A goose pecks a tiger, the tiger eats the goose. Viewed strictly as a film, Underground is an astonishing, unmissable experience. Its opening images of shadows on a wall foretell the entire film's phantasmal allegory -- Yugoslavia as Plato's Cave. Images of surrealist horror, like wild animals roaming the streets of Belgrade after the Nazis bomb its zoo, are juxtaposed with brilliantly timed and mimed comedy as two slapstuck friends pursue the Nazis and collaborating actress Natalija (rubber doll Mirjana Jokovic). The imagic obsessions of Marko the politician (thinly mustachioed Miki Manojlovic), the shrewder of the two friends, is foreshadowed by an early scene of him peering at a whore in a mirror; throughout the film he manipulates people as well as images, not least of all his pal Blacky (brush-mustachioed Lazar Ristovski), whose macho pride is easily bent to Marko's will. Natalija, the object of both men's desires, correctly tells them, "The two of you could make one good man," although she herself is as guilty as anyone as she participates in the outrageous swindle at the heart of the film. A wild, exhausting party, with plenty of guilt to go around, makes up most of the film's second part and may try some viewers' patience, although there are many astonishing images still to come: drowned souls swimming underwater, a network of tunnels connecting all the cities of Europe, an identityless man aloft in a tree weeping for his lost monkey. Whatever it is politically, Underground is superb cinema, pushed along in 4/4 time by a loping brass band through the nightmare of history that is the 20th century.
-- Gregg Rickman
Underground screens Friday through Thursday, March 13-19, daily at 1, 4:30, and 8 p.m. at the Castro, 429 Castro (at Market). Tickets are $6; call 621-6120.