From the opening scenes of Bread and Circuses, it’s clear the film is not going to be quite like any other you’ve seen in a while.
The feature from Slovenian director Klemen Dvornik begins with footage of a man driving a forklift through a factory to deliver a TV to main character Josip (Peter Musevski), who has worked in the building for 30 years.
Set in late-1980s, Communist-era Yugoslavia, the film focuses on the story of the Novaks, a working-class family of four living in a small apartment in the town of Titovo Velenje.
In his opening narration, Josip’s son Simon (Jurij Drevensek) remarks that his father “definitely belonged to the common folk,” as the man is seen hauling a fancy new colour television up a winding staircase to his home.
“He wasn’t great in any sense, but he was persistent,” remarks Simon.
The installation of the new television introduces us to the crux of the plot: the Novaks have been selected to participate in a popular TV quiz show, hosted by the charismatic Jos Bauer (Jonas Znidarsic).
What ensues is a series of quirky and amusing scenes of the family’s journey, such as the four packed into a black Lada en route to the big city of Ljubljana, wearing cat costumes and belting out a song in unison.
There isn’t a moment of doubt of the 1980s setting of the film, from the abundance of bad sweaters and big hair, to the outdated set of the game show. The regime of the time is also well-woven into the story, as the characters refer to each other as “comrade” and talk-show host Jos is seen abruptly hushing someone from making an anti-Communist remark, his eyes darting around the area to make sure no one has heard.
In fact, one gets the sense the film might have a much greater appeal to audiences more familiar with the culture of this late-80s Slovenian setting.
But it’s still captivating to watch conflict unfold on the set of the glitzy game show, against the backdrop of larger questions about the role of this show-biz “circus" in a region poised on political change.
Bread and Circuses screens at the Pacific Cinémathèque on Sunday (December 2) at 8:20 p.m. as part of the European Union Film Festival.