In March of this year when I was in Belgrade, all the locals were talking about the new film Montevideo. The buzz was everywhere. Posters advertising the film could be seen around the city and even my cab driver wanted to talk about it. So here’s a little poetic justice for all my Serbian friends out there: I’m an American who was waiting for a Serbian movie to come out with English subtitles so I could finally see what all the fuss was about. At long last, 5 long months later, I managed to get my hands on a copy with English subtitles in Los Angeles, and eagerly settled in for a long-awaited viewing of the acclaimed: Montevideo.
Montevideo is a historical melodrama set in Belgrade in 1930. It tells the story of the formation of a national football (soccer) team and a dream of making it to the first world cup in Montevideo, Uruguay. Though the film’s face is Soccer, its soul is the heart of Serbia. Ordinary characters are transformed into legends as hopes and dreams hatched on the streets of Belgrade blossom into national triumph.
Having left Belgrade a few long months ago, I was excited to recognize glimpses of Knez Mihailova, The Fortress, The Central Train Station, and a scene which I believe was filmed inside St. Sava Church (the smaller one neighboring the Temple). To see Belgrade as it might have been in 1930 in all its classic character was warming. Besides good cinematography and a decent script, the fashion and music was fantastic. From the period hats worn by the elite girls to the iconic red scarf seen on the main character, style was everywhere. The music also set the tone beautifully with thoughtful instrumentals and a jazz band singing “Samo Malo” in a seedy cabaret.
Themes of love, loss, conflict, and hope run throughout the film. The ethics of love and lust are touched on, as Tirke and Mosha mirror each other like a good looking Jekyll and Hyde. And you don’t have to look too closely to see conflict everywhere, starting with the class
tensions between the elite and working class. Montevideo hints at undercurrents of communism running amidst a new kingdom of dissatisfied people. Conflict is seen again on the soccer field, in mentions of the “Great War”, between friends/rivals Tirke and Mosha, and between Serbs and Croats. Of course, the film wouldn’t be complete without an alcohol induced conflict over jealousy, territory, and women: the archetypal bar brawl.
And of course, the film wouldn’t be truly Serbian without a sense of loss and suffering that is never far beneath the surface. The narrator of the story is a plucky little boy named Stanoje who earns a few dinars shining shoes. Stanoje eagerly witnesses the magic of soccer unfold as he cheers his idol, Tirke to victory. His perspective, though wonder-filled in his youth, is wise beyond his years. Events unfold before his eager eyes, and he tells the story with passion. Stanoje, like the other characters is no stranger to hardship, as he
himself has a gimpy leg and walks with a limp. Tirke, the hero of the story, has tragically lost his father in World War 1, and is without work, much to his mother’s dismay. As expected, everyone seems to be chronically poor. Moments of humor, such as the eccentric head coach and his pet pigeon, Radoje, provide comic relief, but in true form, this is a drama. In the typical Serbian way, even the child Stanoje contemplates the futility of human existence when he asks his idol, “Tirke, are we living in vain?” … “We come and we go. Our legs hurt and we’re never happy. Why are we living, is it worth it?”
Ultimately, this is not a film about suffering; it’s about triumph despite suffering. It’s
about coming together and reaching greatness as a nation, as a team, as a people. After decades of dark films and wallowing in self-pity and despair, Serbia has finally produced a brilliant film full of hope, success, and victory. It celebrates itself by showcasing one of its best features: strength of character as a people. People who, despite setbacks, are full of love, hope, and a steadfast spirit, and people who know how to have a good time. As Novak
Djokovic recently said, Serbia’s greatest ambassadors have always been athletes, and I think this old soccer team now deserves to join those ranks. I’m holding my breath for Montevideo Two, where I will laugh, cry, ponder, and hopefully cheer on a much deserved victory!
Enjoy a few of my favorite thought provoking Montevideo Quotes:
Football was just starting to be fashionable, and fashion is a risky thing for us Serbs,
not because we like fashion, but because we like to fight.
You can count on us Serbs for each new and foolish thing that comes up.
Football was still young, back then it wasn’t the rich running on the pitch watched by
us poor folk, but the other way around.
We have a saying, don’t go to Belgrade to negotiate, if you have to go, go and party.
God Created Sundays for Men, not Women.
Bragging about your car is what a poor man does, remember that.
What you did to Milutinic shows you’re already a great player, but not a great man,
sometimes that’s all that counts, son. Remember, this is a gentleman’s game.
S: “Is it true what they say about the raw egg? Whoever juggles it dies?” T: That’s what they say. S: Tirke, are we living in vain? T: What do you mean? S: Well, we come and we go. Our legs hurt and we’re never happy. Why are we living, is it worth it? T: Good Night