Monday, September 5, 2011

Karaula: Borders of Action and Imagination

It is the uneasy calm before the bloody Wars of Yugoslavian Succession, and a group of young soldiers stationed on the border between Yugoslavia and Albania are battling lust, boredom, racism and authority in the 2006 Rajko Grlic film, Karaula.

Karaula is a snapshot of a time and place where racial tensions are obvious but the impending disaster is not; characters symbolize various aspects of Yugoslavian society and not a detail is out of place. It injects humor with its use of profanity and portrayal of youthful boredom, but audiences imbued with hindsight know what lies ahead. We begin with a summary of the film, then discuss the off-screen and more technical details before we proceed to the analysis each of the four main characters, and finally evaluate the film’s merits as an agent of political socialization.

The year is 1987, and the movie starts off with Sinisa Siriscevic (Toni Gujanovic) and Ljuba Pauvonic (Sergej Trifunovic) in all their youthful brazenness. Paunovic engages in casual sexual intercourse with an attractive barmaid then monologues about Sinisa's own pursuits of the night, before both men jump naked into Macedonia’s picturesque Lake Ohrid. The introduction reveals their attitude towards their duty as soldiers assigned to the border post, which is to coyly ask, "What duty?"

Only the perpetually drunk Lieutenant Porucnic Safet Pasic (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic) seems to take the job seriously – for more reasons than just allegiance to the Yugoslavian flag. He tells the soldiers that Albanian troops are lining up, and that no one is allowed to leave the border post. And this is only because of his syphilis – he cannot go home to his wife Mirjana (Verica Nedeska-Trajkova) with the disease. The Lieutenant’s directive changes many things. Sinisa has to regularly leave the post to get the Pennicilin and deliver the Lieutenant's messages and salary to Mirjana, while Ljuba slowly but very surely disrupts the devil-may-care lives of the soldiers.

Sinisa and Mirjana become sexual partners; we are not sure if they are anything else. Mirjana asks him to take her to the sea, and he promises that he will. The young soldier does not consider this a commitment, although it is evident that Mirjana does. Ljuba, in his desire to leave the border post, tells Lieutenant Pasic that he wants to walk to the grave of Josip Broz Tito in Dedinje, Belgrade, a journey of about six hundred kilometers. Despite Lieutenant Pasic’s better judgment he was allowed to appear in front of the Colonel to declare his advocacy. Ljuba pretends to have a breakdown and accuses the Lieutenant of forcing him to undertake the pilgrimage; the Colonel does not take this lightly and promises Lieutenant Pasic that he will “never move from that mountain.”

The story reaches its inevitable ugly end when Ljuba returns to the border post and he and the Lieutenant clash in the rainy night. In the confusion someone shouts “Albanians!” Panic ensues, and with tensions already running high at the border post, a soldier opens fire at an oncoming car, reminiscent of a scene in Waltz With Bashir. The car contained, as the audience knows full well, not Albanian terrorists but Mirjana, Yugoslavian soldiers, and the Colonel. Mirjana dies; the film ends with Sinisa in civilian clothing, looking forlorn onboard a steam train, his destination left to the audience’s imagination.

Perhaps the most interesting off-screen fact about this movie is that it is a collaborative effort among Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Hungary, the UK, and Austria, and was supported by the Council of Europe’s co-production support fund, Eurimages. This is the first time that the former Yugoslav countries collaborated on a film, and what else should it but a military comedy about the period before the Wars of Yugoslavian Succession, dark years with some of the worst human rights violations in human history. It is amazing how they decided to make not a full-blown Schindler’s List but instead a comedy superimposed over the heavy themes of racism, infidelity, loyalty, authority, and consequences, set before their country broke down.

The style of the director is familiar. As in Die Ehe Der Maria Braun, we glimpse the zeitgeist through the news reports we overhear. We know that Slovenians are mobilizing, that there are riots in Kosovo, and that a Youth Relay Baton is on a pilgrimage to Tito’s grave. The busy town is juxtaposed against the lonely border post, the intimate encounters between Sinisa and Mirjana is juxtaposed against the conquests of Paunovic and the crude references to sex made by the soldiers. The change in Ohrid, from warm and sunny to rainy and gray signifies that things are about to turn for the worse. There are many other devices that are used in the film, and notable among them is the use of sound. The long low alarm at the border means alertness and impending crucial events, the Yugoslavian pop songs that Ljuba and Sinisa listen to seem to be youthful and carefree, but the lyrics say otherwise. Even the song played at the bar before the vertiginous slide into disaster relates all too clearly to the story. Every detail is relevant.

Interestingly, the movie opens with Sinisa’s eye. We see through his eye the explosion in a lake which looks suspiciously like a mushroom cloud. It closes with Mirjana’s eye; her dark pupil becomes the tunnel from which the train carrying Sinisa emerges.

The negotiation of identity within the context of racial tensions is the most obvious theme of the film. Everybody seems to know where everybody comes from: Sinisa is the Dalmatian Boy, Paunovic is the “Belgrade idiot,” Lieutenant Pasic is the “stupid Bosnian,” the Colonel smiles at a Montenegrin leader on television, and a soldier remarks, “The Slovenians are breaking up the country.” Nations, as Professor Benedict Anderson would have it, are imagined communities. And in Karaula, thrown together by the charismatic Tito’s national project, the different nations are all too painfully aware of their imagined differences.

For most of the film Sinisa wears a pleasantly befuddled expression, as if he found surprise in both everything and nothing. He treats life lightly, and does not seem to care for ethnicities and races, but he is the one who oversteps his boundaries the most.

The only woman who plays a significant role in the story, Mirjana is a die-cut tragedy. Referred to as an “officer’s wife,” she is intelligent but depressed, and desperate. “It’s so stupid to be a woman. Everything leads to goddamned marriage. Before you learn how to walk they already start putting together bed linen and towels for your dowry.” She complains of her fate but accepts it, that is, until Sinisa comes along. Desperate for escape she latches on to him, puts all her faith in him who never committed to her, and through a series of unfortunate circumstances meets her demise. Her desperation is heartbreaking, perhaps symbolizing what “officer’s wives” go through all over the world. Is her infidelity only truly what meets the eye?

Ljuba is the most conflicted character, but the source of his rather bipolar tendencies seems to be because of his relationship with authority and frustration about his current situation. His actions only seem to make sense when evaluated within the framework of anarchy. He comes across as carefree but he is the most observant of them all.

As mentioned, Karaula is classified as a military comedy. Most of the truly comedic scenes involve Lieutenant Pasic and his drunken antics, from cursing when he is given Penicillin shots to standing at rapt attention even when talking to officials on the telephone. But Pasic is important in that he is tasked to keep together the motley crew of soldiers from different and often conflicting ethnic backgrounds. In this microcosm of Yugoslavia he is the authority figure – albeit a blundering and unconvincing one. He fabricates a story to unite the soldiers, to his own end of course, but he fails in the sense that he unites them in paranoia and ultimately and unwittingly turns them against each other. He symbolizes the incapable elite who contribute to the breakdown.

It should be emphasized that there is a very important character that never actually appears in the film. Present only through the countless mentions of his name and yet all too important is the former Yugoslav “President for Life,” Josip Broz Tito. The text at the beginning introduces us to a world that he shaped, and one that we already know collapsed only a decade after his death. This tells us that the memory of a dead leader is not enough to hold together a country, no matter how much they reaffirm his contributions and honor his life’s work. Identity evolves.

The greatest tragedy in the film is the death of Mirjana and several Yugoslavian soldiers, but not from the Albanian “enemies” they so feared. The soldiers stationed at the border post were the ones who fired, thinking the oncoming jeep contained Albanians. Thus the breakdown comes from within, a blatant reference to what the Wars of Yugoslavian Succession were all about.

As an agent of political socialization, Karaula requires some knowledge of the history of the Balkan States and of Balkanization in order to be effective. Many of the important points are subtle ones, hidden in the profanity and the entertaining playful banter. The film has a lot to say on the issue of nationalism, identity, loyalty, and the national project and should not be taken at face value.

In the end, Sinisa does not betray Ljuba even when he knows that Lieutenant Pasic is mortally injured because of him. They are bound by shared experiences, and that is where loyalty truly lies. The film is also a cautionary tale: there are so many things that can go wrong in creating a nation, and it is not only the means which shape the ends but the objectives which underlie them. Karaula provokes us to evaluate where we are as a people and as a nation, where we want to go, and how we plan to get there – three questions that are becoming increasingly important in a digital age where new borders are being built up and old ones are being broken down much faster than we can even begin to imagine.


Grlic, R. (Director). (2006). Karaula [Motion Picture]. Republic of Macedonia: Refresh Production, Vertigo/Emotionfilm, Sektor Film Skopje, Propeler Film, Yodi Movie Craftsman, Film and Music Entertainment, Concordia Film, Invicta Capital, Macedonian National Television (MTV), Novotny & Novotny Filmproduktion GmbH, Pioneer Pictures, RTV Bosnia-Herzegovina, Studios, Viba Film.

Karaula. (n.d.) Retrieved 4 September 2011, from

- Roseanne Ramirez


Liane Candelario said...

[Part I]
I felt that the message contained within Karaula wasn’t hinged on the military setting of the film. Recall those border patrol soldiers, strip them of their uniforms (I mean this figuratively of course) and you’ll see people far from the stereotype of military men and more reminiscent of ordinary civilians. These are men who likes to listen to radio music, lounges at hillsides whenever they can, smuggles booze in (or smuggle themselves out for it), and fornicates as they please. Frankly speaking, it was a poor representation of what military men ought to be.

I get the fact that it’s a military comedy, and that alone might explain why those men have acted loosely under their oath of responsibility and chain of command. My only problem is that in doing so, the film has sacrificed a great degree of believability. For example, I don’t believe that under such strict enforced socialist society would any foot soldier be capable of dismantling the letters of the highly revered Josip Broz Tito and rearrange it to something that means “electric orgasm”. I may not be that familiar with the socialist military, but I know that something of that act could have easily led to a direct gunshot in the head under a fascist military.

Taking that issue aside, I did enjoy the divergence of Karaula from the typical film set in war-threatened zones. With the absence of ghastly violence and gore scenes that usually plagues this genre, there’s a big space left to explore things that normally are overshadowed but nonetheless have proven to be equally important. It was a bit refreshing to see soldiers that are not walking around overly glorifying the war and are in fact, afraid of the impending Albanian threat on their borders. Or the fact that superior officers are not all the time, well, superior in their character. What we see here are soldiers partaking the war for an unexplained reason other than perhaps the vague returns promised by the ‘national project’. It’s a disillusioned one if it does exist, and there are hints that even the characters of the story are well aware of this.

I do agree with Ms. Ramirez when she mentioned about Pasic’s role as a unifying persona who generally speaking, failed in his attempts. I’ve seen him as such too. Like the Yugoslavian motive for it’s national project, the reasons for doing such have been fabricated too by vague ideologies much like Pasic’s syphilis and reasoning out that Albanians are ‘most likely to attack soon’ and hence they must be unified in securing the borders in order to secure the greater Yugoslavia.

therese said...

Part 1

Without any background on the political context of the film, one can already evaluate Rajko Grlic’s Karaula as a film of high entertainment value. It’s more than an effective comedy, with its sharp script and its well-textured plot, plus an ending that is almost literally explosive. The juxtapositions in the film, as Miss Ramirez mentions, are indeed notable, particularly the ending, which was powerful because it was a 360-degree turn from the light-hearted, youthful banter to the gravity of duty, violence, and death.

Of course, with its political context, Karaula becomes, interestingly, more than a highly entertaining military comedy – it becomes a provocative statement (or a question?) particularly on nationalism and identity. The contrasts and ironies in the film work their magic even in presenting these themes; indeed, it is through these that the themes are brought out. Very striking in this film is the gap between the ideal and the real, and it works in particularly well in this film because it depicts an institution (the military) with which the audience is highly familiar, and is thus familiar with its protocols and the ideals it follows.

And so, "what duty?" is indeed a question to ask, but let us dig deeper. The film makes a show of the Lieutenant Pasic forcing on the soldiers the ideals of brotherhood and unity, which never really took form, except perhaps between Paunovic and Sinisa. The soldiers treated their superior as something of a farce when his back is turned, with Sinisa providing the ultimate example by having an intimate relationship with Mirjana, the Lieutenant's wife. The soldiers bicker and fight over the pettiest things, and when told that duty calls and they suddenly had to stay to defend the Yogoslavian flag, they complained like schoolboys denied of their summer vacation. It can be argued that none of them really believed in the context of their duty, which is supposedly the integrity of the Yugoslavian nation.

Margaret Gallardo said...

Part I

The 2006 film Karaula, also known as The Border Post, which was written and directed by Rajko Grlc, failed to be realistic. The film employed certain elements that made it, more or less, unbelievable. First and foremost, the soldiers did not act like soldiers at all. The film opens with Sinisa Siriscevic and Ljuba Pauvonic lazing around. This act of theirs would convey the message to the audience that they do not take their jobs seriously. Lieutenant Porucnic Safet Pasic was, supposedly, a soldier of high ranking in the military. That position alone should have guaranteed his professionalism. A high-ranking military officer is, more often than not, perceived as someone who follows protocol and works for a higher body with a greater purpose: to serve the people. Everything is ideal until he starts a war. A war in the sense that he raises a false flag and informs his troops that they are in imminent attack from the Albanian army and they need to guard their posts for another three weeks. He does this to divert their attention from his personal problems: infidelity and, consequently, syphilis. How is that even possible? How could a trained officer of the very institution that promises safety, security and protection put other people’s lives in jeopardy?

A lot of questions come to mind during the screening of the film. Several of which have something to do with the nature and purpose of the film. How is Karaula a military comedy? Is it supposed to make fun of the military as a structure or as an agent? Is it a satire? Even with the presence of media, such as the television and radio sets, the soldiers could not seem to grasp the current situation: the Albanians were not re-grouping and they were, therefore, not under attack. It looks as though the army (If they even deserve to be called that) was making up for their lack of brains in brawn by digging ditches, cleaning the camp, etc.

As Ms. Ramirez has pointed out in her entry, Karaula was directed with such familiarity. Karaula is reminiscent of The Marriage of Maria Braun (Die Ehe Der Maria Braun) directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Snippets of the “outside world” are shown throughout the entire duration of the film be it through the television or, as was most visible in the film, through the radio. The outside noises juxtaposed the inside noise of the film. On a shallow note, the outside noises could refer to the occurrences in Yugoslavia and the soldiers’ actions could pertain to the latter. On a deeper note, the outside noises could refer to the soldier, as an individual, and the complications of his everyday life. This inner noise seems to be the focus of the film as several main characters undergo severe internal struggles. “The viewer can focus on the plot, but still be fully aware of the outside influences and situation.” (Schott, 2001) Light plays an important role in the film just like it did in The Marriage of Maria Braun. Although light was used to highlight the transition of Maria and of Germany to the pinnacle of success, it did the opposite for the characters of Karaula.

therese said...

Part 2

With this, the film supposedly provides some insight on the status of Yugoslavia right before its breakdown in 1990. Was it really because the national project was weak? Years after Josip Broz Tito’s death, what held the soldiers in common and defined them as a nation was their position as anti-Albanian. To begin with, defining oneself in terms of what one is not, in my personal opinion, is not exactly a very good way of putting together one’s identity, because there is nothing solid or concrete with which that identity is filled – just some sort of outline or shell that separates one from the rest. It’s going to most likely be empty on the inside. But matters are even worse for these Yugoslavians, because what they’re defining themselves against doesn’t even exist in the corporeal sense. Throughout the film the discerning viewer has at the very least an inkling that this is merely a convenient figment of the Lieutenant's imagination; obviously he had his own agenda. Yet taking him as the symbol of the state which implements the national project, we seem to be putting too much focus on how a national project is a mere imposition of the elite or some other authoritative body, for the purpose of, say, political stability.

Yet, is the Yugoslavian experience a simple case of a weak imposition of the national project? It is interesting to note that as much as the national project is weak, the separate ethnic identities in this country were strong - too strong, I daresay. Miss Ramirez rightly illustrates how the labelling of the characters is so casual in the film, as though ethnicity is a characteristic that has always been there and always will be. With this I put forth that the film also provides a viewpoint that is almost the other way around. As the identity of one becomes more defined, one becomes more separated from the rest; i.e. there is now the self and the other(s). In many ways, that is how a human being is wired - the desire to be distinct, to be separate, to be an individual in the most basic sense of the word, because we all have our own pursuits. In the same way all these ethnic groups have their own interests. From this standpoint, those “imagined differences” are as much created need as the national project.

Clearly, there is a catch. When we define identity, and thus distinguish ourselves as separate from the rest, there is also the tendency to neglect that fundamentally, by virtue of our humanity, we are not so different from the other in the first place. In the film the late realization comes as a blow. It was that very same sense of identity that killed Mirjana and the rest of the passengers in that car. Much like what “killed” Yugoslavia, in a sense.

-- Therese Buergo

Margaret Gallardo said...

Part II

“Life on the border is dangerous and hard.” Generally speaking, a border is a line, either constructed or imaginary, which separates two or more geographical or political areas to signify territory. Sinisa, Ljuba, Pasic, Mirjana, and all the other characters had their own identities. There was no collective identity which is contrary to what is expected of a country. The border is symbolic for the obvious division of and within the Yugoslavian army. In contrast to the idea of borders, Josip Broz Tito’s presence, albeit not physically, brought about significant unity among the people. People identified themselves with Tito and his ideals despite his death several years before.

Women in the 1980s, portrayed through the Lieutenant’s wife, were depicted as always ready to conform to the authority or will of others. Women fell into the typical stereotype of not playing a significant role whatsoever. Initially, Mirjana was introduced as meek, submissive, pessimistic and someone who easily resigns her fate without question. It was only in the latter part, specifically during the affair, when she started building character. In my opinion, it is unfortunate that the film did not allow her character to blossom as her demise was as swift as a bullet. Women’s underwear was given uncanny importance in the film. One can only hypothesize as to why men are drawn to them. Keeping women’s underwear could mean proof of conquest. In this sense, women were objectified.

An individual’s nationality is salient in Karaula as their status determined which group they belong to. Their nationality is their basic unit of identity. It is what makes them distinct. Basically, what is and what is not. Nationality was used as an allegory for the different countries that contributed to the success not just of the film, but also of Yugoslavia itself. In what can only be termed a series of unfortunate events, we are left with numerous questions and deaths. One salient concept that remains very much alive throughout the film is the fact of being: identity.

Liane Candelario said...

[part II]
They’re all inventing nationality without realizing that true nationality should be better kept under a more organic or culturally-binding formation (at least in my opinion). And the repercussions at the end are seen with their origins being used as their namesake. In the end they are all left to be grappling with their very identity and have severed their ties seeing that their commonality is nothing but their shared antagonism against the Albanian troops.

The finale was a literal tragedy- that we have seen the military vehicle being punctured several times by their fellow comrades’ bullets. But I think this ending holds a great symbolism in itself. Yugoslavian’s are in grave danger not because Albanians might attack soon, but because they cannot even distinguish among themselves to know where or where not to launch their very bullets.#

Bulawi said...

Beyond the seemingly difficult names to understand, the profane words, sick humor, and naked bodies scattered in the film lies the beginning of the creation of the arena that started a bloody and bitter civil war that tore apart Yugoslavia to what it is now. Set in a time where the time was almost ripe for a bloody war, the film centered upon the lives of a detachment of soldiers stationed on the border between Yugoslavia and Albania. The film weaves a tale of confrontations, consequences and tragedy that were set in motion by the film’s characters in a setting akin to withering society on the brink of war. Here we find Sinisa diagnosing his platoon leader with syphilis which, in effect, sets the wheels of the film in motion, ultimately closing in a tragic end.

What I particularly liked was the film’s used of comedy and humor as some sort of balance against the gravity of the context of a brewing war which stripped people of their humanity. However, inasmuch as I enjoyed the film’s comedic appeal, the scenes that I considered funny were the ones that, in one way or another, led to the film’s tragic ending, as such is the case with Ljuba when he asked for Pasic’s permission to walk all the way to Tito’s grave in commemoration of his birthday, under the influence of hashish. This leads to a series of events which allowed Ljuba to finally leave the post and appear in the presence of the Colonel where he breaks down in a rather amusing way. This in turn leads to Ljuba’s return to the border post where he and Pasic engage in a brawl where the latter was ultimately beaten to death by the former. In fact what set this chain of events in motion, was also a bit humorous, was the discovery of Pasic being afflicted with syphilis in which he prohibited everyone to leave the post for three weeks, which was also the time needed for his syphilis to be cured, under the guise of defending the country against the Albanians. Minus the film’s comedic appeal, the film would, I think, be akin to Un Prophete, where man is stripped down to a shallow individual concerned only with his material needs. In the end, as a result of some miscommunication and paranoia on the part of the soldiers defending the border post, the Colonel, Mirjana and another unit of soldiers were gunned down by heavy fire from the fearful and confused soldiers having mistaken them for a regiment of Albanian soldiers.

All in all, the film signified the diversity of the Yugoslavian public and how they treated outsiders as a common enemy, with them being thrust in the onset of a brewing civil war. It also featured the Yugoslavian’s devotion to their former leader Tito, with the display of silences every so often in respect to his memory, and with people, as with the shoemaker, willing to walk all the way to his grave in commemoration of his birthday. Inasmuch as the film is a humorous display of Yugoslavian society and military, it still tells a deeper story, one of loyalty, friendship and the causality of one’s actions.


Franco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Franco said...

Evidently, from the film Karaula, from the main entry, from the current comments and, of course, geographically, we all come from the common fact that Yugoslavia is multicultural – a hodgepodge of the several constituent republics: Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Slovenia and Serbia. But that can immediately lead as to the two rhetorical questions: How does that affect the integrity of Yugoslavia as a nation? And how does it negotiate its multiculturalism?

I agree with what Ms. Ramirez has brought up about the concept of a nation and imagined communities. The juxtaposition of several nations – or objectively, cultural entities – with a failing amalgamating figure makes us think twice about what really are the boundaries of a huge “community” such as Yugoslavia. It then provokes us with more questions, not that the questions are mind boggling, really, but because we Filipinos are not alien to multiculturalism: Culturally, can these “Yugoslavs” be bounded by a unifying figure (as it was 7 years ago)? Politically, would these people regard themselves as a natural political community or could they at least develop civic consciousness? And psychologically, have/could these people develop a shared affection or attachment to the multicultural Yugoslavia, like say, patriotism or nationalism? The Yugoslav soldiers in the film failed in these three questions (is it forgivable since the film is a comedy?).

These things can further lead us to thinking which kind of nationalism would be “more appropriate” in this facet of reality—a choice between cultural nationalism and political nationalism. Of course cultural nationalism is grounded on the idea that a nation is essentially a cultural identity, where the nation leads to the formation of a state. But political nationalism tells otherwise: the idea of the state creates the nation because these people were just bounded by a shared citizenship regardless of culture or ethnicity. But the Yugoslavs seem to have failed to decide on this one since their nationalism wasn’t strong enough to maintain a unified Yugoslavia, hence their country’s collapse was satirized in the film by the Yugoslav soldiers’ collapse from within.

Karaula, on a grander scale, leads us to the concept of the absolute truth. Some scholars say a nation should be more rigid if it is a cultural nation, while others say that it should be a political nation. Now, which is the absolute truth on a stronger nation? If everyone has his own absolute truth, does it follow that there is no absolute truth at all? Does this conflict of thought lead to the destruction of its integrity or will this open an opportunity for a negotiation for which is which: imagined versus primal; cultural versus political nation; the existence of the absolute truth versus its inexistence.

--Franco Oliva

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 1

“Identity is a concept of our age that should be used very carefully. All types of identities, ethnic, national, religious, sexual or whatever else, can become your prison after a while. The identity that you stand up for can enslave you and close you to the rest of the world.”—Murathan Mungan, contemporary Turkish poet

Karaula is a film based on Ante Tomic’s novel and directed by Rajko Grlic. It was supposed to be a “military comedy”, where most of the characters involved were men in soldier’s uniform, and set in a military post on the border of the former Yugoslavia and Albania. Our class laughed many times throughout watching it. However, as we analyze it, there are indeed several heavy themes that can spur discussions regarding identity, national identity in particular.

I have to agree with the main blog entry writer/reporter that the themes involved in the film include pleasure and pain, commitment and infidelity, truth and delusion, consequences of deeds and misdeeds, and ironies of life. Sex trips with women in bars while unmindful of the dangers of being a soldier; fulfilling oath of duty while your wife is committing adultery with a trusted minion; hallucinations of enemies attacking the base camp; tragic death of your loved one in the hands of fellow soldiers, among others. These scenes and many more are evidences of the movie’s underlying themes.

royalprincerpineda said...

Part 2

Yet, the most political in the movie is the aspect of identity among the people in it. Tension among the nations formerly comprising Yugoslavia is evident in some dialogues of the characters in the film. It was so unusual for me to call somebody as “ from ”, or “ Boy/Girl”. But for them, it’s as if it’s normal; everyone has identified everyone else from someplace. Everyone has not called one another “Yugoslavians”, as Yugoslavia was only a creation by the former leader, Josip Broz Tito. Under his regime, different groups of people were united and coerced into a single state, and there was stability. Yet, after his death, these groups realized their irreconcilable differences and not their unity, as required in Benedict Anderson’s concept of “nation”—the imagined community. Tito tried to free these groups of people from their “imprisonment from their own identities” and formed Yugoslavia, but history would tell us how these races returned to their “prison cells” as the former union disintegrated. Balkanization took place; the national project of Tito failed in the end and resulted to the formation of present-day states of Croatia, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Kosovo.

I also have to agree with Rosie regarding the technical aspects of the film. Details were appropriately used as foreshadowing devices. The characters were also symbolisms of some deeper messages ingeniously embedded in the film. Sinisa may represent the opportunists in the height of racial conflicts. Ljuba is an epitome of anarchism. Pasic corresponds to authorities waning in power; while Mirjana is a personification of desperation and tragedy. She may even be thought of as Yugoslavia herself, because she died in the hands of soldiers who thought to be of service to a state they would not really recognize after all.

The main blog entry writer has raised questions that we can relate our country regarding what happened in the film. Where are we now as a people and as a nation? Where are we going to? How can we be able to go there? Perhaps, there would be more renegotiations that will take place among Filipinos, and every ethnic group will need to continually compromise a portion of their own identities in order to preserve a state we call the “Philippines”. Otherwise, we would end up in our own “prison cells” and disintegrate just like Yugoslavia. #


-Pineda, Roldan P.

Petersen said...

Part I

There is a moment in the film where Mirjana, the deceitful vixen in our tale, asks our hero, Sinisa Siriscevic, if he could take her to the sea - and he agrees. At the beginning of the film, we see Siriscevic staring blankly at a body of water, and then an explosion ensues. Putting these two unrelated scenes juxtaposed with each other might create a relevance that could encapsulate what Rajko Grlic’s Karaula is about -- a tragic tale drenched in shades of hopefulness amidst ennui lingering on the lives of those affected by the constraints of the military obligations of Yugoslavian soldiers and the lives of the soldiers themselves.

In hindsight, Karaula may appear to be a light comedy about the interwoven lives of four people: Sinisa Siriscevice, the perpetually smiling doctor-soldier of the border post; Ljuba Paunovic, the recklessly happy-go-lucky chap; Porucnic Safet Pasic, the boozy lieutenant who gets syphillis; and Mirjana, Pasic’s desperately bored and lonely wife. However, if one is familiar with historical information and backgrounds about Yugoslavia, then one can outright testify to the subtle cues of irony and satire present in the film.

I agree with Ms. Ramirez when she says the most interesting off-screen fact about Karuala is it being a collaborative effort among a number of countries which some have roots from belonging to the former Republic of Yugoslavia. A film that is heavily budgeted and supported like Karaula must mean that it conveys a certain relevant social message or agenda. Yet what we see is simply a military comedy that - as most of those who have commented would agree to - is entirely unbelievable and flawed in many ways.

Petersen said...

Part II

I beg to disagree. Karuala’s unbelievability is what makes it work as an ultimately successful military comedy. How else will you make fun of the conceptual idea of soldiers stuck in a border post if you don’t treat them as caricatures who deviate from the general idea of a soldier’s - how would I call it? - soldier-ness? Narrative cinema does not take much consideration whether a story alongside its elements could treat reality as it is in the imagined realm. What is given much more focus is its workability for its chosen themes and issues. In this case, we have a glass of irony filled with the waters of the period of prewar Yugoslavia and the questioning of the idea of nationalism as a stronghold invisible force that may make or break a unifying bond out of the people of a certain nation.

Which is to say, based on Karaula’s unfolding scenarios, that there is an erring outlook of nationalism in their statures as Yugoslavian people. We have heard and agreed this in class: the soldiers stationed in the border post are only identified by a single thought of them being against the Albanians and nothing else. There is an apparent disparity amongst the group, which is ironic, since they are expected to act a single unit serving for their country as glorious and brave gentlemen of their nation. But the film makes fun of the set-up - we usually see these men slacking around, disobeying rules and codes of conduct, and hooding in disguise their innocent humane fear of war.

Karaula is triumphant in its way of creating equilibrium with the gravity of its tragic end with the aid of its previous antics and ridicule. Overly deconstructing and over-analyzing the film may do it disservice since it does not necessarily impose a higher altitude of meaning and relevance (to which I do not mean that it does not hold a large chunk of meaning and relevance) on the realities that Yugoslavia has encountered. Simplistically looking at it will do its audiences good since, after all, its main goal is to present the Republic of Yugoslavia in a manner not as direct as an authentic war film.

- Petersen Vargas

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


When Ljuba Pauvonic tells Lt. Porucnic Safet Pasic that he wants to go to a walking pilgrimage to the grave of Yugoslav hero and President Josep Broz Tito in Dedinje, Belgrade, the lieutenant keeps asking whether or not Pauvonic will walk for Yugoslavia “as a whole.” It was a terribly confusing moment as a viewer and at this point it was perhaps unfair of the filmmaker to have simply assumed that his viewers knew of Yugoslavia’s political history and the historical phenomenon of Balkanization.
Somehow, however, the feelings – the tensions – associated with the political and cultural negotiations and infightings within the national project of Yugoslavia are not all too difficult to relate to. I will not pretend that I know much of Eastern Europe’s history but the emotions, though probably not universally experienced, are not all too unfamiliar. In fact, if anything, it brings to light what may have been the situation here at home more than a century ago.
The “national project” of the Philippines – or in more common academic terms, the germination of the Filipino nationalist movement – took its roots in the latter half of the 19th century. Much like the situation in Eastern Europe during the late 20th century, the Filipinos then, if they can be appropriately termed as such, had an equally difficult task of imagining an integrated and consolidated Filipino nation. Although it was clear that there was such a geographical concept as the Spanish-colonized, archipelagic territory called the Filipinas (just as perhaps it was clear that there was such a thing as Yugoslavia), the difficult part was determining who or what was Filipino. Before the nationalist movement, “Filipino” was a common term used to refer to Filipinas-born Spaniards or the insulares. Although this was challenged in the first phase of the nationalist movement through the secularist priests who expanded the use of the term, Filipinos for them included only the native middle class – the principalia – thus still excluding the native masses of indios. Even Dr. Jose Rizal’s use of the term was not clear-cut; it cannot be fully ascertained if he really used the term Filipino to include all the natives of the Filipinas archipelago or if he was simply referring to the native middle class or perhaps a geographical group.

- Juan Carlo Tejano

Juan Carlo Tejano said...


With the revolutionary Andres Bonifacio and the Katipunan, the exclusive imagination of the Filipino nation was much clearer: The Filipino was the Tagalog, the native of Luzon, the largest island group located at the northern part of the archipelago. Thus, the “Philippine Revolution” was really a revolution of the Tagalogs against Spanish rule. It was only later conceived that Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary government should include the entire colonial territory. Thus was the rise of the native Tagalogs into hegemony over the Philippine political landscape. This was to continue even up to the Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon, who instituted Tagalog as the official language of the country, and conspicuously up to the present, illustrated clearly by the requirement for all Filipino citizens to learn the Filipino language, a language based largely on Tagalog.
Thus the rise of the Tagalogs clearly marginalized native ethnic groups in the Philippine archipelago. Chief among these groups are the Cebuanos of the Visayas who spoke another language. A special case is also the Moro ethnic group of Mindanao which up until today is fighting for autonomy and/or independence from the Philippine government that merely included Mindanao into its geographical territory despite the non-surrender of the native Muslims there in the face of Spanish colonizers.
The film’s internal narrative of the Yugoslav national project makes a lot of sense therefore even in the Philippine context. While regionalism may no longer be as real and apparent in Philippine society, it was as real as can be during the early years of the Filipino nation. Just as in the film, where one hailed from mattered a lot before the nation was consolidated. Thus, while Karaula has the Dalmatian boy, the stupid Bosnian, and the Belgrade idiot, we had the ophthalmologist from Calamba, the military leader and then president from Cavite, the propagandist from Bulacan, and the political organizer from Tondo. If a Katipunero were asked, “Are you fighting for the independence of Filipinas as a whole?” he would have laughed the idea away. Of course he was not; he was fighting for the Tagalogs, for the independence of Luzon.

Then again, why is national identity so important? Should our imagined unity as a nation – the imagination of a cohesive and consolidated nation - really be so consequential and inherently necessary? What is nationalism, after all, but dogma – worse, that type of dogma that pushes people to harm and gun down one another? It is perhaps sobering to ponder: So what, if the people gunned down by the border post soldiers were really not Albanians? So what, if they gunned down Mirjana and allied soldiers? Does this make the act a crime? Does this make the act wrong? If the vehicle really did carry Albanians, would the gunning be any less of a crime? Would the killing be justified?

Like the discussion in class about dying for one’s family or perhaps even killing for one’s family, is it not true that the nation is just another block or hindrance to genuine fellow-feeling – to sincere solidarity of the human race?

Mico Quijano said...

There is a fine line between illustrating and explaining. While they are not at all mutually exclusive, the difference lies in the intention. To illustrate is more like painting a picture. You make others visualize. To explain, however, is more like putting a caption to that picture. You make others visualize, and then make them understand why the visualization was such. Both are ultimately informing, but information you get from explaining is pre-meditated and those you acquire from illustrating are not.

Take the film Karaula, for instance. I understand that its narrative hinged on the concepts of ethnicity, national identity, nationalism, and nation-building. I get it. Yet what I don’t understand is the entire hullabaloo as to how this film is so deeply political, that it somehow managed to explain the breakdown of the former Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As far as I’m concerned, it did not. Karaula simply sought to tell a story; it was rather illustrative than explanatory.

As reflected in her commentary though, Ms. Ramirez obviously saw the film otherwise. But allow me to present why such a take on the film would prove to be unworkable.

First, the parallelisms put forward are inconsistent. If carefully examined according to historical facts, the so-called “metaphors” wouldn’t even pass as metaphors in the first place.

To argue that the military camp is a “microcosm of Yugoslavia” is generally problematic. First, the formation of Yugoslavia can be traced back to the People’s Liberation Army, which was a force of resistance established in response to the invasion of the Axis powers during the Second World War. The Yugoslav nations were not united by a mere illusion, but an actual threat, as opposed to what transpired in the film. Second, Lieutenant Pasic clearly wasn’t a Josep Broz Tito of a leader, but it’s already a given that he was the one who held the crew together. Third, given that the soldiers actually symbolized the different ethnicities which comprised the multinational state, why didn’t I, as a viewer, feel that there was a vibe of ethnic tension of some sort amongst them? Sure, they constantly made reference to their national identities, but did it really mirror a brewing clash? Finally, I don’t think the tragic ending of the film signified the downfall of Yugoslavia at all. How can that ever be a viable case when we see a strong and lasting bond between Sinisa and Paunovic, who again identify themselves with different nationalities?

Mico Quijano said...

Second, I take issue at how, on some level, the national project was so liberally juxtaposed to that of ours. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to even hint on comparative analysis when your variables are not fundamentally aligned. Yugoslavia is a multinational state, the Philippines isn’t. You can speak of nationalism and nation-building all you want, but never treat these loaded terms as one-dimensional.

Lastly, I question the proposition that Josep Broz Tito was an equally significant character in the film. I can only assume that this line of thought was, again, brought about by an attempt to justify that Karaula spoke of subtle meanings and hidden messages pertaining to (yes, take a guess) ethnicity, nationality, and identity. I am not aware if there exists a standard formula as to how you measure the “importance” or “relevance” of a certain persona in a film, but I believe that in hindsight, anyone can do a decent assessment. My version is this: take the character out of the film, and see how much of the plot is changed.

Karaula is a cataloged under the comedy genre, and without question, it did not fail to live up to the expectations of what a film of this kind should be. I echo Mr. Vargas’ argument when he says that what makes it a highly effective comedy is the fact that it did not present “realistic” conceptions of a soldier. Then again, who are we to impose standards of how military men ought to behave – especially when not in duty – when none of us have been inside, much less lived inside a camp with these people?

The film shows us a snapshot of a time when a popular leader is gone, but his charisma remains, albeit slowly fading. We overhear that the nation he attempted to build struggles to exist. In particular, we see lives intertwined by implausible authority, fierce loyalty, passionate lust, and a silly illusion. One by one, the consequences of these connections unfold, and we are left dumbfounded by a culminating event that is neither pleasing nor appalling.

This is the story of Karaula. Let me leave it at that.

faysah said...

Part 1:

Mentioning Yugoslavia evokes memories of one of the worst cases of ethnic conflict which culminated into what is remembered as the Balkanization of Eastern Europe. This is why it is quite unexpected to have a film set in the ill-fated state using comical overtones which Karaula manages to pull off despite the evident ethnic tension and the military setting. But labeling the film as a comedy can be considered deceptive as the story culminates into its ironic and tragic end. While most of the characters are in military uniform, they are never sent into action because of Lieutenant Pasic’s attempt to conceal his syphillis by concocting an imaginary threat from Albanian troops to keep the entire camp from leaving. The theme that this commentary would focus on would be nation-building. The film clearly shows the disparate identities of Yugoslavia that failed to form into a coherent framework for national building.

In the end, the comic overtones throughout the entire film hits an abrupt end as violence ensues which eerily warns the audience of the ensuing wars to come between the former states of Yugoslavia. However, the warning signals of impending secession were subtly interjected throughout the film. The way the characters address one another in terms of their ethnicity rather than their name and the continued reference to Josip Tito and the loss of Yugoslavia’s only commonality that held them together have already weaved the narrative towards the eventual secession of the Yugoslavian states. One of the reasons of why the film presents a compelling afterthought to its viewers is that Yugoslavia’s fragile statehood with its numerous ethnic groups is not an isolated case. Separatist movements have plagued several states such as the Basques in Spain, the Achenese in Indonesia, the Muslim separatists of the Southern areas in Thailand and the Philippines, and the fragile hold of Myanmar on its many ethnic groups which was used as a justification for the continued reign of its military junta. The film presents the audience with difficult questions. What is the framework for nation-building given that the constituents come from different ethnic groups that have historically been suspicious of one another? What would hold them together to form a solid nation-state?

faysah said...

Part 2:

In light of these questions, the Balkanization of Yugoslavia that a charismatic leader like Josip Tito or an identity based on the negation of the “other” entity like Albania cannot serve as stable foundations for a state given that a personality cult and negative sentiments do not have the enduring qualities of strong institutions. One of the main reasons why political scientists strive to systematically institutions is because they provide stability and continuity since their existence is not contingent on a more or less ephemeral entity like a charismatic leader or a sentiment. Many states led by dictators are commonly mistaken to be strong states. But upon the demise or ouster of that leader, the foundation of that statehood disintegrates. What that country had was a strongman but not a strong state. Such is seen in the case of Yugoslavia. It can be argued that popular leaders like Tito and common hatred against a certain group provide a common thread among Yugoslavians which may be the basis of their shared identity. A nation is after all “a large group of people who believe they belong together on the basis of a shared identity as a people” (Anderson 6). But a personality and a sentiment are by nature short lived unlike a common history or a national literature that can form a national identity for nation-building. Therefore, the disintegration of Yugoslavia can be attributed to the lack of a strong sense of nationhood among its people because a strong sense of nationalism is supposed to be the basis of state formation (Quilop 4). The extent of how the people are socialized into learning the country’s common history or the way they are exposed to a national literature that does not marginalize any ethnic group would largely figure in cultivating nationalism. The Philippines provides good example for this scenario. Muslims and non-Christian indigenous groups have not integrated with Philippine society mainly because Philippine history is centred on Hispanic and American colonization which people in the South did not experience. The history of the Muslims in the South and the indigenous people in Cordillera are only mentioned in passing in history. This may have contributed to why they cannot feel a strong sense of affiliation to the country since their roles have been marginalized in historical textbooks. But the lack of this sense of belongingness is not exclusive to the Muslims and the Ifugaos. A strong sense of nationalism continues to evade all other ethnic groups from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao because a national literature or what Benedict Anderson calls as print capitalism failed to develop. Parochial orientations remained and a national identity that encompasses all groups failed to materialize.

faysah said...

Part 3:

However, Karaula should not be taken as a doomsday warning for multicultural and multi-ethnic nation-states. Upon a closer scrutiny across several countries, only a handful will emerge as ethnically homogeneous countries. There are also different levels of diversity such as religion or political affiliation which make homogeneity questionable. It ought to be remembered that ethnic diversity does not necessarily lead to the kind of conflict seen in Yugoslavia. It only arises when a condition called an ethnic cleavage arises which occur when members of an ethnic group reject their national identity and demand separate recognition (Riggs 1-11). The plausible independent variable here then could be intolerance rather than ethnic diversity along with a weak national identity and the absence of stable institutions to hold the state together. Hence, the lack of a conscious construction and negotiation of a national identity and the reliance on Josip Tito’s personality cult and anti-Albanian sentiment could have been the culprits in the failure of the nation project in Yugoslavia instead of their ethnic diversity. After all, integration in a nation-state does not necessarily entail expunging one’s ethnic identity, it merely requires a negotiation of identity that would incorporate a national identity along with one’s ethnicity and other belief systems.


Anderson, Benedict. 2003. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso.

Quilop, Raymund Jose. 2006. “Nation-Building and State Formation in the Philippines” in Noel Morada and Teresa Encarnacion Tadem (eds.). Philippine Politics and Governance: An Introduction. Quezon City: University of the Philippines, Department of Political Science.

Riggs, Fred. 1997. The Para-Modern Context of Ethno-Nationalism. Accessed on September 8, 2011.

Abdullah, F.

kerim zekovic said...


kerim zekovic said...


kerim zekovic said...

Real point of film is that arm is trying to hide impotence by making up fake enemies . And some of you say that film is unrealistic , they are wrong , i know that becous i served my duty in yugoslaw army at that time , and abou you saying that solider would get shot if he would change meaning of letters n building you are wrong yugosllavio wasnt fashist country , and soliders could go in wuds and lakes becoua they would get that as revard . Bellive me , becous i served yugoslav people army at that time , and latters got shot defending besiged city of sarajevo

kerim zekovic said...

Im sorry about speling my english isnt very good and im using smart phone , and i hate to typ on them