Critics' Corner

Rita Kempley - Style section,
"A warm and endearing multiethnic fairy tale."

Eve Zibart - Weekend section,
"A surprisingly sweet movie."

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'Someone Else's America'
Bayo and Alonso are quibbling, grumpy immigrant friends who live together in a bar with Alonso's mother. When Bayo's mother comes to join them, they transform the bar into a lovely cafe. Caught between generations, Bayo and Alonso try to find a place for themselves in the world with results that are alternately heartbreaking and humorous.
-- Rita Kempley

Rated R

Director: Goran Paskaljevic
Cast: Tom Conti; Miki Manojlovic; Maria Casares; Zorka Manojlovic; Sergej Trifunovic; Chia-Ching Niu; Jonathan Peck
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

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`America': Sweet Dreams

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 28, 1996

A delicious aroma wafts from the melting pot in "Someone Else's America," a warm and endearing multiethnic fairy tale directed by Goran Paskaljevic of the former Yugoslavia. His own nation shattered by tribal strife, Paskaljevic sets this hopeful story of intercultural harmony in a Brooklyn neighborhood teeming with immigrants -- Chinese, Hispanics, Arabs and Slavs -- all linked by a common dream.

Written by Gordan Mihic, the film draws on a variety of regional storytelling traditions, but it is principally a Hollywood buddy dramedy with a pinch of magical realism. Miki Manojlovic plays Bayo, an illegal immigrant from what was then Yugoslavia; Tom Conti stars as Alonso, a green card-carrying Spaniard who is Bayo's best friend. Their constant quibbling cannot possibly disguise the true nature of their grumpy old relationship.

Bayo, who works odd jobs all day, returns at night to clean Alonso's shabby corner bar in exchange for room and board for himself and his pet rooster. A source of much contention, the bird's reveille always makes Alonso's blind and ailing mother (Maria Casares) homesick for her ancestral village. By installing a pair of airplane seats and a replica of a stone well in the back yard, the men are able to convince her that she has indeed returned to her sunny Spanish courtyard.

Bayo's mother, Anja (Manojlovic's own mother, Zorka), who shows up later with his kids in tow, similarly longs for her homeland. She snaps out of her self-pity, however, when her eldest grandson, Luka, asks for help in realizing his version of the American Dream. Anja, an excellent cook, helps Luka turn Alonso's dive into a successful cafe. He soon marries the pretty Chinese American girl-next-door, and before you can say "sweet land of liberty," a new generation of American is on the way.

Caught between generations, Bayo and Alonso try to find a place for themselves with results that are alternately heartbreaking and humorous. Though they never really feel quite at home anywhere, they do have a place, and that is side by side.

Someone Else's America is rated R for nudity and sexuality.

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By Eve Zibart
Washington Post Staff Writer
June 28, 1996

Belgrade-born director Goran Paskaljevic knows one truth about this nation of immigrants that most of us have forgotten: It is "home" only to the young. Their parents and grandparents are, truly, aliens.

This surprisingly sweet movie focuses on the Spanish sad sack romantic Alonso (a persuasively paunchy Tom Conti) and the Montenegran Bayo (Yugoslavian Miki Manojlovic, who seems to plow black stubble into the furrows in his face), who lives in Alonso's basement below his failing beer bar.

Bayo works a variety of dangerous and low-paying jobs to send money to his mother and three children, but when they try to sneak into the United States, the younger boy is killed and Bayo ostracizes the older son, a hustler who has an instinct for survival (liquid-eyed Sergej Trifunovic).

The most powerful achievement of this film, which won prizes at several international festivals last year, is how unlike "our" vision of America -- the skyscrapers and prosperity we take for granted -- the real America looks to an outsider. The New York of postcards is visible only in the distance; the "promised land" on this side of the Rio Grande is mountain and dust and brown water; the Brooklyn landscape might as well be in Central Europe, half-demolished, dirty, artless, a cacophony of languages and violence.

And yet, it is the raw material of Anywhere: When Bayo transforms the concrete space out back into a Spanish courtyard complete with well and "airplane" seats with seat belts as a ruse to convince Alonso's blind mother that she's home, it's easily retransformed into a Montenegran courtyard for Bayo's homesick mother (played by Manojlovic's real-life mother Zorka). And in the end, it is the courtyard, that wild surmise of imagination, that promises freedom to Bayo and Alonso.

Adult emotional content, but frankly the "R" is something of a mystery.

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