Goodbye 20th Century! (1998)
Directed by Aleksandar Popovski and Darko Mitrevski
Cast: Lazar Ristovski, Nikola Ristanovski, Vlado Javanovski, Dejan Acimovic, Petar Temelkovski, Sofija Kunovska.
1998 83 minutes (in Macedonian w/ English subtitles)
Rated: [NR] (equivalent of an R or NC-17 for one explicit sex scene, nudity, violence, profanity, and gore).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 8, 1999.
"Goodbye 20th Century!," a Macedonian sci-fi/drama, is a visionary motion picture full of many startling, bold images, and reminiscent of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's 1995 fantasy, "City of Lost Children." From a camera travelling through a toilet drain and into outer space, to a beautiful shot of the exterior of a shopping mall as a New Year's celebration goes on inside, "Goodbye 20th Century!" directors Aleksandar Popovski and Darko Mitrevski prove to have a huge amount of style and visual flair to spare. Among these especially stunning technical attributes, however, is a motion picture that is as frustrating and incomprehensible as I can remember seeing in recent memory. No attempt to follow any sort of coherent path is made, nor is there any way that we can identify with the severely selective and vaguely written main characters and, therefore, what we are left with is a bunch of jumbled storylines that have nowhere to go but crash into each other and explode.
The film is made up of two loosely-related 40-minute stories, intercut with what is supposed to be the first-ever wedding captured on film in the early 1900's, between a brother and sister who are deeply in love. Beginning in the aftermath of a war in the year 2019 that has left the Balkans a desolate, sparse landscape, a man named Kuzman (Lazar Ristovski) is abruptly shot into a grave by his fellow comrades after being suspected as the cause of the mass deaths of their children. Rising up from the grave afterwards, and subsequently, after being shot several more time, Kuzman discovers that he is immortal because, as one person notes, "the ground will not take him." Meeting a prophet, Kuzman is instructed to travel to the Glass City and kill the Man With The Green Hair, who guards a wall that foretells everyone's future, including his own.
The latter half of the film then goes back in time to New Year's Eve 1999, at the turn of the century. Following a mysterious man dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, he solemnly attends an otherwise joyous New Year's party and then rents a purely white room from a guy named Peter, which also holds various people mourning the recent death of his brother. Discussing different theories on what the 21st Century will hold, Santa states in all seriousness that time as we know it will stop at the strike of midnight. Everyone laughs the notion off, of course, but might this obviously psychotic man dressed as Santa Claus be able to correctly prophesize the future? Oh, and the briefly aforementioned wedding in 1900 between the brother and sister, find their festivities cut short when the brother is shot dead.
When the confused (to put it mildly) proceedings conclude with the titled quote, "Goodbye 20th Century!," you are left with the nagging question, "what exactly was the point?" Is the film taking these fantasy elements to make a statement on the currently bleak state in the Balkans? Perhaps, but only those who are closely related to Macedonia will be able to grasp this concept. Besides, even if the film is trying to be earnest, that doesn't erase the blatant ludicrous and misguided nature of the narrative, in which a farting wheelchair-bound woman; a tattoed, nude hussy who has sex with her brother in a bathtub; leather and iron-clad futuristic men; and an old lady who gets her brains blown out by Santa, all figure into the story.
With everything taken under consideration, maybe "Goodbye 20th Century!" is simply a parable letting us know that the world has always been a bad place, as noted with the murder of the groom in 1900, and is not likely to get any better, as the question of apocalyptic doom sweeps over on the eve of the year 2000. If this is the case, not only is the film shoddily made on the screenplay level, but also comes off as arbitrary and simple-minded, a virtual waste of the viewer's time.
One of the most offensive things about "Goodbye 20th Century!" is its treatment of incest, which flows throughout the picture. Not only does Kuzman gain his own mortality after animalistically having sex with his sister in the first story (which could be looked upon as a good or bad thing), but the siblings who are getting married during the interlude between the two vignettes are negatively looked upon, and the ceremony ends in death. So, what does this mean? Do directors Popovski and Mitrevski believe incestuous relationships are a virtuous thing (as referenced with the immortal man)? And if so, then why do they go back on their word to portray it in a bad light with the wedding? If they are trying to only push their point more firmly across that the world is an unfair place, then why must they focus their attention on incest, especially since they have nothing interesting or insightful to say about the controversial subject?
If this is an example of the best in Eastern European cinema, which I certainly don't believe it is, then perhaps filmmakers in that section of the world should rethink what they want to say with their films, instead of trivializing them with artificial and silly plot occurrences and having nothing substantial to say about their subjects to begin with. In short, "Goodbye 20th Century!" is an ambitious film on many different levels, and I can appreciate that, but it rarely succeeds on any of them.
©1998 by Dustin Putman