REVIEW: BREAD AND CIRCUSES (BRADFORD FILM FESTIVAL)
It is pretty impressive that Bread and Circuses landed four prizes at the Slovenian national film festival when it is only Klemen Dvornik’s second feature and a film scripted by a team of relatively new writers.
Accompanied by short, The White Mosquito, Bread and Circuses clearly is of greater appeal for Slovenian audiences. The White Mosquito amusingly plays out two provincial policeman’s ill-advised plan to introduce the deadly white mosquito into the local area to protect the town’s lake from property investors. Bread and Circuses, on the other hand, focuses on a family’s experience in the build-up to a live game show recording.
Dvornik quickly introduces his Slovenian “everyman” family by accompanying the title font with a factory worker driving a fork lift. A voice-over swiftly tells us: “There’d be no great people without the common folk just as the chameleon needs his background.” The source of this ground-breaking information is TV factory worker, Josip (Peter Musevski).
Having worked for the factory for thirty years, Josip is given a new colour television to celebrate his loyal service. Testing out the TV, the family discover their application to appear on a popular quiz has been accepted. Josip and his son, Simon (Jurij Drevensek), are far from impressed but the females in the family are smug their secret entry paid off and are keen to be in the limelight. They’re soon off to film the carnival episode in Ljubljana where they become the “Novaks from Titovo Velenje”.
Bread and Circuses is set in the late 80s and remains in the shadow of the county’s communist past with characters referring to each other as “comrades”. Family poverty is explored through Josip’s desire to sell his new colour TV and constant quite obvious hinters that the “bread” of the title refers to “making a living”. Even the smarmy game-show host, Jos Bauer (Jonas Znidarsic), is shown buying black market goods from smuggler, Boris. Although a celebrity, Jos’ life is far from peachy as he struggles with his own family problems money can’t fix. Fashions and out-dated recording equipment constantly remind us we’re back in the 80s – a time when TV remotes were a novelty and Skodas were rife.
The Novaks are reminiscent of the Griswold family and although equally disastrous, are much more down-to-earth. Early scenes show a strong family unit watching TV together and occupying long car journeys with forced sing songs. Simon seems rather old to be playing with toy rockets and threatening to wet himself but perhaps that’s what teenagers verging on adulthood did back in the 80s?
Subtitle translations are a little odd at times but avoid obscuring the film’s cutesy family bonding message. Tomo’s barbers is the scene of the film’s most inspirational conversation while Jos and Simon’s toilet interactions are the most amusing.
In keeping with comical 80s road movies, Dvornik invents a series of absurd situations for his contemporary Griswolds to worm their way out of. Their drive to Ljubljana begins badly when the local police assume they must be armed robbers merely because they’re wearing animal masks. Later, Jos crashes into their car, mummy Novak misreads Jos’ signals, a cat versus rooster fight ensues…
In the style of an unfunny farce, everything imaginable goes wrong for the Novaks before Bread And Circuses comes to an abrupt end. A bizarre Shakespearean tea-selling sub-plot and multiple misunderstandings combine to create an unremarkable but likable film, unfortunately lacking Shakespeare’s humorous and clever word play.
Review by Leo Owen