How to cope with nasty politicians and realities through (good) humor: “GOODBYE, HOW ARE YOU?” (2009)

goodbye 1
Poster of the film.

“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it”.

“When you ridicule the monster it loses its subjective sense of awe and of fear. So you deal with it in a much easier way”.

Do you live in a country and a planet ruled by nasty, sadist predators? Don’t be ashamed of it, that happens to most of us. But to be honest, you’ve got many problems. You need ways to get by, to protect the people you care for. One of these direly needed resources (along with solidarity, integrity, and other underrated moral qualities) is humor. When things are ugly one can, as a last resort, laugh, or at least smile, as a way to resist, to hold one’s ground. And if you are looking for inspiration in the difficult field of (good) humor, one of the best options is to watch Goodbye, how are you?, a hilarious Serbian essay film showing the difficulty of being a proper human being without becoming too much depressed in the effort. Its approach is eminently comical, which turns out to be not only an original, but also an effective way to analyse reality.

At first glance, it seems to show the Serbia emerged from the terrible Yugoslavia war (1991-1999, and with minor conflicts until 2001), its inhabitant’s mentality, and the havoc and ravages in its social, political, and economic life. At second view, one understands that the disgusting facts shown in the film are not peculiar to this country, but -because of the philosophical, reflexive nature of its perspective- could be found in any other human country. After all, corrupt politicians and devastated societies are everywhere, aren’t they?

“We learned from our mistakes, and perfected ourselves from our catastrophes”.

Instead of adopting the mournful tone its subject-matter seems to require, it tackles it in a surprising way: joining strange images and a collection of satirical and sarcastic aphorisms on human condition and society. The best one can say of this original film is that, despite all odds, it works, and very well. What has been by its director as a “satirical documentary fairy tale”, and by a discerning critic as an “experimental documentary-travelogue-essay film-political commentary-ode to the art of aphorisms”, is an splendid film on human communities, their shortcomings, disasters, and, worst of all, their politicians. So, if you happen to live in a country and a planet ruled by nasty, sadist predators and are in need of inspiration to get by through (good) humor, it is strongly recommended to have a look at it. Maybe you’ve never seen such extravagant shots, nor heard such desperately hilarious aphorisms.

goodbye 2
Someone delivering a futuristic speech.

The approach is clear from the beginning. On the visual aspect, a succession of absurd, bizarre images reflecting the moral, social, an politic situation in Serbia and in any other country ruled by nasty, sadist predators. We see twisted roads, with badly drawn dividing lines, blown out ATMs, eccentric characters unacceptable in a normal, organized society, all of which combined with war disasters: devastated villages, burning churches, mass demonstrations repressed by police. Images can be found footage filmed by anonymous cameras or shots taken by the director in a two year journey across his devastated country.

“My friend, beware of people! There are many of them who are just like you”.

Two urinals and an interesting, relevant reflection.

goodbye 3

goodbye 4
Mesmerising road sights.
goodbye 5
Survival of the fittest.

Images are coupled with an impassible narration reciting humoristic and sarcastic aphorisms. Before studying them properly, let’s have a look at some examples: “The minister is taking the weekend off; that’s his contribution to fighting corruption”; “They are taking a stick-and-carrot approach: First they beat us with sticks, and then with carrots”; “A black cat crossed our way. The next day, it died”; “We made a lot of mistakes. Please arrest those who voted for us!”; “There are also honest people, but that’s their problem”.

“They are taking a stick-and-carrot approach: First they beat us with sticks, and then with carrots”.

This sort of aphorism is widely cultivated in Serbia as a way to denounce situations difficult to solve but easy yo laugh at. In the words of Boris Mitic, the director (who read between 300 and 400 books of Serbian satirical aphorisms in the preparation of the film): “What makes Serbian aphorisms different from classic proverbs is their killer dose of black humor, satire and merciless sarcasm that still conveys a strong humanistic message”. This sort of aphorism is a form of thought specific of Poland and Serbia that permits to reflect humorously on a tragic reality. But in Poland they ceased to be cultivated because things weren’t so bad as in Serbia.

To sum up, it could be said that Serbian satirical aphorism is a popular form, practiced by all sorts of observant, witty people, and present in many mediums: newspapers, conversations, graffiti, demonstrations… It may have subversive functions, of political and social criticisms, of resigned consolation. It appeared as a response to the totalitarian regimes after World War II, as a form of relief in the face of a sad, unpleasant reality one couldn’t scape in any other way. Satiric aphorisms are the perfect antidote to State propaganda, so serious and boring.

Mitic compiled satirical aphorisms over ten years, and used them as comment in his film, creating a symbiotic relationship between them and images. A grave, deliberate masculine voice-over reads them in a row, in apparent disorder; but aphorisms enrich and light images up, and intertwine both with them and with each other, forming a meaningful text. During an hour, the spectator -unless he or she is absolutely lacking in sense of humor- laughs and feels the redemptive power of this condensed, satiric, and subversive bitter irony. Now that the world is ruled by the aforementioned nasty, sadist predators, we are all in dire need of this aphorisms. They provide a modality of resilience that can’t be ignored.

A place to have a rest while waiting for inspiration.
Comparisons are odious.

Aphorisms refer to:

-Political corruption: “The government is winning the battle against poverty.
Our ministers keep getting richer”
; “The politicians have promised: We will live better!
And they do live better”; “We made a lot of mistakes. Please arrest those who voted for us”; “The Minister is taking weekends off. That is his contribution in the fight against organized crime”; “The enemy bombarded the residence of our president, but when we needed him the most, the president was not at home”.

goodbye 6
A radical way to steal money. Politicians aren’t so clumsy.

-Ravages of war: “The longer the war, the closer we are to peace”; “We wanted the war to finish as soon as possible. That’s why we started it first”; “The enemy surprised us again. We expected that he would attack first!”; “We didn’t have any reason to slaughter each other. That motivated us even further”; “With the arrival of international observers,
the number of our war crimes increased. We always liked to show off in front of strangers”.

goodbye 7
A Serbian military-minded person and a Cartesian meditation written on a van: “I think, and therefore I am” (in its original Latin form). How do these two images relate to each other?

-Poverty: “Workers are paid miserably. Luckily, this doesn’t happen very often”; “The working class is the skeleton of our system”; “I met my teacher after 30 years. I recognized him by his coat”.

goodbye 8
A man shows his country house, which needs some renovation. An emblem for society?

-Society: “It is true that we didn’t die, but it’s a lie that we’re still alive”; “A nation that has such a wonderful youth should not worry about the future… Of Canada and Australia”; “We are very worried about the young. They want to take our jobs”.

goodbye 9
We must help youth in their development.

-History: “You shouldn’t be thinking only about your past. Look at what we’re doing to you today!”; “The worst has not passed. The best is yet to come”.

goodbye 8a
The new precariat beach house?

-Repression: “They are applying the sticks and carrots policy. First they beat us with sticks, then with carrots”; “The police fired in the air. Several flying demonstrators died”; “Protesters were brutally attacking, with their backs, the sticks of surprised policemen”.

The ensemble of aphorisms and images and surrealist editing forms a meditation, a different vision of a disastrous historic reality. If one can’t change reality, at least one can change the way of looking at it: that’s the deep sense of this essay film.

Under the rule of the nasty, sadist predators we’ll need action, reflection, and -why not?- humor as well. There doesn’t exist anything like a dictator with sense of humor. It -even in the bitter form of sarcasm and satire, beyond the mild irony- can provide a shelter, a fence, and a weapon, perhaps the slingshot of David against Goliath. As director Boris Mitic said in an interview, “when you ridicule the monster it loses its subjective sense of awe and of fear. So you deal with it in a much easier way”. And well, humor can be healing. There are moments when a good laugh helps a lot, and sometimes it can even be inspiring.

So, now that the bloodthirsty barbarians are here, it would be a good idea to have a look at this film. Someone in America seems to know it already: he or she said in the election night that the first wall which is going to be built will separate Canada and the States.

Stairway to… where?


Director and scriptwriter: Boris Mitić
Country: Serbia
Original language: Serbian
Locations: Serbia
Running length: 56 minutes
Full film (English subtitles):

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