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The Politics of Hiccups

The Politics of Hiccups

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Published by vlad-naum-880
CineAction Spring , 2004 no. 64
CineAction Spring , 2004 no. 64

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Published by: vlad-naum-880 on Mar 08, 2013
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The politics of hiccups: national cinema without national language.(Critical Essay)CineAction Spring , 2004 no. 64
1.The End of Eastern and Central European Historical AllegoryFilms from Eastern and Central Europe (1) are rarely discussed outside thenational-cinema framework. They are reputed to have a unique regionalsensibility: a tragic or ironic preoccupation with national history permeatesvirtually every film made in the former Soviet Bloc. This preoccupation takesa variety of aesthetic forms and ideological directions, from realistic historicalepics adapted from classics of national literature to "existentialist" films, inwhich the historical background is projected onto the moral screen of thehero-protagonist. (2) Films generally selected as representative of East andCentral European cinemas during the Cold War, such as Andrzej Wajda'sAshes and Diamonds (Popiol I diament, 1958), Miklos Jancso's The Red and The White (Csillagosok, katonak, 1967), Istvan Szabo's Mephisto (1980) or Jan Kadar's The Shop on Main Street (Obchod na korze, 1965) all processtrauma! tic moments of collective history in an allegorical language thatprojects the past onto the unspeakable, politically oppressive present,assuming a national audience eager and able to decode the Aesopeaninscriptions. [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] The end of the Cold War pulled the rugfrom under the Eastern and Central European tradition of allegoricalfilmmaking. Tragic and romantic heroes are out of place in the age of thetriumphant, global postmodern, where no truth is taken for granted, whereidentities and identifications proliferate well beyond the narrow confines of nationalism, and where the heroic is inconceivable without the ridiculous. Theend of communist censorship, the end of the Manichean opposition betweenoppressor and oppressed that had characterized Soviet-type culturesrendered the Aesopean double talk superfluous. Changing conditions of filmmaking, distribution, and exhibition have left East and Central Europeanfilmmakers and audiences in a state of confusion. However, after the initialshock over losing most of their state funding and guaranteed domesticexhibition, most post-socialist film industries bounced back by the mid-nineties. The end of the Cold War made its mark on world cinema and film
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criticism as well, leaving both cold towards formerly celebrated East andCentral European national allegories. This loss of prestige has little to do withaudiences: gloomy East and Central European films had only interestedselect groups of film buffs outside of the region even during socialism; while,for the most part, they had lost touch with entertainment-starved, message-burdened domestic audiences long before 1989. Rather, what becameevident after the fall of the Wall was that the genre of national historical filmhad been partially propped up by Western festival critics themselves. In otherwords, it is likely that what had lent East and Central European films such aunique position in world cinema during the Cold War was not necessarily theaesthetic value of the films or the originality of the filmmakers but Westerninvestment in the idea of "good nationalism"--of nations firmly embedded inteleolog! ical history united around the voice of the white male genius--anotion that East European filmmakers eagerly embraced and perpetuatedthemselves. I wish to contribute to the process of reassessing the validity of East and Central European national cinemas and their critical reception fromthe vantage point we have gained in the fifteen years since the end of theCold War. My primary interest is in the transformation of the allegorical formvis-a-vis the East and Central European nation caught up in processes of globalization in every sphere of culture. I will first sketch out somedisruptions and continuities between the allegorical East and CentralEuropean film of the Cold War and films produced in the post-socialist period. The rest of the essay will be devoted to the case study of a film that hascreatively and successfully bridged the divide between old and newfilmmaking traditions and audience expectations: Gyorgy Palfi's Hukkle(2001). I am interested in how such a transition manifests itself in severalinterrelated areas: film style, allegorical film structure and interpretation, theposition of the artist-! filmmaker, the complexities of the film's address andaudience, and the post-Cold War conditions of production, distribution, andexhibition for Eastern and Central European films. My ultimate goal is toinitiate in studies of film cultures what has already occurred in East andCentral European cultures on a larger scale: to remove their "unique" labeland see what the label has been protecting; to open up these transitionalcultures to comparisons that question and critique the national. Such aperspective should contribute to determining whether "national cinema" isstill a valid category at all; and, if so, how we should understand it in anarguably post-national, post-historical age.
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2.
 Transitional VoicesIt has become a central preoccupation for filmmakers and critics in post-socialist cultures to decide who is to blame for the miserable domesticreputation and box-office revenues of national films: filmmakers themselves,who, with few exceptions, have been producing titanic, navel-gazing filmexperiments since the late 1970s without concern for the audience, or the'uneducated' public, who would rather consume the trash dumped ontoEuropean markets from the Hollywood genre film machine than perform thepatriotic duty of watching national films. (3) Several alternatives have beentried throughout Eastern Europe to break Hollywood's genre-film monopolyand attract domestic audiences to the theatres: a large number of, largelyderivative, local or co-produced thrillers, comedies and action-adventureflicks have tried to adapt the conventions of genre films to East and CentralEuropean conditions. The logic of these productions is predictable and justifiable. As a critic writes about Jaroslav Soukup's enormously successfulFriend in the Rain Part II--Story from Brooklyn (1992), the film has "as manyneon lights, long-legged blonds, and men with ponytails as anything to comeout of Hollywood. If the fact that the characters speak Czech (except whenthey're manifesting their hipness by speaking English) seems incidental, it'snot. If the Czechs want to watch Body of Evidence instead of Howard's End,better it be made in their own country where at least it keeps the studiosworking." (4) In a similar vein, the first Polish ! films of the transition thatproved truly popular among native audiences were the comedy ControlledConversations (Sylvester Checinski, 1991), and the action comedy Kroll(Wladyslaw Pasikowski, 1991). In Hungary, Europa Express (Csaba Horvath,1999), substituting Ukrainian Mafiosi for the customary Italian-Americans,guaranteed success just by virtue of being the first Hungarian action-adventure film, paving the way for other popular films such as the lightslapstick comedy Out of Order (Andras Kern, 1997). The interest in nationalhistory has not waned, either. Jan Hrebejk carried on the aesthetic-politicallegacy of the Czech New Wave in films such as Divided We Fall (2000) andPupendo (2003). In recent Polish patriotic historical epics such as Pan Tadeusz (Andrzej Wajda, 1999), With Fire and Sword (Jerzy Hoffman, 1999),or in their more controversial Hungarian equivalent, The Bridge Man (GezaBeremenyi, 2002), crowd-pleasing spectacle substitutes for the justifyingmission of national dissidence against the oppressive socialist regime. Suchfilms, while professionally produced, can only be considered nostalgic,
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