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Like many in Eastern Europe, Jasmin Dizdar - director of Beautiful People - was once a Yugoslavian, but is not any more. These days he's a 'former' Yugoslavian, a Bosnian, married and living in London, where NICK RODDICK did the right thing, and bought him a drink.

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."

"Everything about 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.

"Multi-layered story"

"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 planned."

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 voice."

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 vision."

"He's just 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 all.

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."

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Jasmin Dizdar.


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