***1/2 (three and a half stars)
Every few months like a clockwork, the flipped-out folks who program Film Forum unleash a completely original, wonderfully weird film on us unsuspecting New Yorkers. This time around it’s “Predictions of Fire” — a mesmerizing, mind-blowing look at the uneasy mixing of politics and art in Eastern Europe — in particular, the former Yugoslavia.
It’s best to come into this movie with a rudimentary knowledge of the Serbo-Croatian mess, as the film’s structure and content are demanding from the very first frame. In fact, “Predictions of Fire” plays out just like the subject it covers — it’s a series of hypnotic, relentlessly hammering images that blast at the brain like the sharpest, most calculating propaganda films.
Director Michael Benson launches his amazing audio-visual assault by focusing on the controversial performance-art/industrial-rock group Laibach — champions of a new avant-garde art movement called NSK (New Slovenian Arts). Laibach’s goal — as well as that of NSK — is to deconstruct the untold abuse the art world suffered at the hands of the commies and the fascists by staging performances that make Lou Reed’s “Metal Machine Music” nearly seem melodic.
Within this loose framework, Benson explores the history of totalitarianism in Yugoslavia and how the government pushed its oppressive ideology by incorporating it in art. One absolutely twisted bit of nostalgia is a cheaply animated post-war training film that teaches families how to escape from burning buildings.
“Predictions of Fire” is a lesson in the strength of the human spirit — despite their oppression under outrageously inhumane conditions, the Slavs have toughed it out. For those who have yet to visit the former Yugoslavia, this film will either thoroughly fascinate you and perhaps motivate you to make the trek to that strange and uncompromising land — or repel you and make you thank God you’re an American.