Daily | Venice 2016 | Emir Kusturica’s ON THE MILKY ROAD

“So hey,” begins Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, “that film you always wanted, in which Monica Bellucci wrestles a bad CG snake on a minefield as exploding sheep rain down all around while nearby, 2-time Palme d’Or-winning director Emir Kusturica, playing a milkman with a broken leg, is saved when his best friend, a peregrine falcon, pecks out the right eye of the rogue ex-army commando trying to kill him, is here. Kusturica’s On the Milky Road is an exhausting, indigestion-inducing maximalist fairy tale that is part Aesop, part Looney Tunes, part Danielle Steele, and all Kusturica—beware of the term magical realism: there is nothing of the real world here.”

“What would it be like to watch an Emir Kusturica film with the sound off?” wonders Jay Weissberg in Variety. “It would certainly allow for greater appreciation of the visuals, which in On the Milky Road are often rather beautiful. The problem—well, one of the problems—is that just when you want to admire the mountain terrain, or ruminate on the snowy whiteness of a flock of geese, you’re assaulted by crushingly loud pig screams, gun fire, helicopter whirrs, mine explosions, and, of course orchestrations at full blast. It’s what his die-hard fans expect, though everyone else might be running for the hills. Set during the Bosnian War and telling the fairy-tale-ish love story between a Serbian milkman (played by the director) and his Italian-Serbian object of desire (Monica Bellucci), Milky reinforces Kusturica’s leap from magical realism into the territory of exaggerated phoniness.”

“It’s been 21 years since Underground elevated Kusturica to the exclusive ranks of two-time Palme d’Or winners, but his status—especially among critics—has been in a generally parlous state during the current century,” notes Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. And “while working on this long-gestating project, he’s been mainly renowned for his larger-than-life public persona and controversy-stoking political pronouncements, such as his unfashionably glowing comments about Russian supremo Vladimir Putin…. No one enters the universe of Kusturica these days seriously expecting humility, restraint or even nuance, of course, and complaining that On the Milky Road is noisily over-the-top should be filed alongside moans about water being wet. Under such cacophonous circumstances Bellucci copes admirably well.”

“We’re simply required to accept this hot, sexy babe’s attraction to Kusturica’s unassuming milkman, as with Bellucci’s nameless character, an Italo-Serbian woman on the run from a British peacekeeping-force general who she sent to prison,” writes Lee Marshall in Screen. “Kusturica gets to play the piano and cimbalom in a couple of wild and whacky plum-brandy-fuelled party scenes, and the same jaunty Balkan wedding music spills over into the score—kept deafeningly high in the mix at times—composed by the director’s son Stribor.”

“The magical realism begins to lose its luster after the hour mark as the movie kills off most of its characters, abandons the village and off-roads with its two stars into the Serbian countryside pursued by the commandos,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue. As the lovers kiss, the barn they’ve taken refuge in falls to pieces and that feels like an apt symbol for the film itself…. As handsome as Goran Volarevic’s cinematography is, by the closing half-hour and an unnecessary coda, the viewer might be left wondering if this milky tale couldn’t have been skimmed.”

Updates: For Tommaso Tocci at the Film Stage, “it’s still surprisingly difficult in the world of 2016 to readjust perceptions of Kusturica after his rapturous, wildly energetic early successes. And that constitutes further burden on his latest film… Kusturica’s reported—and subsequently denied—claims that the film was rejected by the Cannes Film Festival for political reasons likely were never real, but actually viewing On the Milky Road is the best way to dispel such rumors. However embarrassing, it’s clear that his love of Vladimir Putin is not the most pressing issue here.”

For Camillo De Marco at Cineuropa, “never before has Kusturica’s work explored the juxtaposition of the indiscriminate violence of war, the simple purity of love between two mature adults and the unsullied innocence of nature.”

Update, 10/16: For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, On the Milky Road “is a flawed, indulgent but impressive picture along very familiar lines—another wildly boozy knees-up with splashes of magic realism and tragedy, here garnished with CGI. It is possible to be bit blase about the bravura performance Kusturica conjures: it’s still a distinctive achievement, and the director’s visual sense is tremendous.”

The 2016 fall film festival indexes: Venice, Telluride and Toronto.

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