On the Milky Road is a 2016 movie directed by Emir Kusturica. He made several good films in the past such as Underground (1995) which, despite being a bit unoriginal (the main idea is the same of The Penultimate Truth, by Philip K. Dick which was published in 1964, for instance), was funny and commented well on the stupidity of war, as well as Black Cat, White Cat (1998), a grotesque fresco on gypsies and arranged marriages. And he also directed Time of the Gypsies (1988), a surreal story of a gypsy with kinetic powers…
And here comes the first of the numerous issues I have with On the Milky Road: it’s more of the same. War in Serbia: check. Surreal and over the top characters: check. Magical realism: check. Arranged weddings in which the spouses wants something else: check. And the list could go on. But let’s proceed with the plot, first. There will be spoilers, but the story virtually plays no role in this movie so it doesn’t really matter.
Kusturica takes us back to the former Yugoslavia during the war of the first half of the 90s, to a besieged village where, as always in his films, the inhabitants live as if nothing had happened. Kusturica himself plays the protagonist of the film, a taciturn guy with a tragic past (there is a scene in which some soldiers explain his background to us by talking to each other but actually talking to us viewers: we don’t understand this thanks to what happens on the screen or to Kusturica’s acting skills which are, unfortunately, nil). He delivers milk from one village to another and on one of these trips he passes by a farm where there is his betrothed, the beautiful and exuberant Sloboda Micalovic, and falls in love with the betrothed of her brother, Monica Bellucci.
Where do I begin? First, the two leads, Bellucci and Kusturica, are not great. She has this cookie commercials’ expression most of the time (I don’t blame her too much, acting in Serbian couldn’t be easy!), and he has the same wooden expression throughout the movie. The other actors all have over-the-top roles, so it’s also hard to judge their performance.
Second, there are many special effects (for no reason) and they’re all horrible, cheap CGI effects that are hard to watch and that every time managed to divert my attention from the story or the dialogues. For example, on the aforementioned farm there is a huge clock where everyone is hurting their hand with gears in some slapstick scenes that seem to come out of the worst Cartoon Network series of the early 2000s.
Third, the script is really poor and the dialogues that are uninteresting to say the least. Fourth, the love story between Kusturica and Bellucci has no justification in what happens on the screen. There is no chemistry between the two, and there is absolutely no scene justifying their relationship! Nothing! They look at each other once, and there you go, it’s love. And fifth: none of the characters have a shred of motivation, they all act completely randomly. After a while, it wears out (where “a while” is half an hour, and I’m being generous).
But let’s get back to the plot. At a certain point there’s a truce, Micalovic’s brother returns, and marriages must be celebrated… but Bellucci’s character’s past is discovered, and there’s an English general who wants her dead, and the film changes completely. Three black-clad soldiers arrive and kill in cold blood ALL the characters of the film except the two protagonists. They kill by gunshot in the head or by burning EVERYONE alive. This happens in the middle of the film. I was amazed. Okay, they weren’t interesting characters, they had no motivation… but now they’re all dead? Yes, they are. So we can concentrate on the daring escape of the two lovers that ends… No, I’m not telling you the finale.
To conclude: this film has few and confusing ideas, mostly recycled, it develops them badly, it’s badly written, badly directed (in the sense of the direction of the actors)… which gives me the impression that Kusturica went too far with being at the same time the director, screenwriter, and even the protagonist of his movie! Not only is it a fragmented and difficult film to follow, with uninteresting scenes and silly dialogue, but there are even a lot of continuity errors. An example: one of the two milk containers carried by Kusturica’s donkey gets shot and it loses all the milk. Then Kusturica arrives at the village and there’s milk in both containers. And I know it’s a minor thing, but still… Second example: in the pre-wedding party, Micalovic finds Bellucci and Kusturica flirting, then in anger she begins to fight against her, she takes her to her brother (who should marry her) to get her punished and… nothing, they stop fighting and the party continues. Why? Third example: two villains are on a boat, the boat sinks with them inside and, immediately afterwards, the two villains continue to run after our protagonists as if nothing had happened. What’s happening? I stop here, but there are a thousand other examples of sloppy editing + sloppy writing.
But are there any positive things? Yes, for example the idea of the role of nature helping the positive and peaceful characters is interesting, with animals in particular being very much present (but the snake is terrible, it looks like Kaa from Disney’s The Jungle Book, I was ashamed for the actor who had to interact with it every time it was on the screen). The few war scenes with explosions done in a practical way and not digitally are also good. The soundtrack is beautiful (by Stribor Kusturica, at least one thing was delegated to someone else: to Kusturica’s son). The metaphor of the white of the Milky Way that mixes with milk and white stones is also interesting and plays well with the fairy tale scenes (which, however, don’t play well at all with the cruel scenes of the murders that sometimes accompany them!)… but it’s very little. I don’t recommend watching On the Milky Road, you better spend your time watching older Kusturica’s movies! Ciao!