Critics Consensus

Offering an insightful look at Communist Eastern Europe through the microcosm of a long friendship, Underground is an exhausting, exhilarating epic.



Total Count: 35


Audience Score

User Ratings: 20,790
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Underground Photos

Movie Info

This allegorical European black comedy examines the past 50 years, between 1941 and 1992 in Yugoslavia's history. The subtitled film is over three hours long, and is divided into three segments. The protagonists are band-leader Marko and his best friend Blacky who in Belgrade, 1941, were simultaneously communist patriots and racketeers. When the Nazis invade Belgrade, the men take their families down to an enormous wine cellar where the rebels have set up an underground munitions factory. There Blacky's wife dies while giving birth; he later begins wooing an actress who throws him over for a Nazi, whom Blacky shoots. Unfortunately, the German survives and Blacky is arrested. Fortunately, Marko saves him, and as his friend recuperates from the torture, Marko sleeps with the actress. Even as the Allied bombers destroy the remains of Belgrade, the treacherous Marko convinces the subterranean refugees that the war is still in effect and that they must continue making arms to be prepared when Tito calls for them. Twenty years pass, and the refugees, living on dog food, are still hard at work, cheerfully making guns to save their country. Meanwhile, Marko has become an prominent party official. He and his wife, the actress, continue to sell illegal arms and drugs. The situation for them is very good until Marko's brother discovers his treachery and all hell breaks loose.

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Lazar Ristovski
as Petar Popara/Blacky
Hark Bohm
as Dr. Strasse
Petar Kralj
as Dr. Mirkovic
Pierre Spengler
as Russian Driver
Rick Dano
as Partisan
Nele Karajlic
as Falling Gypsy
Dragan Nikolic
as Film Director
Josif Tatic
as Police Inspector
Albena Stavreva
as Girl from the Tunnel
Elizabeta Dorevska
as Woman Prompter
Mirsad Tuka
as Investigator No. 1
Batica Nikolic
as Investigator No. 2
Desa Biogradlija
as Lady in the Theater Box
Zoran Miljkovic
as Partisan No. 1
Dusan Rokvic
as Partisan No. 2
Miodrag Dordevic
as Assistant Director
Danica Zdravic
as Boat Dancer
Stojan Sotirov
as Driver in Tunnel
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Critic Reviews for Underground

All Critics (35) | Top Critics (11)

  • Acknowledged as the Bosnian director Emir Kusturica's masterpiece, Underground is a hallucinogenic comic romp through Yugoslavia's troubled history over 50 years.

    Mar 24, 2016 | Rating: 4/5

    Kate Muir

    Times (UK)
    Top Critic
  • Delirious in its excess, but never less than ferociously intelligent and operatically emotional, Underground represents one of those rare, exhilarating moments when an outsize artistic vision is fueled by an apparently unlimited budget. Not to be missed.

    Sep 23, 2014 | Rating: 3.5/4 | Full Review…
  • A triumph of mise en scene mated to a comic vision that keeps topping its own hyperbole.

    Sep 23, 2014 | Full Review…
  • A rich, vibrant, visually spectacular survey of the changes the place has gone through during the past 50 years.

    Sep 23, 2014 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • Kusturica takes us from wacky farce to harrowing grief to lyrical fantasy to bloody horror. To ignore any side of Underground is to do it injustice.

    Sep 23, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…
  • Underground is a bizarre, often repellent anti-war parable that takes forever to state the obvious but hits some scattered high notes on the way.

    Sep 23, 2014 | Full Review…

    Joshua Klein

    AV Club
    Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Underground

  • Jul 24, 2014
    "Familiar music, familiar sound does mute your thoughts for the underground!" I chose to reference Curtis Mayfield's "Underground", of all the, like, 201 songs with that title, because we're dealing with the guy who made "Arizona Dream", so this ought to be trippy enough for the king of psychedelic R&B to fit. Yup, Emir Kusturica's American vacation is done, so now he's back in Serbia, and his movies are even longer than ever. Hey, I dig "Arizona Dream" and all, but that was hard enough to keep up with when it was thirty minutes shorter than this film and not primarily in Serbian, although, from what this title is telling me, Kusturica might not be a creative as you might think when he comes home. Man, this is an almost embarrassingly generic title, so if you can find the miniseries cut of this, at least embrace it for being creative enough to come up with the title "Once Upon a Time There Was... One Country". Interestingly enough, that's still more creative than "Underground", as well it should be, because if Kusturica was going to make this film nearly two-and-a-half hours longer, then he was going to have to advertise that he was upping the creativity, because, again, this version that we all - as in, like, six people - are familiar with is a little too long as it is. Oh well, at least the film is entertaining, even though it tries your patience a bit too much to be even close to as rewarding as something like "Arizona Dream", no matter how hard it very much tries to stay busy. I've dropped insinuations that this film can't quite justify its sprawling length, but this story is very layered, it's just that it finds a little difficulty in juggling all of those layers organically, jarring between segments and events, until it becomes difficulty to stay focused on a convoluted epic of such uneven focus. About as uneven in this hyper-comic drama is, of course, tone, for tension is often defused by frequent fluff which makes such potentially weighty aspects as disturbing happening and imagery too awkward to be either funny or impacting, while diluting a sense of consequence. There is some difficulty in gaining a grip on a sense of urgency or, for that matter, scope, as it ambitiously strives to be both grand and fluffy, and fumbles in the long run. With that said, the film rarely strays too far away from absurdity, shamelessly diving, not simply into some melodramatics, but into all-out silliness, which is threatening to humor's effectiveness, and very detrimental to a sense of depth, whose potentially rich characters come off as objects of satire, and whose potentially gripping conflicts are near-criminally underplayed. There's certainly a respectable enough deal of juice to this narrative for the final product to at least border on decent, but all of the intentional fluff plagues this epic with, of all things, natural shortcomings, which leaves the epic length of over 160 minutes, at the very least, to wear you down a bit. The film is very entertaining throughout its course, so my greatest fear of getting bored does not find itself realized, but even greater issues which I did not expect stand firm, dragging out and softening the bite of this potentially sweeping drama, until the final product falls as a little too fluffy and decidedly too messy to be completely rewarding. Nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that there's always something to hold your attention, even if it can't hold your investment, although if all else fails when it comes to narrative value, there's always aesthetic value to resort to. This film is startlingly European, so, yeah, if it's got nothing else going for it, it's got good looks, anchored by cinematography by Vilko Filač which boasts a haze that falls near-perfectly between light and bleak in a manner that is very handsome, and compliments the appeal of art direction by Branimir Babic, Vlastimir Gavrik, Vladislav Lasic and Martin Martinec (Give me a second, because I just got a Serbian overload. ...Okay, ја сам добро-I mean, I'm good) that distinguishes this restoration of Yugoslavia's movement into modern history fairly grandly. The film certainly looks good, and on top of that, it subtly, but surely builds solid production value that does more justice to a potential sense of scope to storytelling so light that it makes it difficult to see just how worthy this epic's subject matter is. Of course, it is pretty hard to obscure the potential within this unevenly, inconsequentially and all around excessively told tale, because as a fictionalized account of two friends' struggles within themselves and among each other during Yugoslavia's important periods of change between the 1940s and the 1990s, this story concept is pretty intriguing, and it's not as though Emir Kusturica does a complete disservice to this story. With Duan Kovačević, Kusturica molds an overwrought script that stay focused in its progression and layering, and seems mostly occupied with fluff, rather than genuine bite, yet delivers on many a dynamic and lively set piece to keep monotony at bay, in addition to some highlights in colorful characterization. Most of all, Kovačević and Kusturica deliver on humor, which falls flat on more than a few occasions, particularly when it fails to gel with the dramatics which it attempts to satirize, but primarily ranges from chuckle-worthy to hilarious in its biting satire, witty dialogue, and, most of all, over-the-top slapstick, conceived well on paper, and brought to life by colorful direction. Kusturica, as director, was coming down from a high with "Arizona Dream" at this time, yet here, while he's not quite as overstylized, he's not nearly as controlled as he was in making alternations between delightfully quirky humor and powerful dramatic elements that were still not realized enough to make "Arizona Dream" all around outstanding, thus, this epic loses too much of a sense of scope and depth to truly reward, but it never loses entertainment value, thanks to consistently brisk pacing to direction, backed by often near-impeccably colorful work with style, humor, and charismatic performers that is sometimes resonant in its inspiration, particularly with, say, a powerful final act that still manages to stick a surreal landing. If there was more realization to the dramatic possibilities of this sprawling effort, then Kusturica would have rewarded, and even stood a chance of striking with a second strong surrealist dramedy in a row, but when it's all said and done, as questionable done as this epic is, there is enough entertainment value and effectiveness to keep you going, even if the final product does leave much to be desired. All in all, unevenness in focus in an overblown narrative is matched by an uneven tone which defuses a sense of consequence almost as much as a surprisingly great attention towards silliness that wears down on you after a while throughout the sprawling course of this ultimately disappointing epic, which is still brought to the brink of rewarding by the handsome cinematography, distinguished art direction, intriguing subject matter, colorful, if not riotous writing, and colorful direction which make Emir Kusturica's lazily titled "Underground" a thoroughly entertaining and often engaging, if ultimately questionable epic of a dramedy that's heavy on the satirical comedy. 2.75/5 - Decent
    Cameron J Super Reviewer
  • Dec 27, 2011
    <i>Underground</i> is a (nostalgic??) homage to a national land that no longer exists despite its turbulent sociopolitical background. Kusturica breaks any possible boundary and increases the size of his scope gigantically, orchestrating a massive masterpiece of satirical humor, theater, war, Communism, music, trumpets, social criticisms, animals, sex, dance, kids, teens, betrayal, love, lust, surrealism, beautiful landscapes, war ruins, hilarious sound effects, WWII, audacious stunts, metafilm, slapstick violence and a monkey. Breathtaking and wall-shattering spectacle for the reflection of modernity!! 98/100
    Edgar C Super Reviewer
  • Aug 20, 2011
    One of the best black comedies I have ever seen! Comedy typically doesn't do so well with war time settings; but, with such characters, you can't help but laugh.While Yugoslavia as a country may no longer exist, its essence and spirit live strong.
    Stefanie C Super Reviewer
  • May 05, 2011
    One of the best films I ever saw. A surreal, poetic, unique and dark comedy about war, pride, friendship and illusion. An controversial epic of Emir Kusturica.
    Lucas M Super Reviewer

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