S2E18. Streaming, Balkans and hot chocolate
Here are four recommendations for TV series on former Yugoslavian countries' recent history and contemporary society, from Zagreb to Belgrade. All original Balkan productions
welcome back to BarBalkans, the newsletter with blurred boundaries.
Christmas holidays are coming. This is the right time of the year for a blanket, hot chocolate and, lying on the sofa, for watching a good TV series.
But which TV series?
From the Western Balkans, we can count on some recommendations.
Choose right. The holidays are getting closer and closer!
Let’s start with the most successful series of our list.
Balkan Shadows (also known as Black Sun) is a historical drama created by Dragan Bjelogrlić and divided into three seasons. The first two have already been released, while the third is scheduled for 2022.
The series is set in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes during the Interwar period, specifically between 1928 and 1940.
The first season (10 episodes) focuses on 6 January Dictatorship (1929), when King Alexander I of Yugoslavia suspended the Kingdom’s Constitution and assumed control of the State.
The second season (10 episodes) follows the events leading up to the assassination of Alexander I of Yugoslavia in Marseille in 1934.
The third season will be set in the years immediately preceding the beginning of World War II in Yugoslavia.
The main setting is Belgrade, where both the real historical events and the fiction happens. The protagonists are two detectives who are trying to solve the case of several sacrificial murders.
The crime drama intersects with the rise of nationalism in the Balkans, criminal trafficking linked to the drug routes to Europe and the United States, Yugoslav communism, relationship with Bolsheviks and the Russian White army, and the Serbian Black Hand movement.
This is a series that allows us to discover what Yugoslavia was before the Socialist Federal Republic.
Let’s continue with Socialist Yugoslavia.
Black-and-White World (also known as Crno-bijeli svijet) is a series created by Goran Kulenović and Igor Mirkovic, divided into four seasons of 12 episodes each.
The title is a tribute to the song of the Croatian rock band Prljavo kazalište, composed in 1980.
And 1980 is the real core of the series, as a turning point for Yugoslavia. The year of President Josip “Tito” Broz’s death.
Taking place in the golden years of Yugoslav culture, between 1979 and 1987, the plot follows the stories of several Zagreb families to show lights and shadows of the Socialist Republic at that time.
The unprecedented level of prosperity, the vibrant cultural scene (in particular in the Yugoslav rock), but also a society still divided into classes, meaningless political rituals and the economy that is beginning to crack.
As highlighted by the Est/ranei project, the series offers a cheerful but faithful picture of the society during one of the most vibrant and complicated periods for the Federation.
No typical (and stereotypical) member of Yugoslav society is forgotten: from the housewife to the high school student, from the well-off Zagrabese married to a spirited Belgrade woman, and the young Split photographer who is son of a strict army officer.
It is particularly interesting the focus on key historical moments in the last decade of the Socialist Federal Republic. Not only Tito’s death, but also the economic crisis, the Kosovo uprising, the Sarajevo Olympics and the Universiade in Zagreb.
The episodes are also enriched with characteristic features of Yugoslav pop culture: Alan Ford comics, concerts in Zagreb clubs, vinyls and Levi’s jeans bought in Trieste.
This is a perfect series to get to know with the life in a socialist country looking West and to music and scenes from a Yugoslavia that no longer exists.
With the experience of the Socialist Federal Republic and the ethnic wars in the Balkans behind us, we arrive at the beginning of the 2000s.
More precisely in 2001, the year of the arrest of the former Serbian President, Slobodan Milošević.
In The Family (original title, Porodica), a five-part miniseries, we discover the background of Milošević’s controversial arrest and extradition to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Tried for corruption, misappropriation of public funds and abuse of power, Milošević was prosecuted for crimes against humanity and genocide during the Yugoslav wars in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo.
For three days his supporters prevented the police from arresting him at his residence in Belgrade. This is precisely the timeframe considered by the miniseries, the first mainstream production presenting Milošević as a dramatic character.
Viewers already know how the story ends, but the issue is still divisive in Serbia and the miniseries has triggered controversy. Milošević’s children, Marija and Marko, have threatened to sue the production company.
Plot and casting were kept secret until the very last minute, although the narrative is based on archive footage and documents.
It is particularly prominent the choice of the two protagonists. Milošević is played by Boris Isaković, who previously played Ratko Mladić in the Oscar-nominated film Quo Vadis, Aida?. The President’s wife, Mirjana “Mira” Marković, is played by Mirjana Karanović, a pillar of Serbian cinema and theatre.
This miniseries focuses on the ambivalence and polarization that characterizes Milošević’s legacy in Serbia, 20 years after his arrest and 15 years after his death.
Morning Changes Everything
We remain in Serbia, but in today’s society.
Morning Changes Everything (original title, Jutro će promeniti sve) is a 40-episode melodrama series created by Goran Stanković and Vladimir Tagić.
The title of the series is an homage to another Yugoslav rock band (from Bosnia), Indexi, and the plot follows the lives of four 30-year-old people in nowadays Belgrade.
Filip is a software engineer who abandoned the American dream and gave up Silicon Valley to come back to his hometown. Now he is looking for an engineering job in Belgrade.
His sister Anđela, a PhD student in psychology and assistant professor at the Faculty of Philosophy, is in the midst of separating from her boyfriend. Meanwhile, she continues to work on her thesis, hoping to get a job as a professor.
Her best friend Saša has to close the bar where she used to work after a police inspection. She has to start again with a series of unexciting and ridiculous jobs.
Ljuba, who grew up in the province, is an unconventional personal trainer who lost his job and is suddenly penniless and in debt. Now he tests himself as a cook in a restaurant in the capital.
While drowning in precariousness and instability, the four protagonists are not passive, hoping that “tomorrow changes everything”.
Following ephemeral passions, intergenerational conflicts, disillusionment and alcohol, the series tells the story of an entire generation confused by a never-ending growing transition to adulthood.
This is the portrait of last Yugoslavian years’ children, who grew up during the wars in the Nineties and who now find themselves struggling in a neo-liberal society that does not recognize talent and initiative.
No one has a steady job, everyone is renting. The four characters are aware that this is not the life they imagined or that was promised.
An intense series that is able to break the geographical barriers, speaking to all young people who share the same illusions, hopes and frustrations. Waiting for a better future.
Pit stop. Sittin’ at the BarBalkans
We have reached the end of this piece of road.
While we get ready to watch one of these TV series, we can start preparing hot chocolate.
However, on our bar, the BarBalkans, there is another recommendation for the Christmas season.
Hot rakija, the perfect drink for warming up in the coldest December days.
To prepare it, you have to put half a cup of brown sugar in a pot on the stove, stirring thoroughly and caramelizing it.
Then add three cups of water, bringing the sugar solution to the boil.
As soon as the water boils, remove the pot from the heat and add one and a half cups of rakija. Then bring everything back to boil.
The most typical Balkan Christmas drink is ready!
Let’s continue the BarBalkans journey. We will meet again in a week, for the 19th stop.
A big hug and have a good journey!
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