“Like the old days were any better. Romanticization will kill you.”
Srdjan Dragojevic’s The Wounds (1998) is a carefully crafted, highly stylized, visceral portrayal of extreme nationalism and ethnic war within a nation. Before we see a single image, we begin to feel as if something apocalyptic or especially telling of an era of destruction is about to be given to us, from a particular point of view – this dedication opens our look into Serbia, 1991-1997: “This film dedicated to the post-Tito generations.” After the dedication, the first scenes we witness are from the year 1997. Pinki and his friend Kraut are established Serbian gangsters and Serbia itself is presented as pure chaos. Quick, montage-style cuts are made, along with the use of special camera techniques to give a sense of the confusion and heightened emotion of the time. As was brought up in class, this looks like a typical gangster film, comparable to the works of Scorsese in it’s stylization and dramatic cuts; there is a depressing, nihilistic, and utterly nonsensical (to some outside the Serbian nationalist culture) story to be told though the excesses and impulsive rhythm.
The film flashes back and forward in time to tell the story of Kraut and Pinki’s initiation into Dickie’s gang, but there is never a hint of nostalgia about the past, even the past of Tito. There is only what is happening now and how one can survive it. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the film is that gang life seems the only way to survive the present for both young men. Those who do not fight and fight physically, with guns instead of expert mental strategy or the use of money to buy power, do not, in many cases, survive. Such is the case with one of Pinki and Kraut’s rivals who tries to bribe them, but cannot escape the impulsive, trigger happy young men.
The type of gang violence we see in The Wounds is out of pride, machismo, and principle alone, rather than just wanting to be rich or famous – it is about power and superiority of one’s ethnic group. Even the pride involved with romantic rivalries is commented on as Kraut and Pinki grow jealous over one another when Lijdia shows them both sexual attention. Kraut kills Lijdia out of principle – because Pinki asks how she is, reminding him that she is stressing their loyalty to one another – and allows Pinki to give him the same five wounds that he previously inflicted on Pinki in a jealous rage over her attentions.
It was also pointed out that Kraut and Pinki appear to imitate American gangsters and that they are not believable “tough guys,” but rather, kids who are playing the role of gangster. I read this as a harsh reality of the particular situation Kraut and Pinki find themselves in as kids trying to make sense of the politics of their ethnically torn country and desiring to become legendary examples of Serbian superiority. They are not believable because they are role playing, and the scariest thing of all is that they do not allow themselves to think before killing. By making everything just another childish game (with guns) they may not have to face up to the reality of what their actions are doing to perpetuate violence and destruction – it is simply what they do, the killing, as if they know no other reality than this dark fantasy world where they are the main heroes.
What conclusions can we really draw from the fact that the film does seem to draw on a tradition established in Hollywood? And, does the film romanticize the life of the nationalistically charged gangster, though the message is clear that “romanticization will kill you?”
Nearly every character we are introduced to (with the exception of Pinki’s mother) has either been killed or killed themselves by the final scene of the film, in which we see the bodies of Kraut, Pinki, and their “Croatian” peer shot to death, lying close together as if looking into the sky. Their romanticization of the life of gangsters did literally kill them; they may have been trying to be heroes, or just trying to survive, but this ending clearly brings the point home that there is nothing romantic about the Serbian situation during this period. As for any connection to America, or Hollywood, perhaps a statement is being made about how America is viewed by other countries attempting to define themselves and struggling to unite, especially in the importance of commercialism and sense of pride that these men of Dragojevic’s film are dying for. And, if each different section of another nation models itself on romanticized ideals of what it means to have power and freedom as Americans do, without mending the tensions between each section first, than those leaders of the different gangs are only fantasizing about their groups reaching positions of control individually, rather than making an attempt to establish goals for the entire nation to meet together. Perhaps this type of tendency to prove the most powerful, however, is a sort of backlash created from years of “brotherhood and unity” (when the reality was anything but).