Goodbye 20th Century
Rating -

Action (Republic of Macedonia); 1999; Not Rated; 80 Minutes

Lazar Ristovski: Santa Claus
Nikola Ristanovski: Kuzman
Vlado Jovanovski: The Barber Prophet
Sofija Kunovska: The Sister
Dejan Acimovic: The Priest
Petar Temelkovski: Brother Petar
Emil Ruben: The Godfather
Irena Ristic: The Girl
Toni Mihajlovski: Man with Green Hair

Produced by Darko Mitrevski; Directed and screenwritten by Aleksander Popovski and Darko Mitrevski

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"The future is as screwed up as the past."

So a prophesier warns us in the first minutes of "Goodbye 20th Century," the introductory film by Macedonian filmmakers Aleksander Popovski and Darko Mitrevski. The belief, as detailed in three separate time periods, is that mankind has reached its climax, growing so hastily insane by the minute that not even Santa Claus can escape the lunacy. Images that flash in our minds carry with them bizarre sights and nonsensical actions, performed by the characters so realistically that they look as if they should be chained to the walls of an asylum, wearing straight jackets.

The movie is told in one of the most effective ways I have ever seen; at first, we get the story of the future, and then, those of the past, which are both essentially fine examples of how the human race have grown so deteriorated by their negative impulses and unjust personalities. Unlike certain movies, which cannot depend on a nonlinear storyline, "Goodbye 20th Century," like a similarly bizarre film called "Pulp Fiction" defies common sense and straightforward storytelling. After all, sometimes the appropriate ending comes long before the tale is done being told.

The first shots show the members of a reformed order climbing steep hills and navigating territories in between massive rocks. They reach the top, where prayers are said, religious images are flashed in front of fire, and one is murdered by the others with an endless supply of bullets. At least that is the impression.

You see, Kuzman, played by Nikola Ristanovski, is immortal--just like all the others that have come with him up to the mountain. Why are they shooting him, you ask? As explored later, Kuzman is an individual of confused belief. He is blamed for the death of countless children, following his sexual encounter with a Saint. But still, even after his people gun him down, the Earth will not take him. This is because his kismet lies elsewhere. "Underneath the city," the prophet insists, "there's a wall where the fate of all mankind is written. That's where you'll find your own destiny. Read what it says, and then you'll know what you have to do so you can die." Following his journey, he comes across a guardian of sorts, credited as 'the man with green hair.' Indeed, as imagined by reading his name, this character looks like some sort of super-hero villain reject. How many people do you know taste their own blood after being shot?

2019 is the base time period, but the movie more appropriately achieves its purpose on the last night of the 20th century, December 31, 1999. In an action that I shall not entirely reveal here, dear old Santa loses his mind, and thus brings with him the brink of a war in which no human escapes. Of course, a judgment day is inevitable in the setup: with these kinds of humans populating our natural world, no apocalypse would mean no purpose for those who are sentenced to immortality. In other words, life must come to an end in order for those not condemned to the afterlife to find their own destiny. They are at war with themselves.

All of this might have grown stale and tired, had it not been for the incredible shots captured by the filmmakers (visionary power is sometimes needed to heighten the themes). For instance, there is a small room in which several souls sit and mourn a recent death, colorless but not void of purpose. What the filmmakers are trying to accomplish in this scene on New Year's eve is unimaginable. Nonetheless, it is quite fascinating to watch.

Furthermore, Macedonia's desolate landscapes act as a visual representation of the loneliness this amaranthine tribe has been faced with. Only the 'animals' survived. By this, the filmmakers are not referring to any kind of species other than humans. Here, those damned to eternity are the real animals.

But while this is an intriguing setup, it's not always a rewarding one. Images fly off the screen and into the mind, but the problem is that the story is not solid enough to back them up (at least some of the time). It takes off in the first half, but makes emergency landings long before the conclusion. Obviously Popovski and Mitrevski enjoy the use of symbolism to help bring meaning to the themes, but they never let the premise develop the intrigue that we feel it should achieve. Characters rush into the scenes, and disappear before we have a chance to appreciate them. It's like trying to get used to the smell of a new car, only for it to be towed away without warning.

At the end, Santa Claus inscribes symbols on a wall, which will determine the destiny of those in the far future. What is the film trying to say with this conclusion? Perhaps it's that we are the ones responsible for the future we create, and not God. Can I be sure of that? Not really. The movie is very enthralling, but not always comprehensible. Clearly it has something to articulate. Whether or not we want to listen must be determined by the viewer. Either way, one thing's for darn sure: wherever we go, insanity thrives all around us. Perhaps some of it was even involved in making this movie.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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