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Variola Vera

Variola Vera

  • Serbia 1982
  • 110 min
  • 35mm
  • Serbian with English subtitles



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Director: Goran Markovic
Screenplay: Goran Markovic, Milan Peca Nikolic
Cast: Rade Serbedzija, Erland Josephson, Dusica Zegarac, Aleksandar Bercek, Bogdan Diklic
Producers: Aleksandar Stojanovic
Print Source: Belgrade Cinematheque

Part of...

Subversive Serbia   

Subversive Serbia



VARIOLA VERA’s title refers to the Latin name for smallpox, and it is loosely based on a real event. In 1972, in what was then Yugoslavia, an Albanian Muslim from Kosovo was infected with smallpox on his pilgrimage in the Middle East and upon his return to Serbia, he caused an epidemic in the Belgrade City Hospital, since his symptoms were not immediately recognized. In the claustrophobic environment of a quarantined hospital, a group of characters, led by Rade Serbedzija (EYES WIDE SHUT), try to survive the best way they can, and to retain their humanity in the process if at all possible. While people are gruesomely dying, the opportunistic but inefficient politicians have more pressing issues on their minds than saving lives.

VARIOLA VERA deals with a fear that drives even the strongest to commit unspeakable acts of dishonour in order to save their lives. The director uses the disease as a metaphor—it provides a distorted mirror for an unhealthy system. The common theme through director Goran Markovic's entire opus is the disastrous effect of the totalitarian communist regime on the minds of ordinary people. For this purpose, the film uses legacies of at least two distinct genres, the disaster film and the horror movie. VARIOLA VERA borrows the general framework of a disaster-epidemic movie (the realistic portrayal of a group of characters whose unity and humanity are challenged by the same, non-supernatural threat), but in its treatment it employs methods familiar from horror cinema. This means not only the gruesome imagery of the disease—ulcers, scabs, pus, blood-vomiting—but more importantly the way the disease is used to tell the story and to enhance it through constant suspense, fear and an occasional shock. Markovic manipulates the audience's emotions by using the subjective camera in an environment which provides a minimum of visual information. Suspense is accentuated by the context—the reality (and physicality) of the threat. A haunting score strengthens the dense atmosphere of doom hanging over the trapped characters (the cast also includes Ingmar Bergman's key actor, Erland Josephson). VARIOLA VERA is filled with spooky imagery of men in white protective suits and corpses of the deceased, wrapped in sheets soaked with disinfectant, to be sealed in metal caskets. No one is safe, not even children, in this bleak but also blackly humorous account of body horror infecting the body politic.

—Dejan Ognjanovic

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