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Marshaling All His Forces to Make 'Tito and Me' : Movies: Director Goran Markovic draws on his own life for this comic turn about events in the former Yugoslavia--and films it while a civil war rages about him.


NEW YORK — You're a filmmaker from what used to be Yugoslavia. Who still considers himself Yugoslavian. And you've made one of the funnier films of the year. Well, the irony isn't lost on Goran Markovic.

"It's my style, you know," the director said, with a hint of apology, not that his "Tito and Me"--which opens in Los Angeles today--requires any. "I like the combination of the serious and the comic. Always, I find in the comic aspects of serious things, and in comic situations serious points."

Between bites of bagel in a New York deli, Markovic, 47, who is a Serb and has been one of the leading figures in Yugoslavian cinema since the mid-'70s, predicted the rejection of the latest U.N. proposal for peace in his country (it was, it turned out, one of those moments when someone hates to be right) and discussed his reasons for using Josip Broz Tito--who ruled Yugoslavia from the mid-'40s till his death in 1980--as the focus of his politically caustic, but gently human, comedy.

"Tito's was the era of the big lie, and happiness," he said. "He kept the balance between East and West, and he brought in money, and he gave some of this money, not too much, to the people. Nobody wanted for too much.

"Now, we have the truth, and everyone is totally unhappy. In Yugoslavia, the Serbs and the Muslims, they're the same people, with the same language, same faces. Religion is the only difference. And religion was forbidden, if not officially then practically, under Tito. All the negative energy was present, but with his power he kept the nation together. And after Tito's death, this energy was released."

Markovic comes from a long line of artists; his parents, Rade and Olivera Markovic, are actors, and play the title character's grandparents in the film.

"The communists are always antagonistic to their middle class," he said, "because of their system of values. And because my family was always irregular, my family was always on the defensive."

" 'Tito and Me,' " he says, is "my story. When I was a kid, I won some stupid prize and went on some kind of a march." Did he say he loved Tito more than his parents? "No, no, I was just an opportunist. I wanted good grades."

Born in Belgrade in 1946, Markovic studied from 1965-1970 at the Prague Film School (FAMU), and became one of the founders of the Prague Film Group, to which his fellow countryman Emir Kusturica ("When Father Was Away on Business") also belonged. Upon his return home, he worked primarily as a television documentarian.

History seems to have had it in for Markovic, however, and the rest of his generation. In 1972, when the young director might have launched a serious film career, Tito purged "liberal forces" in Yugoslavia, and upended the country's art world in the process. Filmmakers left the country or were jailed, books were banned, artists lost teaching posts and film became just another part of the propaganda machine. After Tito's death, a "new wave" of Yugoslav cinema arose, but subsequently suffered in the wake of the nation's, and world's, dire economic woes. Ironically, Markovic says, you can get away with a lot now, "because they're too busy to worry about you." But again, there's very little money.

"Tito and Me," which had French financing, began shooting four days after the civil war began in 1991. Scenes that were supposed to take place in Croatia couldn't, of course, so Croatia was re-created in Serbia. The "March Around Tito's Homeland" sequence was filmed, with the children, while a battle raged 25 miles away in Bukova, which was completely destroyed.

Markovic said he wrestled not only with the logistical questions, but with the moral questions--should a film be made in the middle of a war, for instance. Ultimately, the film got made so he could escape the war.

"I had a very dramatic moment," Markovic said, "when I had to decide to shoot or not to shoot. Finally, I decided to shoot, because I had to get away from this atmosphere, this oppression and militancy. And every man in my crew was for shooting. And it was good for us."

But, the director added, "I did it for myself. For my soul."

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