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BERLIN (Reuters) - A comedy about a former Serb war hero who recruits erstwhile enemies from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo to protect a Gay Pride parade offers a delightful snapshot of the post-war healing that has taken place in the ex-Yugoslav republics.
"The Parade" director Srdan Dragojevic said after his film was well received at the Berlin Film Festival on Monday that he opted to use humor as the wrapping for a film that tackles the disturbing reality of gay persecution in Serbia.
"Humor is so important," said Dragojevic. "My film was attacked by both left-wing liberals and right-wing nationalists. The trouble is they don't have a sense of humor. I use humour to mellow people down first and then hit them over the head."
The fictional tale is ostensibly about gay rights in Serbia and includes footage of the violence that erupted when right-wing activists disrupted a 2010 Gay Pride march in Belgrade.
More than 100 police were injured. Authorities in Serbia then banned a gay rights parade in 2011 citing safety concerns.
But on another level the film depicts Serbs, Croats, Bosnian and Kosovo Albanians working together and having fun together for a common cause - to protect a persecuted minority.
For Berlinale audiences accustomed to depressing films from the former Yugoslavia about the war and war crimes, such as "Grbavica" in 2006 and "Storm" in 2009, The Parade is a first-rate crowd-pleaser and box office hit throughout the Balkans.
More than 500,000 people have seen Dragojevic's comedy in all six ex-Yugoslav republics. Its makers said it is the first co-production by all republics since before the 1991-95 wars.
"For me this film is a statement of what's happening 15 years later," Dragojevic said. "The war is over, we've had enough violence, and this is what my film is offering: Let's try to be better people and communicate."
Dragojevic said he hoped The Parade, which has drawn interest from international film buyers at the Berlinale with rights for France already sold, can further help the post-war healing and revive what he called Yugoslav cinema.
"The reaction across ex-Yugoslavia has been fantastic," he said. "People prefer this film over local productions. They feel this film is a genuine Yugoslav film. After a really ugly transition, I'm hoping for a new era for such films."
The film opens with a glossary of terms used by the different warring parties such as 'Chetnik' (Serb), 'Balija' (Bosnian) and 'Shiptar' (Kosovo Albanian) while the one term "used by everyone" is 'peder' - "faggot."
The protagonist, Limun, is at first a thoroughly unlikeable, macho Serbian war veteran with a dark past now working as a bodyguard. His voluptuous fiancee persuades him to protect the Gay Pride parade organized by her wedding planner.
Limun is transformed into a likeable character as he travels to Croatia to recruit a war-time rival to help. Their road trip takes them to Bosnia and Kosovo to collect other former enemies who squeeze their bulk into a Mini for the drive to Belgrade for a climactic battle to protect the parade.
"The reason I wanted to be part of this movie is the healing," said Goran Javojec, who plays the Croatian veteran.
"Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo were involved in the wars. But that's over now. We all speak the languages that we can all understand perfectly. This movie touches all these nationalities. People hated each other in the wars. After this movie they're thinking about each other differently."
Mima Simic, a Croatian gay rights activist, told Sarajevo-based Dani magazine the film shows the Balkans are beginning to understand that "it's not really OK to beat up gays."
"But above all it's a cunning and calculated film whose main goal is to regain audiences of former Yugoslavia and win Western markets. The subject of gay rights as a symbol of transition is a gold mine that Dragojevic is fully taking advantage of."
Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum