There's nothing particularly subtle about the political observations in "Cirkus Columbia," but that's as it should be in this dark comedy set in 1991 Bosnia-Herzegovina, on the blinkered brink of war. If anything, the latest feature from Danis Tanovic ("No Man's Land") could have benefited from a more defined absurdist edge. Yet despite its wobbly tone and stumbles into implausible melodrama, the film succeeds as a study of realignments among friends and family, a gently cracked mirror held up to the insanity that would soon devastate the region.
After 20 years in Germany, Divka (weary-eyed Miki Manojlovic of "Irina Palm") makes an ostentatious return to his newly post-communist village. He arrives in a humongous Mercedes, with Deutsche Marks to burn, a lovely young fiancée (Jelena Stupljanin) and a beloved cat who's his favorite conversational partner. The cat's disappearance provides new opportunity for him to show off his wealth, in the form of a proffered reward, but not before he has his long-suffering wife (Mira Furlan) and draft-age son (Boris Ler) evicted from the family home.
The jabs at capitalism hit the mark. Divka takes possession of the house and, without skipping a beat, helps himself to the dinner that's simmering on the stove. Glimpses of rising nationalism register in a lower, more ominous key: A military officer dons the Serbian insignia, villagers murmur about Croatia's secession. Hope and dread arise simultaneously, if not with equal urgency; for many of the characters, the upheaval that awaits them is beyond imagining.
"Cirkus Columbia." No MPAA rating; in Bosnian with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hours, 53 minutes. At Laemmle's Music Hall 3, Beverly Hills.