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Beautiful People

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Beautiful People

Starring: Julian Firth, Heather Tobias
Director: Jasmin Dizdar
Rated: NR
RunTime: 107 Minutes
Release Date: September 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Dado Jehan, Edin Dzandzanovic, Faruk Pruti, Charlotte Coleman, Rosalind Ayres, Roger Sloman, Steve Sweeney, Siobhan Redmond

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Though good national fences make good neighbors, there's an adage that if you get to know the people on the other side of the wall, you will inevitably like them. Ironically the same is not always true of people who share the same society and become close friends, even mates. In Jasmin Dizdar's consistently surprising film "Beautiful People," winner of the Prix Un Certain Regard for Best Film at the 1999 Cannes Festival, four families are put under the director's microscope with startling repercussions. Two individuals from the same society have been married with children but are separating and hostile, while other folks from disparate cultures find understanding and compassion for one another and become good friends and lovers despite obstacles put in their paths by our global order.

"Beautiful People" is about the impact of Bosnian refugees on London residents into whose civilization they're attempting to fuse. As you might expect, the English of a mature age come of as snobbish, even intolerant, while their Bosnian expatriates are down-to-earth, ranging from the starkly crude to the most intelligently open-minded. All of Dizdar's characters vary from the whimsical to the downright bizarre-- which under this director's hand makes "Beautiful People" one of the best-realized comedies of the past year.

The opening scene will probably become the audience favorite, a harbinger of the breathless pace that commands the movie. Two traditional Bosnian enemies, a Serb (Dado Jehan) and a Croat (Faruk Prutti) who lived near each other in their home country, bump into each other in London, revive their animosity in a knock-down, drag-out fight that begins on a London bus ("This is London transport--we don't do that here," commands the driver), and continue their tussle into the streets. Geography knows no armistice--the Bosnians bring their culture clash into a foreign city that looks upon them with bewilderment and horror. The two will end up in a hospital room as bedmates, leading to some of the brightest slapstick hilarity of the story.

Other situations mirror this strife, bringing the runaway Bosnians into the families of their hosts in Britain and in one case carrying the confrontations back to Bosnia. In the circumstance that best shows the distinctions between the English and their guests, a medical intern, Portia Thornton (Charlotte Coleman) pursues an affair with a Bosnian patient who is an unemployed former basketball player, Pero (Edin Dzandzanovic), the latter the most eager to assimilate into his new surroundings. In one effective scene, the couple have dinner at the intern's home, displaying a wide array of patronizing behavior by her stiff-upper-lip family. "I for one am opposed to ethnic cleansing," one family member assures the young man, as though he were making the most open- minded statement yet heard on the planet.

In depicting the lifestyle of a distinctly scruffy set of Londoners, Dizdar hones in on a stoner, Griffin (Danny Nussbaum), whose friends have skinhead views toward the refugees until they experience the poignancy of a small, blind child who has been brought to their country. Griffin, perpetually chided by his respectable dad Roger (Roger Soloman) and ditzy mother, Felicity (Heather Tobias), falls under a blanket in a drug-induced stupor at the airport, is transported with some UN food supplies to Bosnian, parachuted into the war-torn landscape where he is shot at, and ends up an unlikely hero by using his heroin to save an unfortunate patient pain while the Bosnian is having his leg amputated. But perhaps the most riotous riff of all involves a BBC reporter on the scene, Jerry Higgins (Gilbert Martin), who identifies so strongly with the victim of gangrene that he becomes afflicted with "Bosnian syndrome" and demands to have his own healthy leg amputated.

While we're tempted to find irony in the title "Beautiful People" since, after all, most are outwardly shaggy, some stoners and others mortal enemies, we're obliged to conclude that one and all--Brits and Bosnians alike and by extension all of us who populate this medium-sized planet--can indeed be wonderful. The film is a poignant, boisterous, and expertly directed burlesque--an almost surreal version of Mike Nichols' "Catch 22."

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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