Goodbye, 20th Century! (Zbogum na dvadesetiot vek)
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1999
Stars : Lazar Ristovski (Santa Claus), Nikola Ristanovski (Kuzman), Vlado Jovanovski (The Barber Prophet), Sofija Kunovska (The Sister), Dejan Acimovic (The Priest), Petar Temelkovski (Brother Petar), Emil Ruben (The Godfather), Irena Ristic (The Girl), Toni Mihajlovski (The Man with Green Hair)
"Goodbye, 20th Century!" ("Zbogum na dvadesetiot vek"), the feature-length directorial debut of Macedonian filmmakers Darko Mitrevski and Aleksandar Popovski, is like an insane comic book come to life. A science fiction-fantasy fable about (among other things) the historic and persistent self-destructiveness of humankind, the film spans three different time periods in less than and hour and 20 minutes, and manages to make almost no sense. It is like George Miller's "Mad Max" crossed with Frederico Fellini.
The film opens in the year 2019 in the blasted, post-apocalyptic wasteland of Macedonia. A group of ragged survivors who look like they walked out of an episode of "Xena: Warrior Princess" struggle up a mountain, say prayers, and then execute one of their own, a man named Kuzman (Nikola Ristanovski), because his sexual affair with a Saint is blamed for the death of their village's children. However, Kuzan won't die. As the characters keep saying, "The ground won't take you." Even after unloading hundreds of bullets into his body, Kuzman continues to open his eyes because, as he finds out, he is immortal.
That is about as meaningful and coherent as the film gets. From there, it follows Kuzman as he is approached by a barber-prophet (Vlado Jovanovski) who tells him he must kill someone named The Man With Green Hair who is guarding a wall on which humankind's destiny is written. Kuzman then indulges in a steamy, Zalman King-like sexual escapade in the bathtub with his sister (Sofija Kunovska), whose body is covered in tattoos. He then finds the Man With Green Hair (Toni Mihajlovski), an insane, cackling psycho modeled off Batman's nemesis, The Joker, and kills him.
The movie then jumps backward 100 years and shows us purported newsreel footage of the first marriage filmed in Macedonia. The fact that the bride and groom are also brother and sister carries forward the inexplicable and unsettling incest theme started with Kuzman and his sister in the bathtub. The groom in the newsreel footage is immediately executed once the marriage is official, and we see that the person filming the event is the barber-prophet from 2019. Huh?
At this point, the movie jumps to its final time destination: New Year's Eve 1999. Ostensibly, this final sequence is intended to explain how the apocalypse came about and why Kuzman of 2019 is immortal. However, I was unable to glean even the slightest narrative coherence from this section of the film. It centers around a man dressed as Santa Claus (Lazar Ristovski) and his relation to a group of people in an all-white room mourning the death of a brother. Somehow this sequence includes not only a bizarre joke about a flatulent wheelchair-bound grandmother, but it ends with the slaughter of almost everyone involved. The only connection I could make in the end was that the man dressed as Santa Claus paints the words on the prophetic wall that Kuzman discovers 19 years later.
What is "Goodbye 20th Century" trying to say? Obviously, the storyline cannot be its primary objective because it is so scattershot and incomprehensible. This is not a case of narrative trickery. It is an all-out assault on logic. It is likely that most of the film has symbolic and metaphorical meaning that outweighs the need for narrative consistency, and much of this symbolism is directly related to the current social dimensions in the Republic of Macedonia. The Republic of Macedonia, whose Ministry of Culture helped fund this film, has had troubled economic conditions since its independence in 1991 from the previously Communist Yugoslavia (high inflation and unemployment rates prevail), as well as problematic relations with neighboring countries Greece and Serbia.
For American audiences, the only things to enjoy in "Goodbye, 20th Century!" are its audacious visual playfulness and its short running length. At less than 80 minutes, the movie moves by quickly and is over before you know it. This helps because, if it had gone on much longer, it would have become painfully irritating.
The writer/director team of Mitrevski and Popovski started in music videos and TV commercials, and it shows in their visual style. "Goodbye, 20th Century!" is never visually boring, and it looks to have been shot on a healthy budget. They make some startling camera moves, including a scene where the camera dives into a toilet, moves through a sewer pipe, and somehow winds up in outer space. Director of photography Vladimir Samoilovski does a fine job of rendering the barren emptiness of the burned landscape in the opening segment, and his use of light and shadow in Kuzman's confrontation with the Man With Green Hair recalls the final sequence in "Blade Runner" (1982).
So, what to make of "Goodbye, 20th Century!"? In the end, what is its message? This might be answered by looking at one of its alternate titles, which is taken from a recurring line in the movie: "The Future is as Screwed Up as the Past." If there is anything to take from this movie, it is precisely that. As we stand on the edge of a new millennium, at least from the point of view of Mitrevski and Popovski, there is not much to look forward to.
©1998 James Kendrick