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The Bold and the 'Beautiful'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 17, 2000


    'Beautiful People' Charlotte Coleman, Edin Dzandzanovic and Charles Kay in "Beautiful People." (Trimark)
You have to hand it to "Beautiful People" for sheer, propane-injected bravado.

After all, it's not every day you see a movie that starts off with a Serb-versus-Croat fistfight on a London bus, literally drops a soccer hooligan into the middle of the Bosnian war, forces us to witness a hacksaw amputation and then calls itself a comedy.

Bosnian writer-director Jasmin Dizdar's "Beautiful People," winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard prize at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, is not for the meek.

A relentlessly plotted ensemble drama, set in modern London, it features an unending battery of encounters among upperclass Brits, cockney yobs and newly landed eastern Europeans.

And it never lets up. While hospitalized after that bus scrap, for instance, the Serb (Dado Jehan) and the Croat (Faruk Pruti) find themselves side by side in hospital beds, where they continue their battle. And while both wait for the nurse to walk out, so they can rip out each other's IV units, the other subplots proliferate:

  • Griffin Midge (Danny Nussbaum) and his street-tough mates (Steve Sweeney and Jay Simpson) cross the Channel to watch England play Holland. But when a drunk, exhausted Griffin falls asleep under a canvas sheet at the airport, he doesn't realize he's lying inside a giant care package about to be dropped by parachute over Bosnia.

    When he wakes up, he's stuck in wartime Bosnia, surrounded by locals picking at the food cans lying around him.

  • Pero (Edin Dzandzanovic), a penniless Bosnian refugee recovering from a car accident, falls in love with doctoral trainee Portia Thornton (Charlotte Coleman). But their budding romance goes over like a hand grenade with Portia's politically connected, well-to-do family.

    "Thank you for your hostility," says the Bosnian with unintended irony, as Portia's family freezes him in measured politeness.

  • Dr. Mouldy (Nicholas Farrell) spends his time caring for the sick and fighting on the phone with his estranged wife. But despite his anxiety-staggered existence, the doctor offers aid and comfort to a woman (Walentine Giorgiewa) whose coming baby was apparently fathered by a wartime rapist.

  • After witnessing that aforementioned amputation, emotionally frazzled war correspondent Jerry Higgins (Gilbert Martin) returns home to his wife and child, obsessed with getting his own leg amputated. Clearly, he needs rest.

    For a great while, the movie's devil-may-care freneticism is edgily amusing, almost liberating. But there is always the nagging sense that writer-director Dizdar could succumb to a cloying finale. One clue is that romance between Pero and Portia, which increasingly becomes the defining human center of the movie.

    Another clue: the one-dimensional political symbolism of the mother and her husband learning to love that enemy lovechild. Unfortunately, Dizdar surrenders his earlier boldness. And all of a sudden, every character seems to be lining up for some kind of redemption or reunion or romantic conclusion, as if everyone had died and gone to kitsch heaven. And the only person missing from this life-is-tough-but-also-beautiful finale is Roberto Benigni.

    BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE (R, 107 minutes) – Contains violence, racial epithets, gruesome scenes of amputation, obscenity and sexual situations.

    © Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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