Dušan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid

Eric Roberts as The Coca-Cola Kid

Eric Roberts as The Coca-Cola Kid

            Dušan Makavejev has acquired a reputation, as a result of his most critically acknowledged film WR: Mysteries Of The Organism (1971), for being a political satirist of the highest order in the cinema. It’s strange that such a reputation is founded primarily on one film, since most of his earlier work is only now becoming available. Dušan Makavejev’s earlier films, which conform to the Yugoslavian Black Wave of the sixties, are equally scathing depictions of the Soviet political machine. Innocence Unprotected (1968), Dušan Makavejev’s experimental exercise in filmic reflexivity, epitomizes the concerns of both WR: Mysteries Of The Organism and his Canadian production Sweet Movie (1974), whilst simultaneously pointing toward the sociological concerns with regards to human sexuality that made his two most popular features so controversial at the time of their initial release.

            Working within the Black Wave movement, Dušan Makavejev established a correlation between human sexuality and political policy that always remained intrinsically Serbian and therefore anti-Soviet. Logically, his films moved away from such thematic material and began to approach other political entities with his unique brand of satirism once he left Yugoslavia. Sweet Movie was Dušan Makavejev’s first film to move away from the Black Wave, followed ten years thereafter by the Cinecom Pictures production The Coca-Cola Kid (1985), from a screenplay by Frank Moorhouse. An Australian production, The Coca-Cola Kid represents Dušan Makavejev’s most traditionally narrative film since Love Affair, or the Case Of The Missing Switchboard Operator (1968) as well as the director’s first outright criticism of American Imperialism.

            The Coca-Cola Kid follows an eccentric executive of Coca-Cola named Becker (Eric Roberts) as he attempts to bring a soft drink monopoly to Australia while pursuing a love affair with his secretary (Greta Scacchi) and being mistaken for a CIA operative. The film is littered with comically surreal images indigenous to Makavejev’s previous films such as a love scene amidst white feathers from an exploded pillow case between Scacchi and Roberts while they’re dressed in Santa Claus suits. Trademark moments like these are augmented by expositional scenes that stress the cultural barrier between Australia and the USA, as well as America’s role as an invasive force of capitalism.

Scacchi in the film's famous love scene

Scacchi in the film’s famous love scene

            Eric Roberts’ portrayal of Becker is so highly stylized that it intentionally metamorphoses into caricature rather quickly, permitting Makavejev to create an emotional distance between the audience and the character, so that Becker becomes representative of America as a whole. Albeit this summation of American culture and political policy as signified by Becker is subjectively European.

Strangely, it is Roberts’ outrageous performance that makes this film Makavejev’s most accessible film to a mainstream audience unfamiliar with his prior works. Though The Coca-Cola Kid has never achieved the cult status or infamy of either Sweet Movie or WR: Mysteries Of The Organism.

-Robert Curry

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