Vote now for Best of Detroit 2021

Wednesday, September 8, 1999

Cabaret Balkan

Posted By on Wed, Sep 8, 1999 at 12:00 AM

The bleakest of black comedies, the explosive Cabaret Balkan captures the contained desperation of life during wartime. The film’s original title, The Powder Keg, better describes the precise tone established by co-writer/director Goran Paskaljevic, where a flicker of anger can ignite a firestorm.

Adapted from Dejan Dukovski’s play, Cabaret Balkan is an episodic tale which captures the siege mentality of Belgrade during a specific period of time: After Serbia went to war with the other countries emerging from the former Yugoslavia, but before NATO began bombing the city.

The film interweaves the stories of numerous characters, most of whom are just trying to lead a relatively normal life. But as Paskaljevic soon makes clear, this is an impossibility when the moral underpinnings of a society have rotted away. So, during one night in Belgrade, everyday frustrations slide inexorably into violence as powder keg after powder keg is lit.

"Goddamn lousy country," says an all-knowing cab driver (Nebojsa Glogovac) to his mysterious fare, Michael (Miki Manojlovic); "everyone with brains has left, and you’re coming back?"

Michael, who has successfully established a new life in the West, returns for grandly romantic reasons. But his friend Boris (Nikola Ristanovski), a sardonic cabaret performer whose monologues frame the film, warns him that the "home" of his imagination no longer exists.

Instead, there’s a Belgrade where a fender bender committed by a careless young man prompts a vendetta; a boxing match between lifelong friends turns into a pitched battle of psychological one-upmanship; a charismatic thug, railing against poor service, hijacks a tram and takes the passengers onboard hostage; and a teenage Bosnian refugee working in the black market is confronted by the inherent sadism of his patron. Here, the encounters between people can turn on a dime, from seemingly friendly conversations to shockingly casual brutality to sudden death.

With Cabaret Balkan, Goran Paskaljevic has evoked brilliantly a particular sensibility. His Belgrade is a place of immense sadness and fatalism tempered by resilience and defiant humor, where the tears of laughter and sorrow are inseparable.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Most Popular

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 20, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2021 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation