Montevideo: Taste of a Dream: Film Review

Intermedia Network
Overlong, self-indulgent Serbian soccer tale does boast a lot of visual delights.

Serbia's entry into the foreign language Oscar race is based on a popular book by Vladimir Stankovic.

Serbia’s entry in the foreign language Oscar race—Montevideo: Taste of a Dream—has a lot of crowd-pleasing elements.  Based on a true story of the Yugoslavian soccer team competing in the World Cup of 1930, it’s a rousing sports movie as well as a lush period romance.  Unfortunately, it’s also a little too antiseptic to advance very far in an Oscar competition that includes 63 films.  If there were an Oscar for the most attractive cast in a movie, however, this picture might have a better shot.  It’s easy on the eyes and undeniably entertaining, though too formulaic to stand out from the pack.

Based on a popular book by Vladimir Stankovic, the film reworks a familiar story of how a ragtag bunch of players—many of them bitter rivals—overcome their differences to form a team headed for the championship.  The narrator is a crippled orphan (engagingly played by Predrag Vasic), though we see plenty of things (including sexy bedroom romps) that he doesn’t witness.  The main characters are the rough-hewn working man Tirke (Milos Bikovic) and the more polished Mosha (Petar Strugar), who is initially suspicious of Tirke but comes to recognize his benefit to their struggling team.

The film aims to provide a panoramic look at life in the former Yugoslavia during this period between the wars.  The large cast of characters even includes the king of Yugoslavia, who is eager to see his country advance on the world stage.  While the actors assembled by director Dragan Bjelogrlic (a former actor himself) are accomplished, the film can’t do justice to all the characters.  For example, an Orthodox Jew is a member of the village elders, but the film doesn’t really offer much insight into how he integrated so easily at a time when anti-Semitism was on the rise in Europe.

Off the playing field, Tirke and Mosha engage in steamy love affairs.  Tirke feels an instant attraction to a newcomer to his village, Rosa (Danina Jeftic), though her family wants to match her up with Mosha.  For his part, Mosha is entranced by the more bohemian and aristocratic Valeria (Nina Jankovic), but he agrees to go out with Rosa.  As the men switch partners, the film labors to pump up the action with fairly artificial conflict in the bedroom as well as on the soccer field.  Ultimately each man ends up with the woman who was meant for him.

Although the contours of this romantic drama seem stock, the love scenes are painless to watch.  Both women are knockouts, and the men aren’t too shabby either.  The entire soccer team would look right at home in the pages of GQ or Details.  All performances are low-keyed and likable.  Bjelogrlic has crafted a visually seductive film in every respect.  The sepia-tinted cinematography is elegant, and the designers make the most of all the settings, from rural cottages to royal palaces.  However, Bjelogrlic is so in love with the rich period details that he lets the film drag on for almost two and a half hours.  Even though it’s flecked with humor, action, and sex appeal, it should have been edited far more tightly.  We wait and wait for the team to make it to Montevideo, which seems almost as elusive as Moscow in Chekhov’s The Three Sisters.  Luckily a sequel is in the works, when the characters may finally arrive in South America.

Production:  IntermediaNetwork
Cast:  Milos Bikovic, Petar Strugar, Danina Jeftic, Nina Jankovic, Predrag Vasic, Viktor Savic.
Director:  Dragan Bjelogrlic.
Screenwriters:  Srdjan Dragojevic, Ranko Bozic.
Based on the book by:  Vladimir Stankovic.
Producer:  Dejan Petrovic.
Executive producer:  Goran Bjelogrlic.
Director of photography:  Goran Volarevic.
Production designer:  Nemanja Petrovic.
Music:  Magnifico.
Costume designer:  Dragica Lausevic.
Editor:  Marko Glusac.
Sales:  Soul Food
No rating, 145 minutes.