Balkan temperaments, noir, and plenty of black humor get mixed to perfection in Dalibor Matanic's Fine Dead Girls (2002). Challenging traditional status quos while delivering a good dose of entertainment pic is sure to captivate the hearts of those wishing for the return of now-cult Serbian director Emir Kusturica. Named one of the best Croatian films from the last decade.
Iva (Olga Pakalovic) and Marija (Nina Violic), a lesbian couple looking for some peace, move into an attractive building in the Croatian capital Zagreb. The place looks quiet, the neighbors seem nice, and the rent isn't bad at all. But a few days later all hell breaks loose - Iva is raped, Marija must fight for her life, and the neighbors are up in arms confronting the lesbian disease.
For Western viewers unfamiliar with living conditions in the former Yugoslavian republics, now independent states, Fine Dead Girls will more than likely be hard to swallow. Filled with sarcastic jabs at the socio-political climate thriving in Croatia this film often blurs the line between comedy and drama in a manner even the most careful of viewers will struggle to decipher. There is something uniquely Balkan here as logic certainly appears in strange forms and shapes.
The main objective behind Fine Dead Girls is to effectively ridicule a mass Croatian mentality which is undoubtedly in harsh disagreement with most everything "normal" societies cherish. Sexual and ethnic intolerance is obviously the focal point here yet the story reaches much farther tackling politics and economics in an equally fascinating fashion. Not surprisingly, everything ends up being channeled to the viewer in an indescribably colorful, and at times quite surreal, mix of visuals. The effect - a rollercoaster of surprising scenes where humor and drama left this reviewer speechless.
Fine Dead Girls, however, is far from being a pure, dark-blooded, comedy. In fact, stripped from its Balkan-esque enhanced absurdism it is a seriously tragic film. The devaluation of most everything human seen here is alarming, a cause for concern. Fittingly, the finale is very strong allowing the viewer to effectively reexamine the deeply disturbing nature of the story while simultaneously avoiding unnecessary clichés and moralistic preaching.
Dalibor Matanic's eye for detail is impressive. The visual strength of Fine Dead Girls is indeed one of the main reasons why everything here blends perfectly. It is hard to imagine that the story alone would have created the same type of resonance if not for the director's ability to capture the wide range of emotions the main protagonists are seen struggling with. Tomislav Pavlic's superb editing is another reason why this film is so successful, it sustains a level of uncertainty which appears to be the only way to link the tragic with the hilarious.
How Does the DVD Look?
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and enhanced for widescreen TVs Fine Dead Girls appears to have been mastered from a PAL print and improperly converted to NTSC. As expected this has provided the R1 release with some notable "ghosting" and blurring. On the positive side the image is relatively detailed and I could not spot any overly disturbing amount of edge-enhancement. Colors are rather acceptable with blacks slightly lacking and a few occasional daylight scenes where I noticed that yellow was a bit problematic. Overall this R1 release is far from being an impressive effort but surely as far as tube viewing is concerned it is more than acceptable.
How Does the DVD Sound?
A Serbo-Croatian DD track is what we have here with imposed English subtitles. The audio presentation is acceptable with the dialog very easy to follow. I did not detect any disturbing hissing, pop-ups, or cracks.
Aside from the Global Lens promo trailer and a Showcase in text format highlighting notable releases there is nothing else to be found here.
Selected as Croatia's official Oscar entry in 2003 Fine Dead Girls is a strong film with a powerful message delivered in a most unconventional way. I am extremely pleased to see that it actually made it to North American shores. The video presentation could have been better but it is what it is. After all it is a small miracle that a Croatian film was released on DVD. I am thankful. Recommended.