A decade after No Man’s Land, Bosnian director Danis Tanovic returns to his home turf with Cirkus Columbia, set in a Yugoslavian village on the eve of the war that split the country. The coming strife, however, is mere backdrop to the story of a man returning home after decades abroad with repatriation and revenge on his mind. Miki Manojlovic, the star of Emir Kusturica’s great Underground, has not-so-patiently spent 22 years waiting for the end of Communist rule, and now that the old guard is out and his cousin is the mayor, he can’t wait to move back into the family home, even—make that especially—if it means throwing his estranged wife (Lost’s Mira Furlan) out on the street. He also isn’t particularly concerned with the welfare of his grown son (Boris Ler), whose main interest is tuning into distant CB broadcasts with a massive antenna perched on the roof.
That giant antenna, like the disused amusement park that gives Ivica Djikic’s source novel its name, seem intended to function as the kind of blunt symbol that made No Man’s Land so easy for international viewers to latch onto. But like many of Cirkus Columbia’s mismatched parts, they never fully sync. Tanovic populates the film with representative characters, like a former Communist functionary who’s now the target of violent attacks, or a kindly old soldier who’s overpowered by the rise of a new class of ruthless young paramilitaries. Those familiar with the history will be more comfortable following the developments, often imparted through offhand comments or background reports, but they’ll also groan more loudly when the bombs start falling and Manojlovic says, “What will they do next? Blow up the old bridge in Mostar?”
Like its characters, who can’t believe their stable nation could be threatened by ethnic unrest, Cirkus Columbia looks to the past, evoking the kind of unreal, vaguely politicized tales that were once the lifeblood of arthouse cinema. But rather than reviving a tradition, the movie simply preys on it, working up a pleasant familiarity, but ultimately feeling like a second-generation copy.