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One of Central Europe's leading filmmakers, Paskaljevic follows his unforgettable A Midwinter Night's Dream (Tribeca Film Festival 2005) with this remarkable new film that evokes a powerful image of post-Milosevic Serbia, where people have trouble distinguishing truth from illusions. Five episodes reflect the motto of Voltaire's Candide: "Optimism is insisting everything is good, when everything is bad." Where the director's Cabaret Balkan (a.k.a. The Powder Keg) explored the country's lurking violence, and Midwinter Night's looked at a war veteran's inability to return to normal life, The Optimists uses poignant black Balkan humor to metaphorically describe the disillusionment of Serbians today. Each story features versatile actor Lazar Ristovski. In one tale, a flood has destroyed a town and the survivors throw themselves at the feet of a feel-good hypnotist. In another, the porky little son of a hog magnate has to be locked up to keep him from slaughtering everything in sight. In yet another story, pilgrims seek a healing spring for a miracle cure. It is not hard to trace a straight line from these imaginative narratives to the ills afflicting Serbia, which has emerged from a disastrous war as one of the poorest and most politically unstable countries in Europe, The Optimists won the best film award at Valladolid.
Director's Statement Collapse
Two hundred and fifty years ago, Voltaire shook up all of Europe with Candide, his masterpiece. A single maxim from this work was enough to inspire my new film, The Optimists: “Optimism is a mania for saying things are fine when one is in hell.”
After my Powder Keg, a film which denounced the omnipresence of violence at the heart of Serbian society during the Milosevic dictatorship, and my next film, A Midwinter Night's Dream, which spoke of the autism into which all of Serbian society found itself plunged after the assassination of its democratic prime minister, Zoran Djindjic, I wanted to tackle the theme of false optimism in my new film. And with it I finished my trilogy about the Serbia of this past decade. Through five stories, which are ideologically but not formally connected, I tried to depict the state of mind of Serbia today.
But after seeing how people have reacted at screenings of The Optimists in other countries, I understood that false optimism isn't just a characteristic of Serbia. Is the world really overcome by false optimism just as in Voltaire's time? Are we ready to change things, or are we going to remain stuck-in-the-mud “optimists”? And who pushed us into this mud? If when the film is over you ask yourself the same questions I have, that will mean that making The Optimists was worth the effort. - Goran Paskaljevic
Film Information Collapse
[OPTIM] | 2006 | 98 | Narrative Feature
Foreign Title: (Optimisti)
Premiere: North American
About the Director(s)Collapse
GORAN PASKALJEVIC studied at the well-known Prague School of Cinema (FAMU) under Elmar Klos. His first short film, Mister Hrstka (1969), considered as "offensive to the socialist system and harmful to the social order," was banned by the Czechoslovakian regime. He has made 30 documentaries and 14 feature films, shown and acclaimed at prestigious international film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian. The rise of nationalism in Yugoslavia forced him to leave his country in 1992. He went back in 1998 to make The Powder Keg (Cabaret Balkan), which won international critic's prizes at the Venice Film Festival and the European Film Awards. In 2001, the Variety International Film Guide marked him as one of the top five directors. His film Midwinter Night's Dream (2004) won the Grand Jury Prize at the San Sebastian Film Festival.