Goodbye 20th Century

I went on a wild trip the other night, and I didn’t have to ingest the bad acid at a Grateful Dead Concert. Instead, I had to sit through “Goodbye 20th Century,” a Macedonian film with obvious western influences.

Written and directed by Aleksandar Popovski and Darko Mitrevski, two young Macedonian filmmakers, “Goodbye 20th Century” reminded me of a midnight movie. It contains moments of outrageous whimsy wrapped up in a parable about living life on the edge.

Set in three distinct time periods, “Goodbye 20th Century” is a solid effort that proves the filmmakers have done their homework. It’s sort of a cross between “Mad Max” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

As writers, Popovski and Mitrevski deliver characters that bristle with eccentric behavior. As directors, their images are just as eccentric. They use their modest budget effectively, creating a twisted sense of time and place. One moment we’re in a deserted wasteland, the next we’re in a small town on the eve of the new millennium.

The character Kuzman (Nikola Ristanovski) is the glue that holds the three time periods together.

When we first catch up with Kuzman, he’s being led to his death by a ragtag group of people. They are his impromptu death march, survivors of a world holocaust that has left them with visible scars. Kuzman seems to be the only one not affected by the chain of events.

We learn that Kuzman has been sentenced to die for having sexual relations with a saint. When the local children began to die, the townspeople blamed Kuzman. After a long trek through the barren wasteland, the time has come for Kuzman to pay for his sins. In a hail of gunfire, Kuzman stumbles into his makeshift grave, ready for burial.

Before the executioners can toss on the first handful of dirt, Kuzman climbs back up out of the grave. They pepper him with more bullets, but to no avail. It seems the ground will not accept him. He can’t die.

He’s left in the middle of the desert to ponder his immortality when he encounters a kindly barber prophet (Vlado Jovanovski). The barber isn’t so much interested in Kuzman’s future as he is in his past, which makes up the remainder of the story. While Kuzman searches for answers to his future in an underground city (guarded by a green-haired punk who has obviously seen “Batman” more than once), the story steps back 100 years.

After a hilarious flashback involving an incestuous marriage, the story picks up on the eve of the new millennium in 1999. It is here where a street Santa Claus (Lazar Ristovski) realizes that the new millennium is going to bring more than champagne and hugs.

The final chapter of the film is also its most audacious. When Santa Claus returns to his rented room for a little peace and quiet, he walks into a family wake. The brother of his landlord has passed away, and the family has gathered to share their condolences.

They’re a stoic bunch, a ghastly collection of eccentric characters with pale, white faces and a penchant for overacting. At first the proceedings are depressing. Then a flamboyant cousin and his latest squeeze arrive, and things begin to pick up. When the cousin accidentally spills cocaine into the grief food, it allows the mourners to act out their most bizarre fantasies.

“Goodbye 20th Century” begins as serious science-fiction, but before it is done, the film becomes an all-out assault on tradition and the senses. A little old lady passes enough gas to propel her wheelchair across the room, causing it to explode. All decency is throw out the window as the guests go from sad to mad.

When their assault turns to Santa, all hell breaks loose. The filmmakers enjoy contrast. The final scene is set inside an apartment building that is so clean and white it almost glows. The perfect backdrop to spill enough blood to make Sam Peckinpah jealous. It would be shocking if it weren’t so over-the-top. Popovski and Mitrevski must be fans of Monty Python.

The filmmakers make it obvious that we’re not supposed to take any of this seriously. From the opening shot of Kuzman being riddled with hundreds of bullets and then getting up for more, you know the filmmakers are winking at you. The short documentary film that binds the end pieces together is a real hoot, but the real laughs come at the end.

What makes all of this so much fun is that the actors invest themselves completely in their roles. They understand that the humor comes from the situations around them and play it straight. Ristovski makes a deliciously demented Santa. He’s Satan in a fake beard.

Nikola Ristanovski shows determination as Kuzman, a man unaware of his fate until he becomes a martyr. He shares what has to be one of the screen’s kinkiest love scenes with an actress who plays his sister (Sofija Kunovska) and a bathtub filled with apples.

Visually, “Goodbye 20th Century” is exciting. Even the barren landscapes of Macedonia look gorgeous under the night sky. The music by Risto Vrtev is interesting and to the point.

The filmmakers are to be congratulated for even getting the film made in Macedonia, a country more noted for its political strife than cinematic efforts. They use humor and outrageous situations to explore the climate in their country, and by doing so, have created an important film that manages to entertain as well as educate.



Lazar Ristovski, Nikola Ristanovski, Vlado Jovanovski, Sofia Kunovska, Petar Temelkovski, Emil Ruben, Irena Ristic in a film directed by Aleksandar Popovski and Darko Mitrevski. Not Rated. 74 Minutes.


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