One of my fondest memories of TIFF in 2001 was seeing a small film entitled No Man’s Land. It was the debut feature from Danis Tanovic and it ended up being not only one of my top five films of the festival but it also made my top ten of the year list. Fast forward a few months, and I am sitting at home on Oscar night extremely giddy that No Man’s Land has just walked away with the award for Best Foreign film. Needless to say it was not only enjoyable to see another Tanovic film but to also, once again, hear him speak about film and politics after the screening of his latest film, Cirkus Columbia.
After spending years in Germany, Divko (Miki Manojlovic) is eager to return to his small town in Herzegovina. Now that a new democratic government is in power, Divko decides to reclaim his former life after fleeing communist rule. Driving a fancy German car, with a younger girlfriend, Azra (Jelena Stupljanin), in tow, Divko strolls into town like a king. Instead of going through the hassle of finding a new place to stay, Divko immediately decides to kick his wife Lucija (Mira Furlan) and son Martin (Boris Ler) out of their home. Homeless, Lucija and Martin are forced to live in government housing where the living conditions makes the streets look like paradise. While Divko tries to create new memories with Azra, he cannot ignore the fact that Martin is his son. Soon Divko and Lucija find themselves in an ugly tug of war with Martin caught in the middle.
Similar to Danis Tanovic’s other films, Cirkus Columbia uses humour to tackle many of the heavy politic issues. The escalating conflict between Divko and Lucija mirrors the increasing political unrest in the region. Divko is aware of, and fully takes advantage of, the fact that money is power. You can buy your way through any situation, but never truly obtain the one thing your heart really desires. The one thing Divko desires more than anything is his old way of life before communist rule.
At its core, Cirkus Columbia is a love story. There are multiple love triangles that surface as the film progresses. It would be easy to say that the main triangle is between Divko, Azra, and Martin but I actually feel it is between Divko, Azra and Lucija. There is a lot of unresolved baggage between Divko and both women respectively; which leads to many of the film’s best moments. I will say that I was a little shocked by how things played out between Martin and his best friend. I definitely sensed a homoerotic vibe there but I could be reading too much into the film.
The performances in the film are outstanding. Miki Manojlovic and Mira Furlan are terrific as the battling couple. They always manage to keep their characters humanity in the forefront. Despite all the malicious things that Divko does throughout the film, you never truly hate him. You can understand his motives, regardless of how misguided they are, and how his desire to obtain them blinded him to what was right. Luija is the loyal wife who after years of service has been replaced by a younger more attractive model. Although she is consistently humiliated, she still tries to maintain a certain level of dignity in the face of Divko’s bullying ways.
Cirkus Columbia is one of those pleasant film festival surprises. It may not get the press that some of the flashier films receive, but Cirkus Columbia was one of the better films to be screened at TIFF this year.