Do You Remember Dolly Bell – A memory to bring along

“Do You Remember Dolly Bell”, by the Chamber Theater 55, was performed on the penultimate evening of the MESS Festival competition program. The direction of the performance is signed by Kokan Mladenovic, dramaturgy by Vedran Fajkovic, and playing in the performance are Mirsad Tuka, Davor Golubovic, Elma Jukic, Emir Hadzihafizbegovic, Tatjana Sojic, Gordana Boban, Muhamed Hadzovic, Admir Glamocak, Sabit Sejdinovic, Amar Selimovic, Sasa Krmpotic and Sin Kurt. The performance is an adaptation based on motifs from the 1981 film of the same title directed by Emir Kusturica and the novel by the screenwriter Abdulah Sidran, so that this dramatic form has some distance from the story shown in the film, ie. novel.

Sabahudin Dino Zolj takes to us in the past through “Do You Remember Dolly Bell”, to year 1963. Dino Zolj is a shadow, the spirit of his own history. The basic motif of the play, memory, was brought to life with 12 suitcases. These suitcases are not only parts of the stage, but also basic props that have multiple meanings. A suitcase can at the same time be a bed, a closet, a chair … The versatility of the stage design, for which Adisa Vatreš – Selimovic is responsible, has made every element of Dino’s memory come to life. At the very beginning of the performance, Dino Zolj (Mirsad Tuka) appears on stage with a suitcase from which the younger version of himself (Davor Golubović) emerges. By opening the suitcase of memories, other characters from Dino’s past, his parents, brothers, friends, Shintor and his first love, Dolly Bell, appear. Dino’s direct encounter with the past brings back painful, but also happy memories, which not only marked Dino’s youth but also a period of socialist rule that many believed in. The performance is staged as Dino’s memory, and as the main actor he participates in each scene and observes his younger self, recognizes his own mistakes and proudly remembers the ideals he once believed in.

Guided by the slogan, “Nothing is impossible in communism” Dino had a seemingly carefree youth, good friends, a stable home, but none of this is as it seems, because Dino’s ideals were grounded in visionary ideas that could not have its foothold at the time. In his world, everything was based on empty promises, every suitcase he brought with him stayed empty, filled only with memories. The director opted for a minimalist concept in which he placed a focus on society, separating the individual from the collective, the only one who can objectively perceive the world around him. It doesn’t require a lot of stage solutions or a lot of props on stage, because it doesn’t really exist or isn’t worth much. The performance, through the Zolj family, portrays that time as impoverished, reduced to only what is most necessary to man. This is why young Dino is obsessed with hypnosis and auto-suggestion, because only as an individual can he change himself, and the system will never allow him to do so. In the middle of the last century, at a time of great transition and economic development, society hoped for a great progression and dreamed of a better future, but the patriarchy still ruled and honoring great dictators. That is why the play emphasizes the family where the father has the main word, and children, especially the mother, have no right to interfere in his decisions. 1963 may seem like a long time ago today, but the state of society has remained the same to this day. The female characters in this play, especially the mothers, are portrayed as caring and sacrificial beings, but are oppressed and disrespected by their loved ones. Such is Dino’s mother, Sena (Gordana Boban), who listens to every word of her husband and obeys it, but maintains peace and order in the house, and the whole harmony of one family would fall apart without her. Opposite to her is Mahmut Zolj (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic), who dies the day he hears of the decision not to get the apartment that belongs to him because the director’s secretary needs it more. His death is light and metaphorical and represents the dying of an entire class who died along with their ideals. The scene in which the father dies is the last scene of this play, but also the most emotional scene, in which the father finally decides to hear what his son writes about, and as Dino reads his notes about utopia, the father slowly takes his last breaths. Dino is the only family member his father has allowed to be with him as he leaves, because he is the only witness to the dying idea.

The whole performance has a nostalgic and a bit sad tone. Although it talks about life as it is with all its ups and downs, the subtext is very pessimistic and promises that the end will touch us in the deepest layers of the soul. One of the brighter memories of Dino’s youth are the days spent in his utopia, in the pigeon house with Dolly Bell. She was his first love, his first kiss and the first time he felt pain for someone. From the beginning, the dynamic between Dino and Doli (Elma Jukovic) manages to draw us into the love story, naive and pure, almost childish. Their relationship develops slowly, and with each new encounter in the pigeon house Dino falls in love with Doli even more. We see them as two young people who live in their microcosmos and still have no idea what lies beyond the pigeon fence. The arrival, that is, the return of Shintor, disrupts Dino’s utopia. Shintor brings Dino’s friends to rape Dolly. The scene of the gang rape was done without a single touch, but it so heinous and scary that the Dolly’s screams and shouts remain flickering in the air for a long time, not allowing such an act to pass over with ease. After that scene, there are no more laughs, no jokes or funny moments. From that moment on, Dino’s utopia no longer exists, and with that all hope is that his love with Dolly Bell will become possible is ended.

Lasting two hours and fifteen minutes, it’s hard to expect that the performance will succeed in continuously maintaining rhythm, but this play has proven that it’s possible. Although the story is somber, the director skillfully uses comic relief in the right places, so it’s impossible not to identify and laugh at the devilishness of little Mido (Sin Kurt) or the imagination of Dino and his bandmates who have to play on improvised instruments. The performance itself is like a ballad about a past that, after watching/listening, leaves a bittersweet aftertaste and does not allow to be forgotten so easily. The actor’s play of the ensemble makes this kind of critique of society come to life in a way that we trust it and ask ourselves who and what we believe in. The director’s concept brought to an end the idea that only with the help of auto-suggestion can one change from within, and that memories are the only things one really needs in order to be able to move on.

Written by: Emina Šehić

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