MOSCOW - The first third of Srdzhan Dragoevich’s new film, The Parade, will bring a smile to even the gloomiest of faces. It’s a silly, rude comedy that is meant to be fun for the viewers.
It is also very much a film with a message about tolerance for homosexuals, as well as for those from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Just released in Russia, it had a successful run in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, surprising many with its largely warm receptions in places not often known for tolerance of the "other."
In particular, the movie is a call for all Slavs - which includes both Serbians and Russians - to be more accepting of gays. It is a particularly steep climb in Russia, where homosexuality was a crime until 1993 and was considered a mental illness until 1999. Today, 62 percent of the population still considers being gay immoral, and local governments have banned gay pride parades and enacted stringent rules against “homosexual propaganda.”
But the filmmakers are hoping that, like in Serbia, The Parade could open some eyes in Russia. The film's main characters include a macho Serb nationalist, a gangster and veteran of the Balkan wars, named Limun, and his hysterical and sentimental fiancé, Biserka, who is always dreaming about a beautiful wedding. There is also the elegant designer and devoted gay-rights activist Mirko, and his cowardly boyfriend, a veterinarian named Radmilo.
Limun brings his bulldog, called Little Sugar, into the veterinarian’s clinic, after the dog was the victim of a drive-by shooting. In his stressed state, Limun nearly shoots Radmilo, who almost soils himself as a result, and operates on the dog practically at gunpoint.
At the same time, Biserka hires Mirko to plan her wedding to Limun. Mirko says he will only do the wedding if Limun agrees to provide security from the neo-Nazis and religious extremists for the next gay-pride parade.
In 2001 there was serious violence at the Belgrade gay pride parade, and the city still refuses to provide protection, 10 years on.
The second third of the movie continues as a satire, but becomes increasingly sharp, turning from sexual orientation to politics. Limun becomes obsessed with protecting the gay-pride parade, but his colleagues from the judo club/bodyguard agency he operates don’t understand him at all; in fact, they were planning to attack the parade. But Limun is dedicated to the mission, especially for Biserka’s sake. Limun contacts all his old enemies, Croats, Bosniaks and Kosovars, who have been lacking a purpose since the end of the war. At first, they cannot quite see why they, tough guys with real war experience, should be out protecting gay-rights activists, but ultimately see Limun’s proposition as the only way to do something interesting and come together.
The last part of the film is a bit like docu-fiction. It was filmed at the 2010 Belgrade gay-pride parade, with some added drama. There were actually no deaths at the real event, but only because there were more police than parade participants. That fact is mentioned in the ending credits.
Of course, you cannot expect a film like this to hew closely to reality. In fact, quite the opposite- the less it follows reality, the more it gets its point across. The film, at first considered ridiculous, ultimately united former enemies and has become the first joint production of all the former Yugoslavian republics (except Bosnia) since Yugoslavia’s collapse in 1991.
More than 600,000 people, more than half of them Serbs, saw the film in the former Yugoslavia. The film, which recently opened in Russia, calls for tolerance, not just of gays but also of former enemies and people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. It remains to be seen, particularly in this atmosphere of inflamed homophobia, if that call will be heard.