‘Cowboys’ is an oddball absurdist Croatian comedy that was such a hit at home it became the country’s official submission for an Academy Award Best Foreign Picture Nomination last year. It didn’t win anything but it did at least show the world what extraordinary filmmakers they are, and what a glorious bizarre sense of humor they have that is a sheer treat.
Saša, a famous stage director suffering with cancer, returns to his small depressing industrial hometown where he is immediately press-ganged into putting on an amateur show for the culturally starved townsfolk. Only five eccentric and most unlikely people turn up for the auditions, and so by sheer default that become what Saša aptly calls his ‘idiots’. They include a silent deeply closeted gay man, an overly keen mama’s boy/postal worker, a street vendor trying to avoid the loan sharks who want their money repaid and a young woman who speaks in a language that none of them understand. None of them have ever acted before in their lives.
When Saša tries to comb this unkempt and illiterate group for inspiration as to what they should perform he draws a blank as none of them have any cultural references at all. The only thing that they seem to be able to relate too are cowboys, so Saša resolves to mount a musical western. He bravely ensures that the production is more than a touch avant-garde having his limited cast playing all the human parts and the animals too.
As the rehearsals get underway each of the crew seems to have either a major personal problem or just simply cold-feet so Saša has them all sing out a chant about not accepting ‘I can’t’ under any circumstances. He meanwhile is battling the return of his cancer which may limit him physically and give him a valid reason to lose his rag occasionally, but doesn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the project.
The movie written by Saša Anonic, who also stars as Saša too, is based on his own very successful stage play and has its fair share of local jokes which get somewhat lost in translation and account for the fact that at 108 minutes is at least a half an hour too long. Having said that there is a delightful soundtrack of cowboy songs, and the rather wonderful uplifting ending, albeit tinged with sadness, is well worth the wait.
If this outlandish black comedy is atypical of Croatian cinema, then it is definitely a genre the world needs to see more. It is something of an acquired taste but if you like somewhat ludicrous oddball movies, then it’s a taste you will want to experience.