A tense aura of contingency suffuses "Cabaret Balkan," in which a chain of tragic events unfolds in a bleak illustration of life during wartime. Set in Belgrade in 1995, Goran Paskaljevic's film never deals with war directly, only its sense of dislocation, desperation and hopelessness.
If this movie's title recalls another film about a jittery city under psychological siege, it's meant to: "Cabaret Balkan" opens with the same scene as "Cabaret": a decadent master of ceremonies introducing the proceedings.
From that dank Belgrade rathskeller, the action goes above-ground, where a taxi driver is telling his passenger why he's crazy to return to Yugoslavia.
When the taxi driver is cut off by another driver, Paskaljevic follows that car's course, which ends in an accident and bitter recriminations.
Through a series of short vignettes, in which some characters reappear, "Cabaret Balkan" conveys a vivid portrait of people living on the edge, whether it's two best friends boxing in a gym or a young woman being held hostage on an errant bus.
Similar to "Rome, Open City" in its realism and immediacy, "Cabaret Balkan" doesn't offer any enduring truths or explanations of what for most Westerners remains an inexplicable conflict. Instead it shows the wages of war on the most delicate of territories, the human psyche.
Even when these characters get what seems to be coming to them -- and most of them do -- their loss and sadness is made grievously clear.