What Is A Man Without A Mustache?

2005, Movie, NR, 109 mins

Review

WHAT IS A MAN WITHOUT A MUSTACHE? | STO JE MUSKARAC BEZ BRKOVA?
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The death of a construction worker has darkly comic repercussions in Hrvoje Hribar's adaptation of Ante Tomic's popular debut novel, an ironic parable about life in modern-day Croatia. Guest worker Miljenko (Robert Ugrina) suffers a fatal fall while working on a construction site in Germany and his Turkish employers attempt to buy off his grief-stricken widow, Tatjana (Zrinka Cvitesic), with 10,000 euros. Her family holds out for 30, which she tries to donate to handsome Father Stipan (Leon Lucev), who’s just assumed stewardship of small-town Smiljevo's rundown local Catholic church. Though he needs money for a new bell tower, Stipan can't justify taking it from a poor widow. So Tatjana instead buys a rocky hill that reminds her of Miljenko from a larcenous old woman, enraging her practical sister, Ljubica (Marija Skaricic). Thirteen months later, Ljubica and Tatjana — who hasn't spoken a word in more than a year — have prospered: The hill turned out to contain valuable mineral deposits, and they've bought both an inn and a general store. Miljenko's brother, Marinko (Ivo Gregurevic), returns home from Germany with his daughter, Julia (Jelena Lopatic), to whom Croatia is as foreign as foreign can be; Marinko tries to woo Tatjana, but she has eyes only for Father Stipan, a reformed alcoholic clinging to his vows with whatever will power he has left over from his battle with the bottle. Julia, meanwhile, falls in love with lumpen poet and nature lover Stanslav (Bojan Navojec), who lets her in on Smiljevo's claim to fame: A series of German-made Westerns based on Karl May's Winnetou novels were shot just outside town, and many of the older townspeople were extras. Meanwhile, the bishop (Ivica Vidovic) threatens to ship Stipan off to Mogambo (where the last Croatian missionary was hacked to death) if he doesn't scare up the funds to fix that church tower. Further complications involve Stirpan's identical twin brother, a general (he's the one with the moustache) who's having an affair with the Minister of Defense (Jelena Miholjevic) right under the nose of her oblivious husband (Drazen Kuhn) and arranges military maneuvers near Smiljevo to facilitate a rendezvous. Sardonic and steeped in the tumultuous history of the former Yugoslavia, this absurdist comedy of contemporary mores can be appreciated even without intimate knowledge of its specific cultural context. (In Croatian with English subtitles.) leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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