Attention: this post might contain spoilers for those who have not seen the 2011 film.
Trigger warning: this post contains discussion of violence and anti-gay hatred.
The premise of The Parade, a Serbian film by Srdjan Dragojević, seems funny at first glance: because a gay theater director turned wedding director, Mirko, is the only one who can plan the extravagant wedding his fiancée desires, an ex-crime boss, Limun, is coerced into providing security for a Pride parade. It is a huge culture-clash, gay activists and thugs trying to work together across vast differences in perspective. The film itself is funny in a lot of places because it so deftly highlights the most comedic aspects of the lack of understanding. For example, in one scene the gay couple at the center of the film, Mirko and his partner Radmilo, have a painting by Andy Warhol hanging in their living room. The image is a pair of guns. Limun compliments the picture and Radmilo says, “It’s a Warhol.” Limun responds, “What War… hole? It’s a Magnum, 357.”
But if at first glance and on the surface the film is comedic, it quickly becomes apparent that the comedy is only a tool to make the serious core themes approachable to the audience. Having security for the pride parade is not a matter of maintaining order, it is a matter of life and death. In one of the first scenes, a press conference about the Pride parade is attacked by a group of skinheads and they essentially promise to do everything they can to prevent the parade from happening. The only people willing to act as security (and only out of loyalty to Limun) are a group of combatants who fought against each other in the Balkan Wars and became friends after the fighting ended; one is a Croat, another a Bosniak and the third a Kosovo Albanian. Limun and Radmilo drive through three war-devastated countries to recruit the men and the anti-gay graffiti on Radmilo and Mirko’s car is replaced by an ethnic slur against the next community every time they stop, illustrating the strong ethnic tensions alive in the region.
Set in Serbia against the backdrop of ongoing political and ethnic disputes and lasting impacts from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, the human rights of the LGBT community is only the focal point of this film about a nation, and possibly a whole region, at a crossroads. The choice is whether to cling to nationalism, animosity between ethnic groups, and hatred of everyone who is different, or whether to turn in a new direction and seek to develop a better, more inclusive society. Mirko, one of the gay men, says it himself, rallying the activists: “This has nothing to do with straight and gay! We have here two Serbias! The other Serbia is forcing you to be something you’re not!” And that something includes closeted, fearful, humiliated, close-minded, hateful, and hopeless.
By refusing to back down in the face of a seemingly endless mob of young skinheads chanting “Kill the faggots,” the twenty odd Pride parade marchers and the security ‘guards’ who have come to know them and understand what their cause is about choose to turn in a new direction. They choose to be out, to be brave, proud, open-minded, caring, and hopeful. They choose, against great odds, to stand for a better world. And they are beaten badly for it. The other Serbia is not about to give up without a fight. The film is unflinching in its acceptance of how difficult and painful the work of creating a better world is.
But it ends on a heartbreakingly hopeful note, combining clips from the only successful pride parade ever held in Serbia in 2010 and shots of the characters, putting them at that parade, a year after their fictional attempt was met with violence and police protection that came too late. The real parade consisted of 1,000 marchers guarded by 5,600 police officers who fended off 6,000 anti-gay protesters. Around 140 people, mostly police, were injured in the clash. Around 200 people were arrested. The 2010 parade was a great victory for human rights. However, the government has banned the parade every year since then, citing security concerns and insisting they weren’t capitulating to the demands of the right-wing groups. In 2012, an indoor pride march was held and in 2013, just hours after the ban was announced, around 100 gay pride activists marched past the government buildings in protest of the ban, without incident.
The combination of a fictional story with a very real and difficult context adds to the significant impact of the film. The film as a whole is shockingly violent, painfully funny, hopeful yet realistic, eye-opening especially for people with little knowledge of the history and current state of the Balkans, deeply human and moving, and simply powerful. It illustrates the need for solidarity across borders and the power of unlikely alliances. The Global Film Initiative did well to make The Parade part of their Global Lens Collection.
Queerview Mirror is a semi-regular feature where Queereka contributors review a variety of media. Look for Queerview Mirror posts on Friday afternoons.
Featured image from http://www.kaosgl.com.