Director – Slobodan Sijan
Art Director – Milenko Jeremic
Composer – Zoran Simjanovic
Screenwriter – Dusan Kovacevic
Country – Yugoslavia
Year – 1982
Few Serbian films stand up to the standards expected from the Western cinema, but this one, Maratonci trce pocasni krug – The Marathon Family cannot be over praised: everything that’s already been said here is true, and then some! A masterpiece in the purest sense of the word. The Serbs say this is the best Serbian film ever made—or probably, it may be the best film anyone made in the 1980s. Released in 1982, when Yugoslavia was a functioning state, rather than international shorthand for murder and genocide, it casts a baleful look backward that becomes, in the light of all the subsequent blood, almost unbearably poignant and prophetic. It would be too much if it weren’t constantly, brutally laugh-out-loud funny — funny even in subtitles, funny as slapstick and deeply classically comic at the same time.
Sometimes handling the dead can be almost as difficult as handling the living, according to the Topalovic family and its many members — from great-grandparents on down. They are losing ground in the fight to keep their cemetery business from going under and have had to make a clandestine alliance with never-do-well entrepreneurs that will supply them with recycled coffins at a cheap price — an alliance that has kept the family in heavy debt to the grave-digging crooks.
It is set in the 1930s in a backwater small town in Serbia, where the Topalovic family has its funeral home. Topalovic women “fade away like flowers” immediately after bearing a boy while the men live on and on — creating the Marathon reference in the title. In an effervescent scene we meet six generations of Topalovic men, each one of whom mercilessly beat and bully the younger ones. The film centers on the youngest, the tall and none-too-bright Mirko, lover of movies and Cristina, piano player at the town’s movie house and daughter of the local gangster Billy Python, who supplies the Topalovic home with used coffins dug up and emptied of their previous occupants.
There is a very funny scene where they are digging up a grave and their rivals scare them by dressing up as ghosts.
The action revolves around three events: the death of the very oldest Topalovic, the desire of Mirko’s imbecilic, cowardly and conniving father Lucky to break up the Mirko-Cristina affair and — and this is resoundingly delicious.
Meanwhile, young Mirko Topalovic has fallen in love with the daughter of one of the increasingly wealthy partners in the used coffin business. She works for a movie theater as a pianist (it is the era when silents are on the way out) and the owner of the theater has not yet fired her and switched to talkies because he wants her for himself. He suggests that they make a movie together — an erotic movie he thinks to himself — but seduction is his only goal. When Mirko starts to help out in this movie project, he comes to realize what is actually going on and overpowered by rage, he kills the woman and the theater owner. Puffed up with his aggressive deed, he goes home to convince the Topalovic family that they have to take up arms against the usurious grave-diggers — and a wild and bloody melée ensues that will determine the fate of the family.
The writer, Dusan Kovacevic adapted the script from his own play, and director Slobodan Sijan gets an amazingly good ensemble cast of actors to run the machinery in high gear, flat out. It starts dark and gets darker with crematorium jokes (“the wave of the future”), vintage silent Yugoslav film commercials and clips, and slides, laughing more and more wildly, into violence that flies out of control. The tie to what happened to Serbia only a few years later spins the movie up another level. That the tie is not accidental is underlined by the opening sequence — newsreel footage of the assassination in France of the King of Serbia in the early 20s. The wonderful musical theme, raucous and melancholy at the same time is by Zoran Simjanovic.
Jelisaveta Sablic won the “Best Actress” award at the 1982 Pula Film Festival for her role as the sought-after female lead in this film.
This movie has it all – love, death, and the best actors in Serbian history: Bogdan Diklic, Daniloi Bata Stojkovic, Pavle Vujisic, Mija Aleksic, Jelisaveta Sablic, Bora Todorovic…
The point of the movie is: Everything can fail; only death is a secure business!
Don’t miss the movie if you get chance to see this one!