Time was, when being Yugoslavian counted for something - 1987
for instance. Jasmin Dizdar was at FAMU - Eastern Europe's top
film school, in Prague - where he was a contemporary of Kolya
director Jan Sverak. And that's where he started making movies.
For that's what you did at FAMU: not a bit of everything, just
one thing for five years. In Dizdar's case, it was directing.
Plus a thesis...
Dizdar's was on Milos Forman, who was persona only partially
grata in Prague in 1987.
"I was able to do it only because I wasn't Czech, I was
Yugoslavian," he recalls. "Any objections, I'd just go
to my Embassy."
his life is now 'former'"
These days, being Yugoslavian doesn't open those kind of
doors. Indeed, you can't really be Yugoslavian any more, only
'former Yugoslavian'. Witness a wonderfully comic sequence in
Dizdar's movie, Beautiful People, in which Pero, a Bosnian guy in
London, explains to his new (British) girlfriend that everything
about his life is now 'former'.
Dizdar, who grew up in Zenica, in the very heart of Bosnia,
lives in the same world dominated by the word 'former', but he
has no difficulty seeing the funny side of what has been
happening in his former homeland. Like most 'formers', he says,
he has "a sense of humour so black it's intolerable".
"Of course the Civil War was tragic," he adds,
"but at the same time I found it so funny. There were all
these big, big armies going around as if they were being directed
by Fellini. If he was still alive, I would love to see him make
The Liberation Of Bosnia."
"Decided to stay"
There are two scenes in Beautiful People which could never
have been made by a non-Balkan director: one involves an
air-drop, the other a needle full of heroin and an amputation.
They could so easily be Fellini's.
In 1987, taking a break from FAMU, he travelled to London for
the first time, with his girlfriend (now his wife). He liked it
so much he returned two years later to learn English, and
promptly decided to stay.
"I was very impressed," he explains. "I went
from clean and beautiful Prague to Clapham Common, where
everything is for sale. When I came here, it was like being on a
different planet - a different culture, not right in the middle
of Europe, but on the edge of the planet."
He started out with a commission to write a screenplay for the
BBC - a process which didn't bring him a lot of joy. (In fact, he
is toying with writing a screenplay about being commissioned to
write a screenplay for the BBC.) Then came Beautiful People.
"The aim," he says, "was to follow various
characters and to show London from a foreigner's point of view.
London is like a global garden, where there are all sorts of
weeds and flowers in close proximity."
A multi-layered story with a vague resemblance to Short Cuts -
a comparison Dizdar doesn't much like, if only because he started
on it long before Short Cuts came out - Beautiful People pursues
five apparently separate stories which eventually intersect and,
in a couple of cases, merge. And they all happen in London (well,
there's about 15 minutes in Bosnia, but the repercussions are
played out in London, not Zenica).
"This is not a film about war," he points out.
"It's a film about London in the context of war. It's a
little-known London, but it's all made up of things I have seen.
I remember every single moment because I am a film-maker."
"Problem at the BBC"
We are chatting in a very London context - the Nelly Dean in
Soho, on a slightly damp Friday evening at the hour when offices
empty and pubs swell. Dizdar is looking around, assimilating
things - although, since he has been here for a decade, it must
all be quite familiar.
"I don't think of myself as having emigrated," he
says (even though he has a British passport these days). "I
simply came to a different country and stayed for longer than I
He turns his attention back to me. "When I talk to
you," he says, "I bring you my reality. The same with
the script: each of the characters has his own little
And Dizdar, it seems, has little difficulty capturing them -
which, it appears, was the problem at the BBC. "They didn't
seem to be able to understand that, if you don't speak absolutely
perfect English, that doesn't mean you don't have a valuable
like you: he's mad."
What is more, the script for Beautiful People is very much his
own - idiosyncrasies of English usage and all. In the Nelly Dean,
he concedes that "a script has to be kept open", so
that the actors can make slight changes. But he obviously worries
overnight about what he has said. The next morning he calls. He
didn't mean to imply that the script was improvised: he wrote it
Dizdar's 'valuable vision' obviously appealed to Ben Gibson,
who was head of production at the BFI when the screenplay first
arrived. They met at a party, "You must meet Ben," said
a mutual acquaintance. "He's just like you: he's mad."
Gibson's successor at the BFI, Roger Shannon, obviously
grasped a few essentials of the Balkan artistic process, too.
Introducing him at the cast-and-crew screening in London,
Beautiful People producer Ben Woolford noted: "He was the
first financier to buy us a drink."