Has war ever been so joyful? That’s Emir Kusturica for you: even when telling a Shakes- pearian story of impossible romance between star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of wartime Bosnia (circa 1992), he can’t help but infuse his film with optimism, quirkiness and upbeat music by his No Smoking Orchestra.
In fact, for about half the movie, no one on screen seems too worried that their country is about to go up in flames. Serbian engineer Luka (Slavko Stimac) is busy working on the railroad, his opera singer wife Jadranka (Vesna Trivalic) is working on her latest nervous breakdown and their son Milos (Vuk Kostic) trains to play soccer for the Partizan. It’s a bit disconcerting when what was a rowdy comedy turns into a war movie, but I think that’s the idea. As Luka says at some point, “War is like the tide, you can see it coming… But when it explodes, it’s still surprising.”
In any case, even while bombs are exploding all around, the mood remains light. “Life is a Miracle” wears its title well, it’s miraculously full of life even when death seems near. And it’s not just the men and women, even the animals are full of character! There’s a lovesick donkey who wants to get run over by a train, a badass cat who hypnotizes birds, Croatian bears fleeing the war…
The film is probably too long at two hours and a half, but I’m not sure what I would cut. The chaotic soccer match that turns into a riot? The hunt organized by the bon vivant mayor? The soldier who uses the satellite phone to call a sex hotline? Certainly not any of the scenes with Sabaha (Natasa Solak), the adorable Muslim nurse whom Luka falls for even though he’s supposed to be holding her hostage!
I’ve heard some say they were disappointed because they felt Kusturica was rehashing “Black cat, white cat”. Having yet to see that one myself, “Life is a miracle” felt totally fresh and original to me. This is one of the best times I’ve had at the movies this year.