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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Tito' an Amusing, Wacky Farce

September 24, 1993|KENNETH TURAN | TIMES FILM CRITIC

The year is 1954. Josip Broz Tito is the unchallenged ruler of Yugoslavia, marshal, prime minister and president all in one. Zoran is a somber and phlegmatic 10-year-old boy whose idea of a good time is eating the plaster off the walls of his Belgrade apartment. Talk about your odd couples.

Zoran mimics the great man's gestures in newsreels and gets up in the middle of the night to ensure a good spot when the maximum leader parades by. The protagonist of writer-director Goran Markovic's slyly autobiographical "Tito and Me" even daydreams about Tito, who appears to the boy in visions whenever he is in trouble. Which is often.

Wacky, ironic and always light on its feet, "Tito and Me" (at the Monica 4-plex for a puny one-week run) turns out to be the surprise of the season, an engaging and amusing farce about the time when the maximum leader's fierce cult of personality kept his country together. One of the last films to be shot in a Yugoslavia that has since fallen apart, it also makes some quiet points about what made the good old days so bad.

"Tito" is narrated in clever voice-over by young Zoran (Dimitrie Vojnov), a moon-faced and melancholy Slavic version of the Pillsbury doughboy. Living with his ballerina mother and musician father in a small apartment shared with an aunt and uncle, grandmother and "my hideous cousin Svetlana," Zoran casts a droll eye over the never-ending foibles of grown-ups.

"Love is the most complicated thing in the world," he observes with deadpan seriousness of his parents' wranglings. "It causes a variety of insoluble problems for adults." No sooner does he say this, however, than Zoran himself falls in love, with a string-bean orphan named Jasna who is almost twice his height.

Desperate to accompany Jasna and other politically motivated youths on a two-week "March Around Tito's Homeland," Zoran throws himself into an essay contest on "Do You Love Marshall Tito and Why." To his parents' mixed pride and horror, his epic poem proclaiming "the grass sees Him when it grows, the swallows sing only for Him" wins the prize. So, wearing lederhosen and a Tyrolean hat, Zoran dutifully sets off on a trip for which the word misadventure is way too mild.

Director Markovic, none of whose eight previous films have had a theatrical release in this country, has a gift for this kind of comic satire, enlivening the proceedings with both a jaunty soundtrack (by Zoran Simjanovic) and lots of newsreel footage of the real Tito doing all kinds of nonsense from playing the drums in North Africa to tossing darts and talking to parrots.

Markovic also has the benefit of a cast, including former wife Anica Dobra as Zoran's mother and his own parents, Olivera and Rade Markovic, as the boy's grandparents, who perfectly understand the wry effects he is after.

Especially amusing as well are Lazar Ristovski as the zealous Comrade Raja, the leader of the trek, and Vesna Trivalic as Zoran's misty-eyed teacher. As for the unsmiling boy himself, non-professional Vojnov has such a natural comic dignity it is impossible to see him trudge purposefully through the indignities of his life without being charmed and charmed again. The best kind of personal filmmaking, "Tito and Me" is the final gentle grace note from a country that won't be smiling for some time to come.

'Tito and Me'

Dimitrie Vojnov: Zoran

Lazar Ristovski: Raja

Anica Dobra: Zoran's Mother

Predrag Manojlovic: Zoran's Father

A Tramonta, Ro Terra, Magda Productions production, released by Kino International Pictures. Director Goran Markovic. Producers Goran Markovic, Zoran Masirevic, Michel Mavros. Screenplay Goran Markovic. Cinematographer Racoslav Vladic. Editor Snezana Ivanovic. Costumes Boris Caksiran. Music Zoran Simjanovic. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Times-rated: Family.

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