When The Dead Start Singing

When The Dead Start Singing

Exiled in Germany in 1991, the two Croatian protagonists of 1999's When The Dead Start Singing are grown-up orphans of the Cold War. One (Ivo Gregureviç), who still carries a price on his head from his days as an opponent of communism, lives in fear of the still-active Yugoslavian secret police who pursue him despite the toppling of the government that wanted him dead. The other (Ivica Vidoviç, a cinch to play Paulie Walnuts in any Eastern European production of The Sopranos) remains abroad to support his family, a task better accomplished outside his homeland. When Vidoviç hits on a scheme to return to Croatia by faking his own death, collecting an early pension, and living in style, mishaps begin to take both men homeward toward a country that's changed dramatically in their absence. Working from a play by Mate Matisiç, director Krsto Papic makes black comedy out of post-collapse Croatia. As they make their way to the border, his heroes find themselves pursued by the ghosts of communism and the heavy hand of capitalism, as Vidoviç unwittingly falls into a scheme to harvest his organs for a wealthy businessman. At least while they're in transit, they're contending with competing ideologies, but at home, the divisions have become ethnic, the conflicts even more absurd. A director since the '60s, Papic has seen so many changes reshape his country that it's little wonder he's able to make black humor seem like the only logical response. One of the great strengths of his film, however, lies in his ability not to lose touch with the human side of the situation. Gregureviç's fervent, all-encompassing desire to return to his marriage would almost be apparent from his world-weary expression, even if the dialogue didn't make it clear. Though the film's stage origins occasionally reveal themselves, Gregureviç and Vidoviç's performances and Papic's skilled handling of the dark tone help compensate. Literature and film already have their share of works portraying the absurdity of war, but some messages bear repeating, and When The Dead Start Singing takes on the topic with good humor and chilling authenticity.

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