MONTENEGRO (Dušan Makavejev, 1981)

Even on the face of it, as an American woman living in Stockholm, Marilyn Jordan seems odd. Plainly dissatisfied with her dull marriage to a Swedish executive, she poisons the family dog’s food for a bit of intrigue. Marilyn hankers for some excitement—and finds it, including delerious extramarital sex, in a community of Gypsy immigrants: exploited laborers who have left behind the Yugoslavian filmmaker’s own neck of Europe. Written by him and Branko Vučićević, Montenegro is Dušan Makavejev’s moody, very funny satirical comedy.
     The question occurs to her spouse: Is Marilyn nuts? Enter Dr. Aram Pazardjian, whose job it becomes to observe this mad housewife. The result: an hilariously funny performance by Per Oscarsson, who had feigned madness as Hamlet on stage and had graced cinema with its single most brilliant performance, as the starving, unhinged writer in Hunger (1966), who at the last boards a ship to go elsewhere—perhaps, across time, to occupy his current position in Makavejev’s film.
     But there’s a serious undertow to all this: Pazardjian sounds to me like an Armenian name; I’m told it means marketeer. Like the Yugoslavs, there are tragedy and displacement in the good doctor’s national history—only further back, so that Scandinavian assimilation has taken root in his family history. To Makavejev, the native Swedes must seem smug in their lofty complacency.
     Susan Anspach plays Marilyn, who loosens up and even dances erotically, reminding us of a jitterbugging Marilyn Monroe in John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Regrettably, we have forgotten what a fine actress Anspach was, how deserving of a more solid career than we permitted. I recall the touching spectacle of Anspach’s character in Paul Mazursky’s Blume in Love (1973) battling a cold, which has inflamed her nose, while sudsily brushing her teeth.

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