Master director Goran Paskaljevic’s latest film, The Optimists, is a brilliant, caustic anthology of five stories inspired by Voltaire’s “Candide.” While each instalment fleshes out a distinct universe, all cast a jaun...展开diced eye on the charlatans who hype an optimistic outlook on life at all costs. Blind to the bleakness around them, they preach positive thinking aboard the fast-sinking ship of Western civilization.
Each vignette stars veteran Serbian actor Lazar Ristovski. In the first, a roving hypnotist arrives in a destroyed village and promotes his powers to boost the community’s confidence. The second is about a wealthy foundry owner who rapes the daughter of one of his employees. When the steelworker menaces the industrialist with a gun, his boss turns the tables. Part three follows a young chap who gambles away all the money his landlord uncle had saved for his father’s funeral; meanwhile, he makes a business proposition to the elderly slot-machine pro at the local casino.
In the fourth tale, a cardiologist visits the owner of an abattoir, a man whose young son has taken to the family business with abandon. In fact, his gruesome gusto has led him to be locked up by his father – that is, until the naive doctor lets the bloodthirsty boy free. The final and most outrageous chapter illustrates what happens when a bus full of saps – desperate for spiritual and physical healing – are driven into the middle of nowhere and abandoned by a con artist.
The film is rife with metaphoric references to the disastrous war in the region and the social dissolution it generated. In some stories the moral is clear, while others require viewers to ask which characters have a firm grasp on reality and which are deceiving themselves – or others. Ristovski – who starred in Paskaljevic’s 2004 Festival entry Midwinter Night’s Dream – brings to life an array of different characters with startling expertise. The film boasts a vaguely surreal, off-kilter tone, filled with full-bodied, vigorous characterizations and earthy, tactile images (a driveway full of smashed watermelons, for example). Most compelling, however, is its dark sense of humour and its unflinching willingness to sniff out mendacity and false hope wherever they may lie.
- Dimitri Eipides
Goran Paskaljevic was born in Belgrade and studied at the Film and Television School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). He has since directed more than forty documentaries, shorts and features, which include Beach Guard in Winter (76), The Dog Who Loved Trains (78), Special Treatment (80), The Elusive Summer of ’68 (84), Guardian Angel (87), Tango Argentino (92), Someone Else’s America (95), Cabaret Balkan (98), How Harry Became a Tree (01), Midwinter Night’s Dream (04) and The Optimists (06).