, when we won't speak any more of Bosnia, maybe in six months, to impassion himself for the Cashmere. The readers of Le Monde will thus have to judge the truth of this text by going to see my film.


Emir Kusturica is a director

La propagande onirique d'Emir Kusturica

LIBERATION - 30 October 1995 - Page 7

It was not necessary, before, to have seen Le Don Paisible or Le Triomphe de la Volonté to know that these were not respectively anti-sovietic and anti-nazi.

Times change : Emir Kusturica in vain revealed in an interview in Les Cahiers du Cinema (n°496, October 1995) the political ideology of his film, he came in vain to the projection in Cannes with the director the Belgrade television, the empire of compassionate frivolity is such today that he profited from the emotion caused by the massacre of 70 Bosnian teenagers in Tuzla. The collaborationist won thus the palm of the martyr : this insulting and stupid mystification required to be denounced immediately. What I did.

Now that I could see film, I recognize that I was unfair with Emir Kusturica. Of course, in this torrential Balkan stereotype, in this loud and picturesque anthem with Slavic strength, one finds absolutely nothing of the subtle humour which made the incredible charm of When father was away on business, but Underground has the virtue of inaugural works. This film creates a new kind : oniric propaganda. Propaganda, this image of the eternal Reich, of arrogant Germany, rich and cruel today as yesterday; propaganda, this Croatian and Slovenian crowd applauding the Nazi invader then forty years later, showing the same sorrow as Kurt Waldheim for the death of Tito; propaganda, and of the worst quality, this Mustapha who, during the beginning of the war, tries to steal the money stolen by the “nice Serb gangster” (in one word) to give weapons to the partisans ; propaganda still, the transformation into a black fight in a urbicide, memorycide and ethnocide tunnel, undertaken by the Yugoslav army and continued, almost under our eyes, by the Serb militia ; propaganda finally, this nostalgia of the Yugoslavia inspired for the best and the worst by the Serb soul and always already betrayed by its other components.

As for the onirism, he does not advance masked, but cultivated and full of references : they are the Fellinian elephants wandering in bombarded Belgrade ; it is the Chagall bride who flies above the table of the wedding banquet ; they are the Chaplinesques meetings of an hurt innocent with his chimpanzee in an improbable underground…

Lies, disproportion and quotations : the naives are impressed and the cynicals raise the head. Fearing to pass over a masterpiece, the first confused the genius with the apparence of the genius, the dyonisiac with the apology for the wildlife, the baroque with exotic details and the local truth with the local colour. Proud of their own impassibility like a proof of political virility and intellectual maturity, the seconds want to end, thanks to Kusturica, with these monoïdeic philosophers, these sad Mazowiecki and these Sarajevian bad players who do not let themselves convinced by the arguments of political realism and who exhaust everyone repeating, from morning to evening, that the justice does not consist in distributing equitably the culpability between the instigator of ethnic murders and its victims. Kusturica and his champions are proud to be politically incorrect. In that way, they convert mud into gold and a some coarse manipulations in a collection of shining paradoxes. As a consequence, the awful puns of Le Pen are courageous challenges to the conformism of the right-thinking people and the great transgressive author of the XXth century is not any more Bataille but Faurisson.


en/polemics.txt · Last modified: 2008/02/13 13:24 by matthieu1