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Serbian gay movie hit: Srdjan Dragojevic’s The Parade

Srdjan Dragojevic’s black comedy Parada / The Parade has become the biggest box office hit “in the former Yugoslavia in years,” according to an Associated Press report. The film has sold more than 500,000 tickets and has been “equally acclaimed in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia,” where it’s supposed to have been seen by more people than James Cameron’s Avatar.

In Dragojevic’s Belgrade-set film, a Serbian anti-gay former gangster/war veteran (Nikola Kojo) recruits former fighters from other ethnic/national factions to protect a local gay couple (Milos Samolov, Goran Jevtic) attempting to organize a gay pride parade. As per The Guardian, at Belgrade’s 2010 Gay Pride Parade, 5,000 police officers had to guard 1,000 marchers pelted by rocks and fire bombs. (Scenes shot at that parade are featured in the film.)

On the surface, The Parade seems to have very little in common with Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey. But it could be that both films deal – in radically different ways – with the same subject matter: the perceived differences that keep people apart, whether in the Balkans or elsewhere.

“The whole region is united for the first time in liking this film,” Dragojevic, 49, said in an interview. Despite misgivings from some gay rights activists – The Parade is apparently filled with gay/macho stereotypes – and complaints from Croatia’s Catholic Church leaders, the writer-director added that his film offers the message that “it is very important for people to recognize … that it is irrelevant what nationality you are, how you pray or who you go to bed with.”

Yet, Dragojevic has his own questions about the reception accorded to The Parade.

“Five hundred thousand admissions is quite extraordinary for a region that has, after the devastating transition it has been through, less movie theatres than London,” he told The Guardian, while adding that “things are more complex. If I had made a kind of hermetically sealed drama about the tough life of a gay couple in contemporary Serbia and it scored 3,000 admissions, it wouldn’t be fair to conclude that the number of liberals here doesn’t go beyond that number, right?”

Regarding the cancellation of Gay Pride Belgrade in 2011, Dragojevic placed the blame on Boris Tadic. “If the Serbian president had the courage to support the march, followed by a couple of ministers, as the Croatian president did several years ago, Belgrade Pride would have happened,” the filmmaker affirmed. “But he cares more about homophobic and nationalistic voters and the upcoming election than about the constitution and human rights.”

A Serbian-Croatian-Macedonian-Slovenian-British co-production, The Parade won the Panorama Audience Award at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival. (The festival’s Teddy Award for best LGBT-themed feature film went to Ira Sachs’ Keep the Lights On.)

The Parade reviews found in the two top American trade magazines are polar opposites: In Variety, Jay Weissberg wrote that Dragojevic’s film “might work for anyone still thinking Paul Lynde is fresh, but viewers who’ve watched gay-themed pics mature since the 1970s will cringe at this naively well-meaning but hopelessly dated farce.” At the other extreme, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Karsten Kastelan calls The Parade “laugh-out-loud funny, brilliantly acted and, towards the very end, also deeply moving,” adding that “the film deserves all the attention it is sure to get at festivals and in some European arthouse runs.”

Also worth noting is that back in 2005, Ahmed Imamovic’s Go West was highly criticized by Muslim and (Orthodox Christian) Serbian radicals because of its portrayal of the tragic love affair between two men, a Muslim and a Serb.

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