Published Nov 14, 2012Like the majority of films coming out of Eastern Europe, the Slovenian comedy Bread and Circuses is little more than thinly masked political didactic, commenting on a changed guiding ethos and reconstruction in general. Similar to the critically praised, A Call Girl (originally titled Slovenian Girl in its native country), Circuses focuses specifically on the proposed opportunity that the dissolution of the Yugoslav state promised its denizens.
Here, the metaphor is that of a quiz show, with the small town Novak family winning a slot on a Ljubljana game show that could result in big winnings and resultant glamour. But, as can be expected in a post-Communist environment, this rapid change in lifestyle brings out the worst in everyone, even before they get their time on television.
In traveling to the big city, the Novak's have a run-in with the police, who, misinterpreting their "circus" outfits—they're prematurely dressed as cats for the show—almost arrest them for attempted robbery, which is just the start of the many shenanigans and errors in judgment that compound. This thumbing of authority is followed up by a shady deal made with game show host Jos Bauer (Jonas Znidarsic) after he rear ends their car in a parking lot, as well as some inappropriate flirtations from matriarch Jelka (Sasa Pavcek) with the famous Jos. Father Josip (Peter Musevski) similarly demonstrates corruption by acknowledging his rage towards some Turkish quiz show competitors.
With shady business dealings, leveraged promises, infidelity and hostile competition driving forward the narrative, it's clear that the dream of Capitalism is presented as having some shortcomings. It's just unfortunate that this standard-issue message takes the front seat to the comedy and the story itself, leaving this film to have little appeal to those outside of Slovenia. Since Circuses has such a committed cast and a consistent aesthetic and tonal approach to storytelling, it really could have been more than the mere reiteration of the status quo that it ultimately is.
More interesting than the obvious critique of id human impulse left unchecked by an imposing ideology is the assertion that the chaos, or circus, presented at the end of the film is somehow worse than the fancy new colour TV Josip receives after drudging away for thirty years at a factory job. It's refreshing to see a movie promote a defeatist outlook on life.
Bread and Circuses screens at the Royal on Thursday, November 15th at 6pm. (Slovenian Film Fund)