Promise Me This



CANNES -- Although Emir Kusturica's seventh feature, "Promise Me This," can best be described as a boisterous adventure comedy, it doesn't really satisfy in terms of thrills or laughs. The Bosnian-born director runs through his usual box of magic tricks in this In Competition feature, but inspiration is missing and the movie will trade, if it trades at all, on Kusturica's name. Its prospects outside Europe and the festival circuit are slim indeed.

In a tiny hamlet high in the hills of Serbia, the young orphan Tsane (Uros Milovanovic) is made to promise by his grandfather (Aleksandar Bercek) that he will take their cow Cvetka to the nearest town and sell her, buy a religious icon with the proceeds, then find a bride in order that he can marry before his grandfather dies. The third inhabitant of the hamlet, buxom schoolteacher Bosa (Ljiljana Blagojevic), meanwhile, is receiving the unwelcome amorous attentions of a government inspector.

Cvetka is promptly stolen from Tsane by local hoodlum Bajo (Miki Manojlovic) and his goons, but Tsane succeeds in recovering her with the aid of Topuz (Stribor Kusturica) and Runjo (Vladan Milojevic), the little-and-large grandsons of Grandpa's old shoemaker chum Trifun. Having fulfilled the first two parts of his promise, Tsane sets his sights on the shapely Jasna (Marija Petronijevic) and immediately strikes up a rapport. But there are further un-pleasant surprises in store.

Bajo, who has grandiose plans to rebuild the World Trade Center in the Serbian countryside, also runs a brothel/strip joint in which Jasna's mother, Gica (Kosanka Djekic), works part time. Bajo inducts Jasna into this club and prepares to sell her into the white slave trade (with Gica's consent, since she owes him money).

Tsane and his resourceful friends come to the rescue in a series of raids, stratagems and cartoon gunfights in which no one is really hurt let alone dies. The action makes its way back to the village where, far from being at the point of death, Grandpa prepares to marry Bosa. Further mayhem ensues, rounded off by an inevitable happy ending.

With a relentlessly jaunty score and visual gags and pratfalls occurring at a rate of one a minute, the movie is presumably intended as a lighthearted, life-affirming romp. The characters are unfailingly colorful, and there are numerous Heath Robinson contraptions involving levers, mirrors, trapdoors, ropes and pulleys, one of the latter being an alarm-clock device that hurtles Grandpa through a window. As ever with Kusturica, people tend to defy gravity: A man is pumped full of air and floats to the ceiling. A human cannonball makes periodic appearances for no obvious reason.

While much of the comedy may be acceptable to young children, it's not at all clear to whom the movie is directed. The decision to make Tsane a 12-year-old suggests a pitch for youthful audiences. On the other hand, the language used by Bajo and his henchmen is reminiscent of a Scorsese movie. (A sequence from "Taxi Driver" is briefly glimpsed on television.) An apparent sex romp between Tsane and Jasna in the trunk of the car taking them back to the village will be seen by many as a serious failure of judgment.

The picture-postcard setting is faultlessly captured in Milorad Glusica's cinematography, and the action never flags. The overall impression left by "Promise Me This" is that of a director functioning on autopilot while waiting for a more challenging project to come along.

Rasta International, Fidelite Films, France 2 Cinema
Director: Emir Kusturica
Screenwriters: Emir Kusturica, Ranko Bozic
Based on a story by: Rade Markovic
Producers: Emir Kusturica, Maja Kusturica, Olivier Delbosc, Marc Missonnier
Director of photography: Milorad Glusica
Production designer: Radovan Markovic
Music: Stribor Kusturica
Editor: Svetolic Mica Zajc
Jasna: Marija Petronijevic
Tsane: Uros Milovanovic
Bosa: Ljiljana Blagojevic
Grandpa: Aleksandar Bercek
Jasna's Mother: Kosanka Djekic
Bajo: Miki Manojlovic
Topuz: Stribor Kusturica
Runjo: Vladan Milojevic
Running time -- 126 minutes
No MPAA rating