• The comedy Mamarosh screens in the fest on Saturday at 7 PM.

Like the MOSTRA Brazilian Film Series, the Chicago Serbian Film Fest, which takes place this Friday through Sunday at the Muvico Theatres in Rosemont, is less of a cinematic event than a lesson in foreign history. Four of the six selections deal directly with Serbia’s past, and the two that don’t (the dramas Circles and State) center on the theme of atoning for past transgressions. The legacy of World War II hangs over Ravana Gora and When Day Breaks, which screen on Sunday at 7:15 PM and 8:30 PM respectively. The first is part of a TV miniseries about guerilla warfare between German collaborators and Serbian partisans; the second is a recent feature about a retired music professor who discovers his parents died in a Nazi concentration camp. Falsifier, screening Friday at 9 PM, takes place during the 1960s (“the beginning of the end of a grand illusion called Yugoslavia,” per the festival programmers) and tells the story of a forger of high school diplomas who gets into trouble with the Tito regime.

Of the two selections I previewed, I preferred Mamarosh, an unexpectedly gentle comedy that hinges on NATO’s bombing of Serbia in 1999. (It screens Saturday at 7 PM.) The title character is a middle-aged schlemiel who lives with his mother in Belgrade and works as a projectionist—until the outbreak of war disrupts his cozy lifestyle. Writer-director Momcilo Mrdakovic presents his life as something out of a fairy tale, surrounding him with whimsical supporting characters and a warm, dusky color scheme reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s films. The movie might have drowned in its own cuteness if it weren’t for the historical context, which imbues the genial humor with a dark undertone. I sensed the influence of Emir Kusturica (Time of the Gypsies, Underground), the most famous of Serbian filmmakers and likely one of the funniest. Kusturica’s work hasn’t turned up here since Black Cat, White Cat received a U.S. release almost 15 years ago. If you can’t make it to Rosemont this weekend, I recommend seeking out some of his movies on DVD.