'Cowboys' ('Kauboji'): Helsinki Review

Courtesy of Helsinki International Film Festival
A likeable Croatian "let's put on a play!" comedy

A theater director struggles to turn deadbeats into actors

Amateurs discover the theater in Cowboys, a lower-key Full Monty-style outing whose chief distinguishing factor is a setting in small-town Croatia. That nation has picked this feature debut from Tomislav Mrsic as its contender for this year's foreign-language Oscar, raising commercial prospects slightly for a perfectly audience-friendly comedy that might otherwise slip through the cracks.

Helping adapt his own play for the screen, Sasa Anocic plays Sasa, a theater director returning from the city to his hometown after some unspecified setbacks and a bout with cancer. He's been offered a chance to mount a small play, mainly to give townsfolk something to see in their underused civic hall, but the pickings are slim: Five nobodies show up for auditions, and though most can't even articulate why they're interested in the play (eager-to-please Javor, played by Hrvoje Barisic, is the exception), he's forced to cast them all. After the late addition of a girl to the cast (singer Ivana Rushaidat, playing mousy Marica), Sasa figures he has all the necessary ingredients for a Western.

The script's engagement with its setting is less ambitious than in most of its cinematic cousins: Without some pressing need to come together (the eviction notice, the nationwide talent search, et cetera), the film lacks both a dramatic pull and a reason to explore the outside lives of these disparate characters. Only fairly late does it show much interest in, say, the repressed homosexuality of Bruno (Kruno Klabucar) or the gypsy toughs who force Miodrag (Rakan Rushaidat, a standout) to sell deodorant and perfume on street corners.

Still, it's a pleasant tale on its own modest terms, one with more laughs than it requires and a refreshing unwillingness to oversentimentalize its de rigueur last-act melodrama. When you have faux-cowpoke Croatians doing a tap dance in formation, who wants tears and a string section?

Production company: Kabinet

Cast: Sasa Anocic, Zivko Anocic, Matija Antolic, Kruno Klabucar, Hrvoje Barisic, Kruno Klabucar, Ivana Rushaidat

Director-Screenwriter: Tomislav Mrsic

Producers: Suzana Pandek

Executive producer: Dani Kosic

Director of photography: Predrag Dubravcic

Production designers: Jelena Danko, Tanja Lacko

Costume designer: Zeljka Franulovic

Editor: Hrvoje Mrsic

Music: Ivanka Mazurkijevic, Damir Martinovic Mrle

No rating, 108 minutes

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