The first scene of ‘Sjecas li se Dolly Bell’ (‘Do You Remember Dolly Bell’) happens in a tern meeting room, where old people debate the dire state of the morals of the youth and decide that what they need to make a change in their lives is a musical band. The people debating are badly dressed, they use a wooden language, they do not believe what they say, but playing the game of political meetings is part of their lives. The second scene happens someplace in the hills. Music is loud and trash, people are unhappy but funny in their way, there is force and life beyond the poverty of the landscape around. I think that even if I did not know that this is the first full time feature film of Emir Kusturica I would have made the association and recognized that we are in Kusturica’s universe. The main lines and the personality unique to the work of one of the greatest directors of our time are already present.




The moment in time when this film was made was 1981. This is significant from many points of view. At the end of the decade Communism will be brought down in Europe, and in retrospective we can say that the signs were there (and this film can be seen as an example) but nobody would have believed it, certainly not the people living with no apparent hope and future behind the Iron Curtain. The film is made in Sarajevo (the city of birth of Kusturica) and the action happens a little more than a decade before, at the start of a period of relative relaxation in the politics of the Communist Yugoslavia. The same number of years after the making of the film the name of the city will become a symbol of the inter-ethnic and religious conflict of the Balkans, the place where neighbors killed each other blindly and relentlessly in the aftermath of the Yugoslav union. The seeds of the conflict are visible in this film as well, in a scene towards the end where dispute arises between the traditional way of mourning of the Sarajevo Muslims and the Communist ways. The conflict seems to emerge from nothing and be about nothing, it cannot be understood by an outsider, but are not so all conflicts where people fight each other for symbols letting humanity slide away from their minds?

(video source Okanovic78)


The film can be read as a political film, and it took certainly a lot of courage for Kusturica to make it this way. Describing the lack of perspective and hope of a full generation, or even bringing to screen a coming to age obsessed by sex and pain may be universal themes when the film is made in freedom, but was no easy thing to bring to screen in Yugoslavia in 1981. It is also a very human film, which gives birth to a plethora of characters like the ones that will continue to populate ‘the land of Balkans according to Kusturica’ in his next few great movies. It’s not a perfect film, it takes off a little bit slowly and heavily, but when we get into the action and the feelings of the characters we start to deeply care for them. The father acted by Slobodan Aligrudic is an unforgettable figure with his mix of irony and ideological stiffness, of rudeness and hidden tenderness. Welcome to the world of Emir Kusturica!

The full film (with no subtitles) is available on youTube.