Editorial 3–4 Articles 5–16 Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches EWA MAZIERSKA Slovak bohemians: revolution, counterculture and the end of the Sixties in Juraj Jakubisko’s films JONATHAN OWEN Coming to terms with the past: post-1989 strategies in German film culture IB BONDEBJERG ‘Cinema of normalization’: changes of stylistic model in post-Yugoslav cinema after the 1990s ˇ ´ JURICA PAVICIC Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition: the documentary turn in contemporary art in the Baltic States HARRY WEEKS Revolution, cinema, painting: creative recycling of images in the films of Tom Gotovac (Antonio Lauer) ’ NIKICA GILIC JOHN CUNNINGHAM Interview 97–107 Conversation with Yvette Biró: interviews conducted in Paris, 5 July 2008, and New York City, 1 November 2008 CATHERINE PORTUGES 85–96 Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic GREG DeCUIR, JR.


Reviews 109–113 Polish Postcommunist Cinema: From Pavement Level, Ewa Mazierska (2007) 114–118 Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition, Peter Hames (2009) 119–126 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2009: a remarkable showcase of contemporary cinema Industry Document 127–130 The Hungarian tax credit system and the 20% rebate scheme JOHN CUNNINGHAM






SEEC 1 (1) p. 3–4 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Editorial. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.3/2

JOHN CUNNINGHAM Principal Editor

A very warm welcome to the first issue of Studies in Eastern European Cinema! It is the aim of the editors that the journal will fill a gap in the scholarly and intellectual landscape of cinema studies about Eastern Europe. For some time, actually for too long, there has been no regularly appearing Englishlanguage journal devoted to the cinema of the region. This has stood in sharp contrast to the number of excellent publications, monographs, edited collections, conferences and symposia, etc. devoted to Eastern European cinema which have proliferated since the collapse of the Berlin Wall some 20 years ago (unfortunately we will just miss the anniversary of this momentous event). The team that worked together on bringing this new ‘creation’ to life thought long and hard about the scope of the journal and discussed this with a number of prominent scholars in the field. The consensus that emerged was for a publication that would be reasonably well defined but as inclusive as possible. The editors therefore decided that the journal, at least in the politico-geographical sense, would embrace the following: Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, the states of the former Yugoslavia, Albania and Ukraine. Obviously there are many issues here about labels and definitions – what should the region now be called, and is there in fact a region at all? An editorial of this nature is not really the place to go into these complexities and Associate Editor Ewa Mazierska has written an opening article discussing and developing a number of these issues in more depth and where she also looks at new developments in scholarship about the region’s cinema. Whatever problems there may be with calling the area covered by the scope of the journal ‘Eastern Europe’, we nevertheless decided to adopt this term, primarily because of that sense of inclusiveness that we see as so important.


John Cunningham

The former state of East Germany posed a problem and after discussion we decided to include it in our remit and we are pleased to have, in our first issue, an article by Ib Bondebjerg on representations of East Germany in some recent films from the unified Germany. In addition we have articles about aspects of cinema from the Baltic States, Slovakia, Yugoslavia and elsewhere and, again, emphasizing our desire for inclusiveness we include articles on directors working in video and look forward to receiving contributions from scholars (and practitioners) on digital and mixed media productions. Historically, we have articles that take us back to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia in the 1960s and others that are firmly embedded in the present. The editors are particularly pleased to include a lengthy interview with Hungarian scholar, critic, writer and theoretician Yvette Biró, whose life’s work has embraced so much of what this journal is designed to engage with. As Principal Editor of this new venture, allow me to express my deep thanks to my colleagues Ewa Mazierska (Associate Editor) and Michael Goddard (Reviews Editor) and to all those who so willingly agreed to join the editorial board and the advisory editorial board. Special thanks must go to Catherine Portuges and Peter Hames without whose advice the journal would probably never have appeared. Thanks also to my colleague at Sheffield Hallam University, Gerry Coubro, for his encouragement when I first raised the idea with him. My apologies to anyone I have inadvertently missed out. The gestation period of the journal has been around eighteen months and, for me, has involved a learning curve, the steepness of which has sometimes been quite alarming. So, my final acknowledgement must go to Ravi Butalia, Alanna Donaldson and all the team at Intellect for their patience, guidance and advice.


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 5–16 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.5/1

EWA MAZIERSKA Associate Editor, University of Central Lancashire, Preston

Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches
This opening article looks at the changing ways of conceptualizing Eastern Europe as a region, particularly since the political changes of 1989. This is discussed alongside the changes and emerging trends in more recent scholarship on Eastern European cinema.

postcommunism Eastern European cinema Central Europe chronotope transnational

We decided to open the first issue of our new journal with an essay concerning not the history of Eastern European film, but the history of its history, or more precisely, recent developments in the histories of Eastern European cinemas. It is uncharted territory for me both in the sense of having limited knowledge about the respective histories and cinemas, and not having any strong opinion about how film histories should be studied and compared. However, despite these limitations I decided to embark on this subject because it needs to be discussed as the study of history of cinema in itself is an important part of this cinema. Equally, I hope that the gaps that I reveal in my article will allow others to inform and correct me, as well as giving all of us some food for thought. In particular, I want to discuss the impact of the transition from communism to postcommunism on the discourses on Eastern European cinema(s) from the period 1945–89 and the study of postcommunist cinema itself.


Ewa Mazierska

My essay is based on studying academic books and articles, researching other developments in Eastern European cinema, such as film festivals and conferences, as well as opinions collected first through an informal and then a more formal questionnaire which I e-mailed in 2008 and 2009 to about twenty academics and Ph.D. students specializing in Eastern European cinema. I tried to familiarize myself with publications on as many national cinemas as I could reach in a limited amount of time and, equally, reach as many specialists as I could, including scholars from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Ukraine and Estonia. However, due to the fact that I am Polish and know films in Poland better than any other national cinema, for better or for worse, my observations are biased towards that country.

My first question is what cinema are we to consider? The term ‘Eastern European cinema’ is less used now than before 1989, being largely replaced by ‘East-Central/East Central European cinema’ or even ‘Central European cinema’. I am myself, in common with the other two editors of Studies in Eastern European Cinema, very attached to ‘Eastern European cinema’, but feel that we are often perceived as old-fashioned and unsophisticated when using this term. Of course, the contentious parts of the terms ‘Eastern European cinema’ and ‘East-Central European cinema’ is not ‘cinema’ but ‘Eastern European’ and ‘East-Central European’. As some authors, including Paul Coates observe, the term competing most successfully with ‘Eastern European’, ‘East Central’, did not enter cultural discourses after the fall of communism, but has existed since the 1950s and started to circulate, at least in Poland, in the mid-1980s (Coates 2000). However, shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the debate about ‘Central’ and ‘East Central’ Europe in relation to ‘Eastern Europe’ gathered pace. Marcel Cornis-Pope and John Neubauer refer to a round-table discussion which took place in June 1989 in Budapest, involving some of the leading writers from the old ‘Eastern Europe’, such as H.C. Artmann, Péter Esterházy, Danilo Kiš, György Konrád, Claudio Magris, Czesław Michnik and others. At this debate, as they report, Czesław Miłosz defined Central Europe in his opening paper as ‘all the countries [including the Baltic states] that in August 1939 were the real or hypothetical objects of a trade between the Soviet Union and Germany’, but Artmann indignantly objected, claiming that the Baltic countries belonged to Scandinavia and his country, Austria, was omitted, just because it was lucky enough to regain independence in 1955. His response shifted the context from 1939 to the post-war period, but the implications are clear: Artmann meant that Austria was a Central European country and Miłosz had no right to identify Central Europe with the Soviet-dominated countries of Eastern Europe. To this, Claudio Magris remarked that Central Europe was not identical with the German historico-political designation of Mitteleuropa. The latter connoted the ‘the encounter of German culture with the other cultures of the same region, but its predominant implication was that of a German or at best German-Hungarian supremacy in Central Europe’ (Cornis-Pope and Naubauer 2002: 2). The discussion described here, although unique due to the high profile of its participants, was one of many which took place around that time. We can derive from this that ‘East Central’ and ‘Central’ have different connotations than ‘East’; these terms emphasize both the geographical and cultural


Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches

closeness of some countries comprising the old Soviet bloc with the West, especially Germany and, at the same time, their distance from the East, especially Russia. If we focus on cinema, we can see that as a result of such shifts Polish, Czech and Hungarian cinemas now tend to be grouped together with German and Austrian cinema, rather than with Russian or even Romanian or Albanian. Similarly, the shift drove a wedge between Russian cinema and that of some more western old Soviet republics, such as those belonging to the Baltic region and Ukraine. Paul Coates investigates the meaning of ‘East Central’ by looking at the films made before communism collapsed: Tadeusz Konwicki’s How Far From Here – How Near/Jak daleko sta˛d, jak blisko (1972) and Krzysztof Zanussi’s Imperative/Imperatyw (1982), by claiming that their authors attempted to account for the new thinking about Poland as somehow stretching culturally beyond its political borders, both to the East and to the West. His essay is thus, in a sense, an early intervention in the discussion of Polish cinema as East Central European cinema or Central European cinema. After Coates, the problems of redrawing the map was tackled by numerous authors, including Dina Iordanova. In her book, Cinema of the Other Europe (2003), while claiming that the Eastern bloc changed into East Central Europe, she opts for ‘Other Europe’ rather than ‘East Central Europe’. It is worth noting that this term, although avoiding controversy around ‘East European’ and ‘East Central’, is by no means axiologically neutral, because it positions the cinema of countries such as Poland and Hungary as Western Europe’s ‘other’, much more than ‘East European’ and ‘East Central’, which attempts to situate these cinemas in the European mainstream. Coates and Iordanova’s work also aptly demonstrate that redrawing national and regional boundaries affects not only our thinking about films made after 1989, but is retrospectively applied to the films made before that date. I can mention a number of other signs of such ‘backward projection’, for example, the research done by Czech scholars on early Czech cinema in the context of German–Austrian–Czech relations and, similarly, research on early Polish cinema in the region of Wielkopolska, chiefly undertaken by Małgorzata Hendrykowska, as an example to both resistance and assimilation of Polish cinema to Prussian culture (see, for example, Hendrykowska 1996). The move of ‘Eastern European cinema’ to ‘East Central’, ‘Central’ and the ‘Other’ Europe also has institutional implications. It affects configurations of university departments, networks and associations of scholars, directions taken by existing journals and the setting up of new ones, programmes of festivals, etc. As an example of this shift we can list the change in the name of the Journal of Soviet Studies to Europe-Asia Studies or the initiatives resulting from the opportunities offered by the Visegrad fund, which encourages seeking synergies between Polish, Czech, Slovak and Hungarian cultures, including the cinemas of these countries and, consequently, playing down the connections between these cinemas on the one hand and the rest of the old Soviet bloc on the other. It will be very difficult to assess how the aforementioned changes affected the volume, character and quality of work done on the cinemas belonging to the old Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, I asked my colleagues which national cinema or geographical region, in their opinion, gained in visibility and status and which lost as a result of redrawing the map. Those who responded claimed that the shift proved unfortunate for those cinemas which previously had, after


Ewa Mazierska

1. The closest to this position is probably Béla Tarr.

Russia, a dominant position in Eastern Europe, namely Czech, Hungarian and Polish, in this order. Czechs are happier than Poles and Hungarians to have their cinema belonging to ‘East Central’ or ‘Central’ Europe, because even at the time of Soviet occupation they regarded themselves as being at the heart of this continent, both geographically and culturally. For Hungarian and especially Polish cinema, on the other hand, the shift marks the loss of a distinct identity without acquiring a new one. This is because while the old Eastern European cinema had its counterpart in Western cinema, ‘East Central’ European cinema does not have a specific ‘other’; on the contrary, it merges with other cinemas and is overwhelmed by them, especially by the ‘Germanic element’, in line with the predictions made at the literary conference previously mentioned. This unfortunate position is compounded by the perception that the cinemas in German-speaking countries are flourishing, both as national institutions, successfully addressing the current problems of their countries and their histories, and as transnational cinema, dealing with pan-European and universal problems. An example of this success is the career of Michael Haneke who appears to have conquered the place previously occupied by Krzysztof Kieslowski, namely as a defender of pan-European values or even a spokesman for the whole of Europe. By contrast, the East part of Central Europe does not have any obvious heir to Kieslowski.1 On the other hand, the cinema of countries that were previously thwarted by their larger and culturally more self-assured neighbours, such as Romania or Bulgaria, now attract greater attention than before communism collapsed. The interest they attract can also be linked to the fact that they, together with a number of cinemas of ex-Soviet republics, perfectly illustrate the idea of ‘small cinemas’. In the last two decades or so this idea became fashionable largely due to postmodern interest in marginality, small narratives, local cultures, as well as a sense of exhaustion experienced by so called First and Second cinemas. Of course, it is impossible to scientifically compare the loss of status experienced by the previously leading Eastern European cinemas with the gain achieved by cinemas that were regarded as marginal. Nevertheless, I believe that so far the loss of one group is not compensated for by the gain of another. For example, while my new cohorts of students are less likely to know such titles as Blonde in Love and Ashes and Diamonds than those whom I taught ten years or so ago, it does not mean that they have heard of The Death of Mr Lazarescu. A good sign of this relative loss of status of Eastern European cinema within European and world cinema is the list of directors included in some recent international portmanteau films. For example, among the eighteen directors involved in making Paris, je t’aime (2006), we do not find a single director from Eastern Europe, although there is one from ‘Central Europe’ – Tom Tykwer. Such an omission may be accidental or may result from some East European directors deliberately excluding themselves from the project, but even if so, it signifies the old Eastern bloc’s cultural marginalization within the new Europe. I will argue that the term ‘Central Europe’ might be seen as a way to confirm and perpetuate a marginalization, which the production of films such as Paris, je t’aime is one of many signs. I therefore would like to defend the term ‘Eastern European’ cinema, regarding it as more flexible and inclusive than the phrases proposed recently, which were meant to replace it. In particular, it is the only term that can inclusively embrace all the countries


Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches

we cover in the journal. Moreover, it evokes the history of their previous, largely enforced cohabitation, which we hope to be an important aspect of the material published in our journal, without preventing the authors to write about the present day of these countries and their respective cinemas. To put it differently, it is not the only way to talk about cinemas of countries such as Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Estonia or Serbia, but it is a legitimate and productive way. But what have been the dominant methods of researching this cinema? To this issue I will devote the second part of my study.

The break-up of the old Soviet bloc equalled the end of the enforced cohabitation of nations that often did not regard themselves as particularly close to each other culturally and a chance to assert their autonomy, as demonstrated by the subsequent break-up of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. We might expect that such fragmentation would encourage and facilitate the conveying of a national identity, at the expense of any international one.2 Indeed, following these break-ups, we see an ongoing debate not only about how national the postcommunist cinemas in the respective new countries are, but also how national they were previously. Such investigation brings some surprising outcomes. For example, Bjorn Ingvoldstad, in an essay entitled ‘The Paradox of Lithuanian Cinema’, argues that before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Lithuania boasted cinema in many respects more national than after it became a separate state. In particular, the mass Lithuanian audience was more attuned to Soviet Lithuanian films than they are to Lithuanian films of the last two decades or so (Ingvoldstad 2008). Bohdan Nebesio, in his discussion of new Ukrainian films does not go as far as Ingvoldstad, but in a somewhat similar vein emphasizes the popularity of Soviet Ukrainian films among Ukrainian audiences and the important role they played in asserting, preserving and developing Ukrainian national identity (Nebesio 2007). Similarly, Eva Näripea draws attention to the complex relation between Soviet and Estonian aspects in Soviet Estonian films of different periods (e.g. Näripea 2008). By and large, the research of these scholars points paradoxically to the impossibility of using national approaches when writing the histories of these cinemas and, consequently, the necessity to use a transnational perspective. However, if we look at the histories of cinemas of countries which did not undergo such dramatic transformation as Lithuania, Ukraine or Estonia, then we observe that a transnational perspective hardly affects their histories, at least the dominant discourses on them. Certainly this is the case of Polish cinema. The recently published The History of Polish Cinema/Historia kina polskiego, written by Tadeusz Lubelski (2009), regarded in Poland as the greatest living authority on Polish cinema, practically excludes from his version of the history of Polish cinema any films that lend themselves to transnational treatment, such as international co-productions or the work of exiled film-makers. Equally, he pays relatively little attention to foreign influences on Polish films. Even more poignantly, Lubelski excludes from his discourse the vast majority of works on Polish cinema written by émigré scholars. For example, there is no mention of the two books about Wajda written by Janina Falkowska or the distinct body of work about women in Polish cinema, produced by Elz ˙bieta Ostrowska, including the book Women in Polish Cinema (2006), on which we collaborated. The histories of Polish cinema written by Coates and Haltof are mentioned by Lubelski in his ‘Introduction’ and they

2. However, it should be mentioned that, contrary to expectations, histories of European or world cinema, written in individual countries, such as Poland and Czechoslovakia, during communist times, also emphasized national specificity. I do not know a single book written in Polish that investigates connections between Polish and Russian, Polish or Czechoslovak or Polish and Romanian cinema.


Ewa Mazierska

are included in the bibliography, but he does not quote them. As for me, two of my articles are mentioned, but only those that I published in Polish. This does not mean that Lubelski is entirely oblivious to film studies outside Poland. For example, in his bibliography, I found Bordwell and Thompson’s book, Classical Hollywood Cinema. The rule that governs Lubelski’s construction of the history of Polish cinema largely applies to histories written in English. Marek Haltof in his Polish National Cinema, true to its title, focuses on the Polishness of Polish cinema. He only makes an exception for postcommunist films, describing them as ‘Polish films with an American accent’. Haltof welcomes this accent, writing that he sees in them ‘a chance to rejuvenate Polish film – to make it well narrated and absorbing for the viewer’ (Haltof 2002: 257). However, he does not elaborate his thesis and, in particular, does not consider any problems resulting from adopting a foreign accent. The national approach, although dominant in Polish film history, is not exclusive. If we take into account the works of the youngest generation of film historians, authors in their twenties and thirties, then we observe an opposite approach. I want to mention here especially the critics gathered around the journals Krytyka Polityczna and Panoptikum, as well as art historians, such as Łukasz Ronduda and Kamila Wielebska, who show little interest in the nationalism of Polish national cinema epitomized by Andrzej Wajda. Instead, they are preoccupied with that part of Polish cinema that lends itself to a transna˙ tional approach, such as the films of Walerian Borowczyk, Andrzej Zuławski or Wilhelm Sasnal and use such a perspective, even if they do not name it. The tangible fruit of this new approach is an edited collection, Polish New Wave: The History of a Phenomenon that Never Existed, edited by Łukasz Ronduda and Barbara Piwowarska, published in 2008. The very fact that this book is in Polish and English testifies to its international ambition. Equally important is the fact that the impulse to recreate or create a Polish New Wave (which, as its very title suggests, never existed ‘properly’ in Poland) was the ‘ premiere of the film Summer Love (2006) by Piotr Uklanski, a film labelled as the first Polish western and featuring in one of the main parts Hollywood actor, Val Kilmer. However, despite its approach, scope and address, Polish New Wave is an example of a national approach in the sense of being written exclusively by Polish authors living in Poland. This is despite the fact that these authors have their equivalents in young scholars working abroad, such as Daniel Bird, Dorota Ostrowska or Joanna Rydzewska, who also attempt ‘othering’ Polish cinema by focusing on film-makers such as Borowczyk, · Zuławski or Pawlikowski.

Apart from signs of internationalizing discourses on national cinemas, I observe several additional changes. The methods of researching East European cinema became more heterogeneous and interdisciplinary and, at the same time, more theorized and rigorous. The sharp division between film historians and theoreticians (with the latter usually occupying a superior position) has now practically disappeared. Historians use theory to a greater extent than in the past and ‘pure’ theoreticians are almost extinct. Needless to say, this development reflects the changes in western film studies and humanities at large, often described as the end or death of theory.


Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches

I will identify a number of theoretical strands that affect the new writing. Two of them are feminism and queer theory. This is related to the fact that after 1989 gender studies were established in numerous academic departments across Eastern Europe (see, for example, Jagielski and MorstinPopławska 2009); and the new (however relative) freedom enjoyed by sexual minorities resulted in their desire to study their previously hidden history. A third strand is post-Freudian psychoanalysis, especially in the version offered by Slavoj Žižek, who might be the most quoted author by those writing about Polish cinema and who himself epitomizes the trend of mixing theory with history. I will also list attempts to adjust colonial or postcolonial theory to the study of Eastern European cinema. My colleagues also mentioned the influence of Deleuze. Certainly Deleuze is now included in film studies in Poland and we can list serious attempts by Polish scholars to introduce his thought to Polish readers (see, for example, Jakubowska 2003), but I do not see studies on Polish cinema in any sense transformed by Deleuzian theories, not least because his main works, devoted to cinema, Cinéma 1 and Cinéma 2, with an exception of small fragments, were not translated into Polish (or, indeed, into other languages spoken in the countries covered by our journal). Historians of Eastern Europe have tended to stress the relationship between cinema and literature (which was partly a consequence of their focus on cinema as high art and a vehicle through which something else, such as history or politics is transmitted), examples being the histories of Czechoslovak and Polish cinema written respectively by Peter Hames (2005) and Paul Coates (2005).3 Post-1989 I observe greater interest in the relationship between cinema and visual arts, of which a study by Jonathan Owen on surrealism and the Czech New Wave is a good example (see Owen 2008). A second tendency is epitomized by the best book on Polish cinema, in my opinion, published in the last decade in Poland, Faces in the Crowd/Twarze w tłumie (Kurz 2005). In this book, which focuses on famous personalities of the 1960s, Iwona Kurz discusses the multi-layered relations between Polish cinema of the 1960s, the celebrity culture of the time and various aspects of Polish modernism. Kurz’s book, thanks to her focus on the role of actor-stars, is also a marker of a new trend in studies on Polish cinema, namely, moving away from the tyranny of the ‘auteur-director’ approach towards recognition of the role of other creators of cinema. Other examples of this trend include the work of Elz ˙bieta Ostrowska and Michael Goddard on the Polish female stars, Krystyna Janda and Katarzyna Figura (Ostrowska 2005; Goddard 2008), and the highly origi‘ nal study of Polish film music by Iwona Sowinska (2006). The focus on Polish communist cinema as a form of popular cinema is also discernible in Cinema of Things Found/Kino rzeczy znalezionych, written by a veteran of Polish film criticism, Rafał Marszałek (2006). This tendency has its equivalent in the work of historians of other national cinemas, for example in John Cunningham’s study of Hungarian football films as an important area of Hungarian post-war cinema (Cunningham 2003: 183–88). A similar phenomenon can be identified in Polish cinema, but neither Coates, Haltof nor, for that matter, Lubelski, note it in their monographs. Another interesting example of the study of cinema as a form of popular culture, existing in a complex relation with other types of entertainment is offered by Petra Hanáková (2008). In her essay on Czech comedies of the 1970s and 1980s where she proposes a re-evaluation of Czech films from the period of normalization as both a testimony to Czech self-colonization or infection with the ‘Western virus’ and a manifestation of the specifically Czech

3. This can also be partly explained by the fact that the first generation of film historians were often trained as historians of literature.


Ewa Mazierska

inclination towards diversity and hybridization. Finally, Dina Iordanova in her numerous publications draws attention to the existence of a vibrant popular culture in Eastern Europe, of which film was one of many manifestations. While the collapse of communism was not a necessary condition to discover the popular aspect of communist cinema, it certainly facilitated it. The reason was that first, before 1989, popular cinema was treated with contempt, either as an opium for the masses, manufactured by second-rate film-makers obedient to the regime or as an inferior type of resistance towards the communist rule. Second, the fall of communism created specific conditions that allowed a nostalgic detachment from the past. Although this yearning for the communist past, explored most famously in the book by Charity Scribner (2003), faded with the passage of time and nowadays the vast majority of citizens of Eastern Europe are glad that communism collapsed, it put its distinctive mark on the way the communist period is perceived. Third, the fact that box office success matters so much in contemporary cinema invites a comparison of the old and new films from the same perspective. I predict that the more time that passes, the more respected popular Eastern European cinema will become as an object of academic study. Another new trend in researching Eastern European cinema is moving away from the domination of history towards exploration of space. A sign of this interest are the various studies devoted specifically to socialist cities, estates, buildings, etc., as well as geographic regions. Examples are Michael ‘ Goddard’s essay (2009) on cinematic Łódz; Izabela Kalinowska’s work (2005) on the representation of housing estates (‘blokowiska’) in the work of young Polish film-makers; and my own discussion of cities such as Warsaw, Berlin and Moscow, included in From Moscow to Madrid, co-written with Laura Rascaroli (2003); Elz ˙bieta Ostrowska’s study (2004) of the topography of Andrzej Wajda’s cinema, Paul Coates’s analysis (2008) of the ideology of countryside, city and Europe in Polish postcommunist film; and Dina Iordanova’s discussion (2003) of the city–village dialectic in Eastern European cinema at large. However, what I find more significant than these studies is the attempt to explore genres or paradigms, specific to Eastern European cinema, using spacial discourse. I will mention here the work of Eva Näripea, who in her work on Estonian short films draws an insightful parallel between the tourist gaze and a socialist realistic mode of representation (see Näripea 2008, 2009). I very much hope that this type of research will grow, as it not only allows the gaps in our knowledge of Eastern European cinemas to be filled, but also has wider potential for introducing new methods of studying cinema at large.

Whilst the previous parts of my article concerned changes to the map of Eastern European cinemas, I would like to devote the last part to changes in its calendar, namely, to the question of whether postcommunist cinema is treated as radically different from that of communist cinema or, to use Mikhail Bakhtin’s terminology, is regarded as a separate chronotope? Of course, this question, like others, is not easy to answer, for at least two reasons. The first difficulty results from the subjectivity of the very term ‘radical change’. What for one observer is a radical difference, for another is only a mild shift, which can be explained by the simple passage of time. A second difficulty results from the fact that, unlike the cinema of the communist period,


Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches

which has been researched for over fifty years, postcommunist cinema is not a closed chapter and new research is still under way. This, however, means that few studies have been published so far and those that were attempted to capture the moment, so to speak, rather than analyze it in any depth. However, taking this into account, I will suggest that at first there was a sense that postcommunist cinema, being radically different from the communist one, requires new tools of investigation. By contrast, nowadays, postcommunist cinema is more often perceived as an arena for the development or recycling of the old paradigms, therefore it requires similar tools to those used in the studies of ‘communist’ cinema. The shift concerns rather a change of focus, placing greater emphasis on areas that were previously neglected or underdeveloped in film history. Such areas include documentary and animated film. This interest reflects greater interest in these genres in Western cinema, and the successes of Eastern European film-makers making these types of films, for example Tomek Baginski’s BAFTA-awarded Fallen Art/Sztuka spadania (2004) and, conversely, the lack of spectacular successes of movies made in a traditional format. The second observation concerns the fact that postcommunist cinema, more than communist cinema in communist times, is treated as an industry and its main product, a film, is seen as a commodity. Hence, authors writing about this paradigm assume that it requires tools applied in economy or a combination of quantitative and qualitative analysis. It also needs a broader approach (political, social, cultural, economic) than was traditionally applied to Eastern European cinema. Furthermore, it compels the researchers to apply the previously mentioned transnational approach, most importantly seeing films produced in a specific Eastern European country, such as Hungary or Poland, competing for viewers even in the country of its production with films coming from elsewhere (see, for example, Iordanova 2003: 143–62; Cunningham 2003: 142–59; Mazierska 2007: 25–40). Tacitly and sometimes openly these authors also admit that cinema in Eastern Europe after 1989 lost its special status as a provider of higher pleasures. Yet, there is little lament over the loss of status; usually it is regarded as an inevitable consequence of the break-up of communism. To put it differently, while historians of Eastern European cinema (including myself) broadly accept that the film industry in Eastern Europe is now or aspires to be a ‘culture industry’ in the sense given to this term by Adorno and Horkheimer, they also reject the high-art, elitist perspective from which these authors assessed mass-produced entertainment.

4. For example, when I studied the literature for my book on masculinities in Polish, Czech and Slovak cinema (2008), I noted that the specificity of East European men was typically ignored. For example, in the book, The Trouble With Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema (Powrie et al. 2004), we do not find a single chapter devoted to the cinematic portrayal of men in East European cinema. Similarly, publications devoted to specific categories of men, such as gay men, either openly or conspicuously ignore the existence of this category in Eastern Europe or pay it very little attention (Dyer 1990; Murray 1998; Benshoff and Griffin 2004).

In conclusion, I will reiterate that new histories of Eastern European cinemas are being created and I welcome them, for at least two reasons. First, because they give us new perspectives on these cinemas. Second, because they allow an opportunity to enter a productive dialogue with authors specializing in histories of other regions. So far, however, this dialogue hardly takes place; the study of transnational issues, such as genre, or sexuality within world or European cinema or, indeed, transnational cinema itself, is conducted with disregard to Eastern European cinema or, at best, this cinema receives only token recognition.4 The question arises, how to ensure that we do not talk only to each other, but also to the wider world. One way is, of course, to engage in wider debates;


Ewa Mazierska

the other is producing research of quantity and quality that cannot be ignored outside the circle of specialists of Eastern European cinema. I welcome both strategies, while being aware that it is not easy to implement them. For example, the fragmentation of academic disciplines, the unwillingness of many scholars to move beyond one area of their research due to a perceived risk of being regarded as ‘eclectic’, ‘journalistic’, lacking in a distinct specialism, most likely deters both specialists in Eastern European cinema from venturing into other cinemas and vice versa. Equally, it is an obstacle to dialogue within Eastern European cinema itself. Indeed, most colleagues engaged in this cinema conduct research on only one national cinema. The second difficulty in reaching a wider audience is the fact that, as previously mentioned, Eastern European cinema is now regarded as even less fashionable than it was pre-1989. This has an impact on the employment policies of academic institutions, as well as the priorities of publishing houses, which tend to stay away from what is unknown, rather than trying to make the unknown known. In this context, I regard Studies in Eastern European Cinema as a means to halt and reverse the aforementioned negative trend, namely to make Eastern European cinema an exciting area to study, both in itself and in relation to other fields.

Benshoff, Harry and Griffin, Sean (eds) (2004), Queer Cinema: The Film Reader, London: Routledge. Coates, Paul (2000), ‘Shifting Borders: Konwicki, Zanussi and the Ideology of “East-Central Europe”’, Canadian Slavonic Papers, 1–2, pp. 87–98. —— (2005), The Red and the White: The Cinema of People’s Poland, London: Wallflower Press. ‘ —— (2008), ‘Ideologie sacrum i profanum: “Europa” oraz “wies ” i “miasto” ’ w kinie polskim po 1989 roku’, in Konrad Klejsa and Ewelina NurczynskaFidelska (eds), Kino polskie: Reinterpretacje. Historia – Ideologia – Polityka, Kraków: Rabid, pp. 287–95. Cornis-Pope, Marcel and Neubauer, John (2002), Towards a History of Literary Cultures in East-Central Europe: Theoretical Reflections, New York: American Council of Learned Societies. Cunningham, John (2003), Hungarian Cinema: From Coffee House to Multiplex, London: Wallflower. Dyer, Richard (1990), Now You See It: Studies on Lesbian and Gay Film, London: Routledge. Goddard, Michael (2008), ‘“Figura” postkomunistycznego poz ˛dania: Role ˙a Katarzyny Figury, albo: jak polskie kino stawało sie “popularne”’, in Konrad ˛ Klejsa and Ewelina Nurczyn ‘ska-Fidelska (eds), Kino polskie: Reinterpretacje. Historia – Ideologia – Polityka, Kraków: Rabid, pp. 275–86. —— (2009), ‘Unravelling HollyLodz: The Industrial and Cinematic Imaginary of Lodz’, in Agnieszka Rasmus and Magdalena Cieslak (eds), Images of the City, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, pp. 323–33. Haltof, Marek (2002), Polish National Cinema, Oxford: Berghahn Books. Hames, Peter (2005), The Czechoslovak New Wave, 2nd edn., London: Wallflower Press. Hanáková, Petra (2008), ‘“The Films We Are Ashamed of”: Czech Crazy Comedy of the 1970s and 1980s’, Via Transversa: Lost Cinema of the Former Eastern Bloc, Place and Location: Studies in Environmental Aesthetics and Semiotics, 7, pp. 111–21.


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Hendrykowska, Małgorzata (1996), Film w Poznaniu i Wielkopolsce 1986–1996, Poznan Wydawnictwo Poznanskie. ‘: ‘ Ingvoldstad, Bjorn (2008), ‘The Paradox of Lithuanian National Cinema’, Via Transversa: Lost Cinema of the Former Eastern Bloc, Place and Location: Studies in Environmental Aesthetics and Semiotics, 7, pp. 137–54. Iordanova, Dina (2003), Cinema of the Other Europe, London: Wallflower Press. Jagielski, Sebastian and Morstin-Popławska, Agnieszka (2009), Ciało i ‘‘ seksualnos c w kinie polskim, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu ‘ Jagiellonskiego. Jakubowska, Małgorzata (2003), Teoria kina Gillesa Deleuze’a, Kraków: Rabid. Kalinowska, Izabela (2005), ‘Generation 2000 and the Transformating Landscape of New Polish Cinema’, Kinokultura, http://www.kinokultura. com/specials/2/kalinowska.shtml. Accessed 27 February 2009. ‘ Kurz, Iwona (2005), Twarze w tłumie: Wizerunki bohaterów wyobraz ni zbiorowej ‘ w kulturze polskiej lat 1955–1969, Izabelin: Swiat Literacki. Lubelski, Tadeusz (2009), Historia kina polskiego: Twórcy, filmy, konteksty, Katowice: Videograf II. ‘ Marszałek, Rafał (2006), Kino rzeczy znalezionych, Gdansk: Słowo/Obraz Terytoria. Mazierska, Ewa (2007), Polish Postcommunist Cinema: From Pavement Level, Oxford: Peter Lang. ˙ Mazierska, Ewa and Ostrowska, Elzbieta (2006), Women in Polish Cinema, Oxford: Berghahn. Mazierska, Ewa and Rascaroli, Laura (2003), From Moscow to Madrid: Postmodern Cities, European Cinema, London: I.B. Tauris. Murray, Raymond (1998), Images in the Dark: An Encyclopaedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video, London: Titan. Näripea, Eva (2008), ‘A View from the Periphery: Spatial Discourse of the Soviet Estonian Feature Film: The 1940s and the 1950s’, Via Transversa: Lost Cinema of the Former Eastern Bloc, Place and Location: Studies in Environmental Aesthetics and Semiotics, 7, pp. 193–210. —— (2009), ‘Tourist Gaze as a Strategic Device of Architectural Representation: Tallinn Old Town and Soviet Tourism Marketing in the 1960s and 1970s’, paper presented at the international conference on film and architecture CinemArchitecture, Porto, Portugal. Nebesio, Bohdan Y. (2007), ‘The first five years with no plan: Building national cinema in Ukraine, 1992–1997’, Canadian Review of Comparative Literature, 34: 3, pp. 265–97. ˙ Ostrowska, Elzbieta (2004), ‘Landscape and lost time: Ethnoscape in the work of Andrzej Wajda’, Kinoeye, 4: 5, ostrowska05.php. Accessed 5 January 2009. —— (2005), ‘Krystyna Janda: The Contradictions of Polish Stardom’, in Helena Goscilo and Beth Holmgren (eds), Poles Apart: Women in Modern Polish Culture, Indiana Slavic Studies, vol. 15, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Owen, Jonathan (2008), The Avant-Garde Tradition in Czech New Wave Cinema, Ph.D. dissertation Manchester: University of Manchester. Powrie, Phil, Davies, Ann and Babington, Bruce (eds) (2004), The Trouble With Men: Masculinities in European and Hollywood Cinema, London: Wallflower Press. Ronduda, Łukasz and Piwowarska, Barbara (eds) (2008), Nowa Fala: Historia zjawiska, którego nie było, Warszawa: Instytut Adama Mickiewicza, CSW Zamek Ujazdowski.


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Scribner, Charity (2003), Requiem for Communism, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. ‘ Sowinska, Iwona (2006), Polska muzyka filmowa 1945–1968, Katowice: ‘ ˛skiego. Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Sla

Mazierska, E. (2010), ‘Eastern European cinema: old and new approaches’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 5–16, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.5/1

Ewa Mazierska is Professor of Contemporary Cinema at the School of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Central Lancashire. Her publications include Masculinities in Polish, Czech and Slovak Cinema (Berghahn, 2008), Roman Polanski: The Cinema of a Cultural Traveller (I.B. Tauris, 2007), Polish Postcommunist Cinema (Peter Lang, 2007) and with Elzbieta Ostrowska, Women in Polish Cinema (Berghahn, 2006). Her most recent book, on the films of Jerzy Skolimowski (for Berghahn), is due out in 2010. Contact: School of Journalism, Media and Communication, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, Harris Building, PR1 2HE, UK. E-mail:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 17–28 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.17/1


Slovak bohemians: revolution, counterculture and the end of the Sixties in Juraj Jakubisko’s films
The Sixties films of Slovak New Wave director Juraj Jakubisko demonstrate how one can adopt ‘revolutionary’ aesthetics without necessarily espousing actual revolution. Deeply engaged with the ideas and motifs of surrealism and the counterculture, Jakubisko is nonetheless radically critical of those movements. Above all Jakubisko rejects Sixties-style, macro-level utopianism and modernist notions of historical progress. This essay focuses particularly closely on the 1969 film Birds, Orphans and Fools, whose bohemian protagonists turn their backs on a world of unchangeable horror and oppression and decide to become ‘fools’. This film explores, and also problematizes, both the Sixties aspiration towards self-transformation or alternative lifestyle practices and the countercultural valorization of madness. I will suggest that Jakubisko is poised ambivalently here between a consuming negativity and a nuanced critique of Sixties radicalism that preserves, in more limited and personal terms, a sense of the utopian.

Juraj Jakubisko Slovak New Wave Sixties utopianism revolution counterculture

Juraj Jakubisko’s films of the Sixties are both expectant and elegiac, at once charged with fresh, rude life and marked by a sense of finality and deathly foreboding, not to mention copious violence. Representing one of the last


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flowerings of Czechoslovakia’s prematurely aborted New Wave, as well as one of that movement’s artistic peaks, these films typify the spirit of the Sixties at its boldest even as they intimate the decade’s advancing end. A scene from the 1969 Vtác ˇkovia, siroty a blázni/Birds, Orphans and Fools, Jakubisko’s richest and most seminal work, captures this ambivalence by virtue of its double meaning: the film’s wild young protagonist Yorick urinates on a pile of burning film while declaiming ‘The new wave!’ Does this moment encapsulate the Sixties generation’s destruction and desecration of the orthodoxies of its cultural and political predecessors? Or does the scene allude rather to the coming destruction of the New Wave itself at the hands of the Soviet-backed normalizers, the cancelling out of the Sixties’ great cultural achievements, the death of Prague Spring liberal reformism and its attendant promises? Both readings are apposite to the general character of these films: Birds, Orphans and Fools, for instance, is a work of incendiary cinematic radicalism, yet it also comprises a funeral pyre of New Left political optimism, a work suffused with defeat and the anticipation of Czechoslovakia’s imminent cultural conflagration. Jakubisko’s early work might seem to be among the most typical products of the late Sixties, partaking as it does of the uninhibitedly experimental sensibility that characterizes much of the international cinema of this time. Jakubisko was remarkable in fact for achieving his avant-garde aesthetic in part through the appropriation of the ‘primitive’ forms of Slovak folk culture, and for connecting with international trends while insisting on the cultural ‘localism’ of his work. Yet while Birds, Orphans and Fools or the earlier Zbehovia a pútnici/The Deserter and the Nomads (1968) may evoke the same formally adventurous spirit as the contemporaneous works of Godard or Rocha, their political positions are more grounded and sceptical – or more cynical and despairing, depending on one’s sympathies for Sixties-style idealism. Though deeply engaged with the ideas, motifs and preoccupations of the hippie counterculture, the New Left and a then in-vogue surrealist sensibility, Jakubisko’s early work is often deeply critical of these movements. His colourful evocation of the revivified avant-gardism and cultural-revolutionary fervour of the Sixties thus serves the sombre, ironized dissection of that decade’s dreams. That dissection is nowhere so keen or cruel as in the response to utopian ideas and the viability of liberatory political change; it is with Jakubisko’s approach to these issues, an approach that gives these films a strikingly ‘contemporary’ dimension, that this essay will mainly be concerned. Jakubisko’s disillusioned negotiation of countercultural and surrealist tropes could even be described as proto-postmodern, at least to the extent that postmodernism is vigorously anti-utopian, dismissive of emancipatory ‘metanarratives’. Yet if postmodernism is frequently characterized in such terms, it arguably also retains, in however modified or reduced a form, something of the Sixties’ liberatory ideals. During the following discussion, I will pose the question whether any hope of such a preservation mitigates Jakubisko’s bleak vision, or whether the whole stock of Sixties dream-images must go up in smoke.

The progression from Jakubisko’s debut feature Kristove roky/Christ’s Years (1967) to its successor, The Deserter and the Nomads, virtually comprises an individualized, accelerated summation of the Sixties New Waves’ trajectory as a whole. The first film is black-and-white, focused on individual


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introspection, not lacking in a certain naturalistic offhandedness, while the second is a work of blood-red baroque and ecstatic technique, straining after allegory and a vision of universal horror. The Deserter also marks the emergence of Jakubisko’s ‘mature’ style and signature themes: indeed the director’s mordant humour and historical despair are at their shrillest and least measured in this film. A harsh reproof to the stereotyped view of Slovakia as a land without history, timeless and unchanging in its pastoral way of life, The Deserter is a film saturated in the blood of world events (Steiner 1973: 18). The narrative collapses the twentieth century into a series of global wars, leaping from one catastrophe to the next as though propelled by the same energy as Jakubisko’s dizzying camerawork. A story of two deserters from the Austro-Hungarian armies during the First World War is followed by episodes dealing with, respectively, the Soviet ‘liberation’ of Slovakia after the Second World War and the aftermath of a future nuclear apocalypse. The pattern of historical events as Jakubisko presents it would be cyclical and monotonous in its brutality, were it not for the increase in the crop of victims at each stage. The ever-greater scale and efficiency of violence is as much as can be offered in the way of progress, notwithstanding that it may be some notion of ‘progress’ or ‘enlightenment’ that is to blame in the first place. Jakubisko’s evocation of a post-apocalyptic world offers a cruel parody of the utopian climax of history, the only survivors of this final war being the young nurse Neve ˇsta and the hordes of terrified, half-mad old people who take shelter, naked or swaddled in blankets, in underground shelters. The ascent of civilization is thus not only humanity’s twilight but also its senile, infantilized decay. The world outside is peaceful because everyone has been killed or driven underground, and pastoral because civilization has destroyed itself. The Deserter undoes itself as polemic by the sheer promiscuity of oppressive forces, just as Jakubisko’s suggestion of an overwhelming and terminal insanity makes it hard to see the bleak final scenes as simply cautionary. The attribution of blame for the nuclear apocalypse to a specific side is immaterial in Jakubisko’s eyes. The film is not without its benign figures, yet these are only powerless, persecuted and martyred victims, lone innocents caught up helplessly in the vortex of battle and revolution: Kálmán the gypsy deserter; an egg-seller accused of espionage, young Dominika (who is nearly raped by a Soviet soldier). In contrast to the Marxist, agit-prop trends in cinema that were prominent during the late Sixties, The Deserter displays scant faith in the existence of a progressive or liberatory historical agent. Martin, one of the army deserters of the first episode, ferments Bolshevik-style revolution, yet his brutal and degrading treatment of a couple of deposed landowners suggests that such socialism will be at least as cruel as the old hierarchies. That the actor playing Martin lends his leering, malevolent features to the Soviet captain of the second episode comprises a further disillusioned assertion of the continuity between full-blown Stalinist tyranny and an initial, ‘pre-corrupted’ Bolshevism. As Dina Iordanova notes, both The Deserter and Birds, Orphans and Fools have been interpreted as Jakubisko’s ‘reaction to the crushing of the Prague Spring’ (Iordanova 2003: 58). Jakubisko had already begun shooting The Deserter by the time of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion, so one cannot entirely attribute the film’s bleak view or its jaundiced eye on communism to the events of August. These events may, however, have strengthened and confirmed those views, reiterated as they are, with different degrees of emphasis, in Jakubisko’s subsequent films. In a move that was unique among Czechoslovak film-makers, Jakubisko worked footage of the invasion into


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the finished film. Real images tear through the stylized world of The Deserter, at once a traumatic impingement on the fictional construct and a means of giving documentary reinforcement to the narrative’s despairing, even misanthropic vision. More than just a Czechoslovak tragedy, the invasion constitutes a formidable emblem (and contributing cause) of the death of hopes for a truly emancipatory socialism, an expression of the Sixties’ general loss of optimism or ‘innocence’. For Alex Callinicos and Terry Eagleton, the origins of postmodernism lie precisely in the comprehensive ‘snuffing out’ of the Sixties’ ‘political dreams’ (among which the Prague Spring, in Perry Anderson’s words ‘the boldest of all Communist reform experiments’, of course looms large (Anderson 1998: 91)). Postmodernism rejects the broad political utopianism so characteristic of Sixties radical modernity as naïve at best, totalitarian at worst; its own humbler sensibility can either be attacked for its frivolous quietism, complicity with late-capitalist power and irresponsible abandonment of absolutes, or applauded for its rejection of oppressive, totalizing ‘grand narratives’, defence of particularity and commitment to localized political interventions. Clearly then, The Deserter and the Nomads has certain affinities with postmodern political attitudes (in whatever terms they are characterized), though the film’s attitude equally evokes the ‘pre-modern’ peasant of the second section’s coda, who scoffs at the idea of a quest for ‘happiness’. Jakubisko dismisses all possibility of global emancipation or progress towards peace and justice, and if his film adopts any teleology at all, it is only the downward spiral towards self-destruction. The Deserter could even be linked with attacks on the crimes and failures of modernity, or at least with critiques of scientific rationality’s tendency to serve, rather than guard against, evil and irrational ends. One product of a machinedominated twentieth century has been the mechanization of human beings themselves, a coolly machine-like and ultimately anonymous killing that for Jakubisko is far more horrifying than the primitive sway of passions: ‘When people kill each other out of hatred, it is terrible; it will be far more terrible when they learn to murder mechanically.’ The gaunt, hulking figure of Death has stalked and cavorted through the film’s first two episodes, but by the time of the apocalyptic final story, he realizes he has no role to play. This indicates at once how mythologies and ‘irrational’ beliefs have been vanquished – in a triumph of reason that no one is now alive to enjoy – and how humanity has usurped Death’s own supernatural powers: the mythological being is left to look on at mankind’s now God-like capacity for mass annihilation. The Deserter and the Nomads’ original Slovak title, Zbehovia a pútnici (‘Deserters and Pilgrims’), could be seen to juxtapose the rejection of certain values, ideologies or political configurations (desertion) with the embrace of new values, faiths and destinations (pilgrimage). Yet the film’s ‘pilgrimages’ are ultimately forms of transient and partial escape, into revelry and song, love and sex, and the shrines revealed betoken only modest respites. Carnivalesque spaces of refuge prove all too porous to authority and intimations of violence: moustachioed hussars and the ever-watchful military commanders throng the merry dances of the wedding festivities, while Kálmán’s romantic idyll with his lover Lila is obscurely troubled by the shadow of death. Reserves of freedom and jouissance have been forced into the realm of cinematic form: the film’s swirling, kaleidoscopic style compensates for the thuggish crowding of the diegesis by repression and brutality. A final, particularly pitiful respite is the would-be Eden created by Death and Neve in the post-apocalyptic ˇsta episode. The pair instal themselves in a (naturally) deserted windmill, and


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Neve declares that she and Death have found ‘paradise’ without even lookˇsta ing for it (the windmill itself, an obvious allusion to Cervantes’s Don Quixote, stands as a lone, sad commemoration of pre-enlightenment romance, and perhaps also as a reproof of the ‘quixotic’ futility of all attempts at utopian social change). Yet this ‘paradise’, like the wider world of the final section, constitutes a cruel inversion of the utopian: the windmill is plagued by bats, just as Neve falls prey to morbid thoughts and what appear to be religious ˇsta hallucinations. These scenes in effect comprise a grotesque, derisive representation of the Sixties counterculture, something that is made explicit by the fact that Death dresses up in hippie apparel and is seen bopping and gyrating to pop music: Sixties cultural upheaval as literal dance of death.

Such images adumbrate the more nuanced, sustained and sympathetic exploration of Sixties-style utopianism and alternative living in Birds, Orphans and Fools, and it is on account of this later film’s greater concentration on ideas and forms of radicalism specific to its era, as well as the greater sophistication or complexity of its analysis, that it deserves a more detailed discussion than I have given The Deserter and the Nomads. Yet if Birds is more enamoured than The Deserter was of many of the Sixties’ articles of faith, it is equally far from any promise of a libertarian paradise. The film’s folk-hippie furnishings and avant-garde ambience are not the microcosm of a new world, only – and at best – a refuge or enclave for another band of anxious ‘pilgrims’. Birds, Orphans and Fools once again asserts the impasse of revolutionary ambitions, with the vision of history so remorselessly hammered home in The Deserter now being apparently enough of a given to become mere background, a profusion of gloomy aphorisms and absurdist, violent black-out scenes. This less sprawling if equally wayward work is the story of Yorick, Marta and Andrej, who form an initially idyllic Jules-et-Jim-style ménage à trois (though as Godard, rather than Truffaut, might have imagined it). Orphaned literally and, thanks to their sense of alienation and deracination, figuratively, these characters turn their backs on a violent and senseless world and determine to become ‘fools’. Indeed what are these apparent orphans if not the children of Death and Neve from Jakubisko’s previous film, born under the shadow of the atomic ˇsta bomb and at the foot of Quixote’s windmill? One of the most obvious ways in which Birds, Orphans and Fools manifests its greater affinities with a Sixties countercultural or New Left sensibility is in its representation, and indeed its conception, of revolution. For a start this film seems more sympathetically disposed than The Deserter to the very idea of revolution, which is incarnated here in such uncontroversially noble and ‘liberatory’ endeavours as the 1944 Slovak National Uprising and the First World War-era drive for Czechoslovak independence. The sanctified figure of Milan Štefánik, a Slovak general and politician instrumental (along with Masaryk and Edvard Beneš) to the creation of the 1918 Czechoslovak state, is particularly central, although the film’s attitude towards this Slovak national martyr is far from conventionally reverent. A single reference to Mao could simply be jocular, throwaway or ironic, but a certain sympathy for cultural revolution, Chinese- as well as Haight Ashbury-style, would of course tie in with the film’s evocation of the New Left and its debts to Godard (Birds, Orphans and Fools is in fact Jakubisko’s most Godardian film and specifically recalls the very explicitly Maopreoccupied La Chinoise (1967)). Yet if revolutionaries are not excoriated here,


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as the Bolsheviks were in The Deserter, they are often imbued with a sense of absurdity and impotence (and the horrific failures of Maoist revolution are of course more than evident in retrospect): a gun-toting Slovak partisan runs alongside Yorick’s car, apparently convinced that the fascists have not yet been vanquished, and an incongruous band of guerrillas fall down ‘dead’ in a street skirmish, only to get up again. On the other hand, such images could also be seen as attesting to the commonality and continuity of revolutionary attempts throughout history, the resilient throb of the emancipatory urge. Yet it is that quintessentially Sixties ‘revolution’ in lifestyles that is explored most fully throughout the film. That kind of revolution, like many of the European New Waves themselves, was often portrayed in generational terms, as an Oedipal rebellion by the young against social and cultural ‘fathers’: does the protagonists’ symbolic ‘orphanhood’ result from a kind of patricide? In this case the apparent polarization of the generations assumes perhaps a graver and more substantial dimension than usual, as the trio’s alliance across national or religious lines (Andrej is a Pole and Marta a Jew) is shown to mark a clear break with the murderous nationalisms and ethnic squabbles of the older generation: ‘Our parents killed each other,’ remarks Yorick. As Peter Hames notes, in his feature debut Jakubisko was concerned to demonstrate that ‘the traditional Czech/ Slovak antagonisms were always linked to older people and not shared by his own generation’ (Hames 2006: 213). In addition to these fraternal or internationalist attitudes, the characters adopt such ‘alternative’ values as ‘free love’, play and casual creativity, and the abandonment of work or remunerative activity (one subtle sign that the idyll has come to its end is Andrej’s attainment of paid employment as a photographer). They do not baulk at the more ‘frivolous’ or decorative trappings of the counterculture, as their weird apparel, halfway between Slovak goatherd and Carnaby Street freak, suggests. A key facet of Sixties radicalism was the link it established between politics and the spheres of subjectivity and lifestyle, a link best expressed by the well-worn New Left/ feminist slogan ‘the personal is political’. In the words of Marianne DeKoven, the Sixties’ ‘modernist politics of the self […] radiates out from the exemplary subject to a potentially transformed society and culture’ (DeKoven 2004: 190). DeKoven roots this politics in the ‘romantic tradition of adequation of transformed self with transformed world’; that tradition is also clearly incarnated in the surrealism of Breton, which famously synthesized the goals of imaginative (self-)liberation and revolutionary political upheaval by juxtaposing the injunctions of Marx (‘transform the world’) and Rimbaud (‘change life’) (DeKoven 2004: 190; Breton 1969: 241). Yet the so-called politics of the self comprises a point of transition from the modern to the postmodern, shifting later (or, according to DeKoven, during the Sixties themselves) ‘into a postmodern politics that coincides with and is contained by formations of subjectivity’ (DeKoven 2004: 190). As we shall see later, Jakubisko’s film can itself be seen to depict a concern for subjectivity, for the cultivation of lifestyle and the imagination, that subsumes political engagement or even provides a form of consolation for the world’s horrors and the individual’s powerlessness within it. To this extent Yorick and his friends make for decidedly demoralized hippie trailblazers and strangely meek surrealist refuseniks.

The embrace of ‘foolishness’, the most radical aspect of the protagonists’ lifestyle experiment, connects back to a long tradition of the valorization


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of madness that runs through romanticism, various modernisms and avantgardes, and, perhaps most obviously of all, surrealism. The cultural iconography of the preternaturally wise fool or mad person of course stretches even further back in time, as Birds, Orphans and Fools’ allusive naming attests (Yorick’s name, as well as being the diminutive of Jakubisko’s own name Juraj, obviously refers to the dead jester in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, while in one scene Yorick re-christens Marta ‘Sibyl’). As an ideal identity for the protagonists and an expression of otherness, madness is aligned throughout the film with two other ubiquitous avant-garde avatars of irrationality, childhood and the feminine; the tropes are even combined, as with the mentally handicapped children whom Yorick and Andrej seem to ‘adopt’ as so many unambiguous mascots of privileged alterity. (It is worth noting, incidentally, that Deleuze and Guattari link the notions of ‘becoming-child’ and ‘becoming-woman’ with the figure of the orphan, the three conditions all representing degrees of ‘deterritorialization’ or ‘flight’; flight itself, both in its avian form and in the more Deleuzian sense of escape or fleeing (fuite), is also a key presence in this film (Deleuze and Guattari 1986: 78).) The view of madness as something positive, a condition one should seek somehow to emulate or even attain, was not only central to surrealism and the avantgarde but was also part of the radical Sixties cultural and political landscape that Jakubisko’s film evokes. That view was expressed most rigorously in the writings of the British pioneer of anti-psychiatry, R.D. Laing: according to Laing, madness may be ‘break-through’ as well as ‘breakdown’, ‘liberation and renewal as well as enslavement and existential death’ (Laing 1967: 109–10). For the tradition of which Laing’s work partakes, madness, conventionally defined, is associated with an innocent, authentic self, and thus counterposed to the alienations or ‘devastations’ of socially acceptable identity. Mental illness is portrayed as a source of poetic wonder and visionary revelation, and the madman upheld as a model for more calculated strikes against convention and logic. We should note that madness, broadly speaking, is also a constant point of reference in postmodernism, where it is again valorized (of course in very different terms from modernism’s ‘innocence’ and ‘authenticity’) or at least tied somehow to the definition of a ‘revolutionary’ model of desire: take Foucault’s ‘strong defence of the voice of unreason’ in Folie et déraison/Madness and Civilisation (1961), or Deleuze and Guattari’s schizoanalysis (Pegrum 2000: 131). As the discussion of The Deserter and the Nomads has already suggested, rationality is hardly an object of enthusiasm in Jakubisko’s work. ‘Civilized’ reason has proven incapable of defending against the outbreak of barbarism, and the copious horrors of both The Deserter and Birds, Orphans and Fools are at least in part attributable to particular forms, or applications, of rationality: Yorick recalls that his parents were killed ‘by those who are said to be […] sane’. (It could also be argued that the fascination of such avant-gardists as Dubuffet with the art brut of the mentally ill, situated outside dominant cultural traditions and defying the assumptions of modernity through its effusive irrationalism, is analogous to Slovak surrealism’s appropriation of folk forms and miraculous local tales, a tendency that Jakubisko himself of course embodies.) Yet Birds is by no means an unambiguous celebration of ‘foolishness’, and the film could even be seen to problematize or subvert those ideas about madness on which the avant-garde and countercultural valorizations were founded. Even the protagonists themselves might be seen to embrace and uphold madness less because it is ‘revelatory of an innocent vision’ than because


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it promises the comfort of ignorance, indeed because it represents the very denial of vision in its disturbing guise (Foster 2001: 3). Yorick, it is implied, was himself raised in an institution for mentally handicapped children; as Peter Hames points out, he envies these children ‘their happiness and ignorance of the true nature of the world’ (Hames 2006: 218). Jakubisko appears to endorse such a view in the scene where the protagonists visit the institution, by means of a sympathetic nurse who remarks, ‘These kids will never become people.’ Presented in such terms, mental illness represents debility rather than any special potency, the lack of insight or vision rather than their abundance. Elsewhere Jakubisko has directly characterized the protagonists’ adopted foolishness as a form of willed obliviousness towards the world, a means of taking ‘the load off [one’s] conscience’ (Jakubisko, in Liehm 1974: 359). The film also implies how the language of madness functions better to secure one’s seclusion from the world than as a means of changing it. Indeed, despite its having been mobilized or emulated by movements with radical political aspirations, that discourse is too hermetically private to work effectively as protest. In one scene, Yorick’s incipiently senile old landlord plummets to earth wearing a makeshift parachute that bears the slogan ‘The word is the weapon of the powerless’: no less than the film’s instruments of flight, the would-be revolutionary message of faux-delirium falls short of its purpose. Admittedly, the reading I have given of the protagonists’ project belies the complexities of the film and the characters’ confused or ambivalent impulses. The submission to blinded vision or narcissistic obliviousness jostles with a concern for compulsive observation, the intense need to explore and document the world. Photography is a key motif: Andrej, a professional photographer, takes pictures throughout the film, while Marta, addressing the camera directly, claims that she is comprehensively ‘photographing’ the world’s evils with her eyes, in an attempt to absorb and thereby eliminate them. This conceit could be seen as metaphorically asserting the subversive power of representation and thus as implying the political efficacy of an engagement with the world; it also suggests that the protagonists’ self-induced madness might itself represent the instructive ‘absorption’ or imitation of the grotesque absurdities of society. Is Marta’s notion not at the same time a comforting fantasy that obviates the need for real action? Yet despite the film’s various ambiguities, the protagonists’ oscillation between escapist and documentarist tendencies, it is undeniable that the film powerfully articulates the feeling that escape, in whatever sense, is a feasible response to a world of horror and systematic violence. The Sixties counterculture and the surrealists yoked madness and ‘liberated’ subjectivity to political revolution and an ebullient utopianism; in many ways Jakubisko’s film, or its protagonists, link these things with a posture of despair or resignation. Given that history constitutes little more than an irredeemable cycle of violence and oppression, how can ‘foolishness’ be anything other than an indulgence, a retreat or distraction, a minimal and marginal breach of the established system? Jakubisko ultimately problematizes even some of these shrunken ambitions, casting doubt over the possibility of a meaningful or sustained resistance to the prevailing logic. Yorick’s rationale for his ‘project’ proves eloquent, striking and multilayered: Everything which is subject to the law of eternal changes, to the law of power, everything beside yourself, is vanity. So return into yourself. If they have demolished your house, start to build it again – but in your soul […] Build a house inside, live in it and you’ll find happiness. They


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will call you a fool. But don’t pay attention, if you are fine. You are fine because you are free. You are free because you are a fool. Yorick’s description of the external world of history and politics as ‘vanity’, an obvious echo of the Book of Ecclesiastes (Yorick wears a monk’s cowl while making the speech), can be seen to proffer a vision of life as something absurd, senseless, cruel and mad; vanity is perhaps also what inheres in the attempt to change that reality. In itself that vision might be a sufficient injunction to will the world out of existence, yet the reference to vanity has the additional, perhaps more properly Biblical meaning that the exterior world is insubstantial, ephemeral and illusory. In contrast to the world’s inessentiality, the self or ‘soul’ is substantial and real: at least those houses built in the soul are less likely to be demolished than real houses. The suggestion that we build such houses represents the insistence that we should compensate for material deprivations and sufferings with the riches of the inner life, and also implies that the surest barriers against the world are internal rather than external. We attain freedom in foolishness either because our dependence on the outer world for our happiness is relinquished, or because, as already suggested, that world now ceases to trouble our consciousness. Madness, as a ‘drug for life’ (Jakubisko’s own description), is both hallucinogen and painkiller (Liehm 1974: 359). These remarks, apparently supportive of a reorientation towards subjectivity, lifestyle and even spiritual values, could be linked with postmodernism and perhaps also New Age tendencies (the suggestion of an insubstantial or illusory outer world seems particularly attuned to the latter). The turn towards self-cultivation and spirituality is often and easily seen as ‘the fallen progeny of the sixties’, the substitution of the failed attempt at the transformation of the world with the transformation of the self (DeKoven 2004: 255). The suggestion here of such a ‘return to the self’ is not presented in the pejorative terms commonly used in regard to that phenomenon, although the individualistic, or at least atomistic, character of Yorick’s retreat may seem a step backwards from the more broadly communal pleasures of The Deserter and the Nomads. Of course, what makes Yorick’s stance more daring than many contemporary examples of self-transformation or ‘dropping out’ is that this retreat is enacted not under a ‘permissive’ late capitalism that sanctions an endless proliferation of lifestyle choices, but in an authoritarian society where difference, not least of the idly introspective hippie variety, is quite unwelcome. To that extent the protagonists’ project, escapist and founded in political despair though it may be, is inevitably ‘subversive’ and politically provocative; this will be affirmed when Yorick, for no good reason, is arrested and thrown into prison. Moreover, while Yorick’s notion of building a house in one’s soul might evoke, from a contemporary perspective, the hackneyed language of New Age self-help, these sentiments were still fresh at the point of the film’s making and in general the speech, like many of the protagonists’ escapades, retains an immense lyrical vitality. If the self is to be a site for the building of houses, the real house in which the film’s protagonists live all too readily offers a model of the inner self, especially an imaginatively liberated self, a self as envisaged in the mind’s eye of surrealist art: a rough-edged, folk-art approximation of Magritte or Escher, this dream domain gives concrete form to an imagination believed to represent sanctuary. Yet the very outlandishness of that house, whose razed façades, smashed windows and protruding poles render its occupants forever


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within reach of the outside, is itself problematic: while that sense of permeability could be seen as alluding to that breakdown of boundaries between self and other that is, for Laing, part of the experience of madness, it perhaps also affirms the impossibility of erecting an absolute barrier between self and world. Jakubisko’s oneiric, literally ‘unhomely’ architecture of openness and interpenetration, clouding the distinction between inside and outside, could further be seen as a subtle refusal of modernist binary structures that looks back to the hybridities of Bakhtinian carnival as much as it anticipates postmodernism’s ‘both/and’ sensibility (Pegrum 2000: 168). Jakubisko’s critique of modernist or avant-garde idealizations of the mad ‘other’ is thus complemented by his attack on the very binary oppositions that sustain the notion of a pure otherness. The futility of attempts to enact change within the wider political arena is implicit in the film from the outset, yet the attempt to construct new lifestyles or values on an individual basis fails dramatically too. The protagonists’ ménage à trois, which derives from the embrace of free love as well as Yorick’s commitment to ‘sharing’ Marta, ‘selflessly’, with his friend, is complicated by Yorick’s jealousy. After Yorick is imprisoned Andrej and Marta revert to conventional coupledom, and Andrej starts to have his photographs published. If the attempt to change the world is utopian (in the pejorative sense of that word), then the attempt to escape it is also implied to have a utopian dimension. Yorick remarks ruefully at one point that in attempting to flee the world, he has really been fleeing himself. The world is inextricably a part of us; its mores, values and desires are perhaps even fundamentally determining. The film’s climactic murder, ironically given that it in part represents Yorick’s reaction to the very failure of his ideals, suggests how the commitment to a new mode of life has not vanquished an all too worldly capacity for violence. Shortly before she and her unborn child are killed by Yorick, Marta rebukes him for having ‘lost the courage to be mad’. Yet Yorick’s horrific reaction to the failure of his project suggests something like an emergent psychosis, the onset of a form of madness seldom emphasized among the surrealist or countercultural eulogies to irrational ‘inner voyages’ and the casting off of social inhibitions. At the same time this violence evokes the dark excesses of the counterculture itself at the heady turn of the Sixties (Marta’s horrific murder recalls, inadvertently no doubt, the 1969 killing of Sharon Tate).

All his hopes dashed, poor Yorick finally enacts the ultimate escape from the world. This grotesque suicide, which has Yorick attempting at once to strangle, immolate and drown himself, evokes political martyrdoms both conscious and retroactive: the self-immolation has obvious echoes of both Jan Palach’s suicide-protest against the Warsaw Pact invasion and the iconic images of burning Vietnamese monks, while a statue of Štefánik, attached to a rope around Yorick’s neck, is used both to choke and sink him. The elaborately ritualistic, referentially over-egged nature of the suicide suggests a communicative and thus purposeful act, even though the suicide itself comprises an acknowledgement of failure and futility. Is this simply a narrative expression of Jakubisko’s own perverse taste for surplus gestures, or is there something strangely indicative of hope in that act? Might we consider the copious flames and violent acts of Jakubisko’s films as less an expression of the death or defeat of ideals than a show of undiminished, martyr-like resistance? Perhaps


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that is taking things too far; nonetheless, I would suggest that Birds, Orphans and Fools, whatever the savage and emphatic pessimism of its final developments, is not an entirely pessimistic or unremittingly bleak work. In the very last moments of the film, birds are glimpsed flying over the river in which Yorick drowned, a faintly hopeful rejoinder to the predominant imagery of failed and fatal flight (trapped birds, Štefánik’s crashed plane). Turning full circle, we should also take heed of the film’s cryptically suggestive (if not sibylline) prologue, which invites us to laugh at the film’s tragic events, ‘as even our heroes do to the very end’, and insists that ‘the world is nice, although not completely’, ‘crazy and full of love, and just the opposite’. This is in effect to suggest that progressive values, the liberatory qualities of love, joy and ‘craziness’, are real possibilities in this world, even if (as the prologue understatedly puts it) the reign of this raucous virtue will never be ‘complete’. There exists then a shadow or double of the film we actually see, a version more deserving of our laughter, where love and happiness, not murder and suicide, finally triumph: does not the protagonists’ eternal exuberance already defy the narrative imposed on them? ‘There is no end without a beginning’, the prologue concludes. The utopianism of the Sixties, committed to large-scale revolutionary transformation, may have expired with the decade itself, yet it was destined for a kind of rebirth, as the ‘utopia limited’ (DeKoven) of postmodernity, a matter of local interventions and alternative lifestyle practices. It is in such terms that Jakubisko moots the salvation of Sixties ideals. The possibility of a ‘utopia limited’ clearly preoccupied Jakubisko, as he returned to the idea in his ‘subsequent’ film, Dovidenia v pekle, priatelia!/See You in Hell, Friends! (begun in 1970, completed in 1990), and Sedím na konári a je mi dobre/I’m Sitting on a Branch and I Feel Well (1989), his most unproblematically affirmative portrait of self-exclusion. While the hippyish idyll of the former film is less intrinsically troubled than that of Birds, the outer world, all homicidal ‘red’ nuns and war-whooping priests, proves more tyrannical and invasive. That said, the film’s 1990-shot coda shows the now-aged bohemians escaping from the oppressive ‘red ark’ in which they have been imprisoned, a clear allegory of the fall of communism. Where Jakubisko’s late Sixties films were bleak and cynical in their assessment of revolutionary ‘liberation’, he seems to see something positive in this revolution, as is evidenced by the promise held out here of a restitution of anarchic freedoms. Jakubisko’s own career, however, has hardly benefited from the new conditions, with some of his recent work having vulgarized familiar tropes and concerns (the playful nudity of Birds becomes the coarse sexuality of Post coitum (2004)). Yet if this habitually frenzied film-maker has lost his real urgency, his early films are still highly relevant: a veritable funhouse of vivacious Sixties aesthetics, they nonetheless speak – in aggressive, yet qualified, tones – to a contemporary sense of political impotence.

Anderson, P. (1998), The Origins of Postmodernity, London and New York: Verso. Breton, A. (1969), Manifestoes of Surrealism (trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane), Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. DeKoven, M. (2004), Utopia Limited: The Sixties and the Emergence of the Postmodern, Durham: NC: Duke University Press. Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1986), Kafka: Towards a Minor Literature (trans. Dana Polan), Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.


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Foster, H. (2001), ‘Blinded insights: on the modernist reception of the art of the mentally ill’, October, 97, pp. 3–30. Hames, P. (2006), The Czechoslovak New Wave, London: Wallflower Press. Iordanova, D. (2003), Cinema of the Other Europe: The Industry and Artistry of East Central European Film, London and New York: Wallflower Press. Jakubisko, Juraj (1968), Zbehovia a pútnici/The Deserter and the Nomads, ˇ Bratislava: Ceskoslovenská Televízia Bratislava/Compagnia Cinematografica Champion. —— (1969), Vtáckovia, siroty a blázni/Birds, Orphans and Fools, Bratislava: ˇ Como Film/Studio Hraných Filmov Bratislava. —— (1970/1990), Dovidenia v pekle, priatelia!/See You in Hell, Friends!, Bratislava: Slovenská filmová tvorba Koliba/Studio Hraných Filmov Bratislava. Laing, R.D. (1967), The Politics of Experience and The Bird of Paradise, Harmondsworth: Penguin. Liehm, A. (1974), Closely Watched Films: The Czechoslovak Experience, White Plains, NY: International Arts and Sciences Press. Pegrum, M.A. (2000), Challenging Modernity: Dada Between Modern and Postmodern, Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books. Steiner, E. (1973), The Slovak Dilemma, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Owen, J. (2010), ‘Slovak bohemians: revolution, counterculture and the end of the Sixties in Juraj Jakubisko’s films’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 17–28, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.17/1

Jonathan Owen has just obtained his doctorate at the University of Manchester, UK. His doctoral dissertation dealt with the influence of surrealism and other avant-garde traditions on the Czech New Wave films of the 1960s. His research interests include European (especially Central and East European) cinema and the Czech avant-garde from the interwar period to the present. Contact: 189 Chester Road, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 8QA, UK. E-mail:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 29–42 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.29/1

IB BONDEBJERG University of Copenhagen

Coming to terms with the past: post-1989 strategies in German film culture
This article deals with institutional changes and differences between the two German film cultures before and after 1989 during the unification process. But the main focus is on different genres and strategies in films dealing with the East German past and the unified post-1989 Germany, and with directors with an East German background and directors with a West German background. The article looks into three specific generic strategies: the historical transition drama; the realist strategy and the comedy strategy and the very different ways they treat the past; the transition and the present.

German film GDR post-communism film genres ostalgie

In the GDR (German Democratic Republic), film culture was shaped as a direct part of the state system, and the official goal of centralized film production through the DEFA (Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft/German Film Company, formed in 1946) was to enlist Germany’s ‘positive cultural legacy’ in the making of a socialist society (Hake 2008). In the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany), film culture was integrated into the western model. Before 1989, of course, the Cold War influenced film culture in Germany immensely: in the FRG, there was


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a partial ban on films from the GDR, while in the GDR several films were made to portray the decadent West. At the same time, cinema production in the GDR and the FRG shared a common cultural heritage in the German cinema classics and both called upon this heritage extensively. However, despite periods of relative freedom in GDR cinema production, the powerful Hauptverwaltung Film/State Film Administration heavily enforced the concept of socialist realism but very few of the DEFA films were really popular, and the film sector was dependent on foreign imports – including imports from the FRG. Before 1989, DEFA was responsible for the production of more than 700 films, many of which must be considered part of classic German film culture. The integration of the GDR into the FRG also meant the integration of many creative GDR film people into the film and media culture of the united Germany. But the transformation and integration after 1989 has been a complicated process on many levels, and coming to terms with the communist past, the Cold War and the divided Germany is an ongoing process in the post-1989 German film culture. In parts of the former GDR, we even see a certain retrowave of nostalgic longing for the good old days. German film culture has been faced with a confrontation with the past, a ‘complex and contradictory culture of remembrance, retrospection and nostalgia’ (Hake 2008: 190), but also of critical self-reflection. Even though the ‘Ossies’ got rid of an authoritarian regime and the world was opened to them, they also lost a ‘homeland’ and for many years westernization effectively made them second-class citizens in a new state where many institutions and traditions simply vanished (Maier 1997). In 2002, Jana Hensel (born in the GDR in 1976) hit German and international bestseller lists with her autobiography, Zonenkinder/After the Wall: Confessions from an East German Childhood and the Life that Came Next (Jana Hensel, 2004 (US edition)), telling us in a humorous tone about everyday life behind the wall. The feeling of freedom she expresses is mixed with a sense of loss and nostalgia, and her observations on her state of mind during this transition strike an important theme in many post-1989 films. Maier (1997) quotes Konrad Weiss, one of the successful East German film-makers of the later period, to illustrate the mixed feelings that are similarly expressed in Hensel’s memoirs: My hopes are withering and my dreams are dying. I am being made into an immigrant in my own land. I wanted to make a motherland out of my land. […] a raw, garish, shirt-sleeved fatherland is bursting in on us. It leaves us no way out, we can’t defend ourselves against it. (Konrad Weiss 1990, quoted by Maier 1997: 286)

In late 1988 and early 1989, many signs pointed towards the collapse of communism, but few had expected it to happen so fast. It was as if the whole system just gave up. However, all the serious problems and conflicts that existed before the collapse lingered on throughout the following decades. In the former GDR, the expenditures required for integration were high and the results of the merger had a long-lasting influence on social and cultural conditions. In his book, Maier estimates that by 1995 the German public budget deficit had gone up to more than 112 billion Deutsche marks, the equivalent


Coming to terms with the past

of the money invested in the former GDR, in order to restructure and rebuild the economy and society (Maier 1997: 299). But despite this huge drain of the public budget and the establishment of Treuhand with its mission of privatizing companies and institutions for the new market economy, a huge economic and social decline in the former GDR was the immediate result. Social life, work and everyday living conditions worsened for the newly reunited Germans, while cultural barriers and resentments between East and West increased. Those from the East reported feeling like second-class citizens in a very rich consumer society, and were mostly unable to acquire what they saw in the brightly lit shop windows. The rise of the new left-wing party after 2000 in Germany (Die Linke/The Left) appeared to be a return of communism in a modern form, thriving on the problems of the imperfect integration. In Hensel’s memoirs, she notes how quickly concepts and language changed, making it difficult for ‘ossies’ to communicate on a simple everyday level (Hensel 2004: 12f): After the wall, we soon forgot what everyday life in the GDR was like, with all its unheroic moments and ordinary days. We repressed our actual experiences and replaced them with a series of strange largerthan-life anecdotes that didn’t really have anything to do with what our lives had been like. The fact that we began exchanging such stories amongst ourselves shows how much we had internalized the West German take on our history. We had forgotten how to tell our own life stories in our own way, instead adopting an alien tone and perspective. (Hensel 2004: 25) The overall mental framework expressed by most of the post-1989 films from the former GDR is thus characterized by the citizens’ widespread ambivalence of wanting full integration in the new state, but at the same time feeling exiled in their own new homeland. Maier puts it like this in his conclusion: In 1989–90 most East Germans had no other wish than to be absorbed into a larger community of Germans and economic success. But what had they achieved? Their experience suggested to many that they had not simply become full participants in a united Germany, but immigrants in their own territory, nursing selective memories of a past that comforted merely, and sometimes only, by virtue of its being shared. (Maier 1997: 327)

The building of the Berlin Wall in August 1962 coincides with the isolation of GDR film culture from the rest of Germany. But despite this stronger ideological and cultural control, the influence from the West remained strong. Pre1989 GDR cinema drew upon its German cultural heritage and in many ways developed parallel trends such as modern realism with those in the FRG. The European modernist and new wave cinemas of the 1960s were also important influences on GDR cinema. However, the more experimental, modernist works as well as those deploying forms of realism that did not conform to the concept of socialist realism faced severe problems in the GDR where every film had to be accepted


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by the party apparatus. The establishment of the Berlin Wall and the escalation of the Cold War during the 1960s led to a brutal ideological attack on some of the modernist tendencies in GDR film culture at the eleventh Central Committee meeting of the SED (Socialist Unity Party) in December 1965. A whole year’s production, twelve films in all, were rejected and DEFA director Jochen Mückenberger was fired, while several film directors saw their careers destroyed. The accusations from the SED were scepticism, nihilism, relativism and subjectivism. According to both Hake and other film historians (Berghahn 2006, for instance) this SED meeting had a devastating effect on the whole of GDR culture and made it much more difficult for the more modernist and new realist trends to develop. Nevertheless, even after 1965, directors like Joachim Kunert, Konrad Wolf and Heiner Carow continued to challenge the official party line. In light of the ideological and cultural agitation against many aspects of GDR culture after unification, it is worth noticing that there are critically acclaimed GDR films that belong to the modern classics of German film culture. In 1995, when German film critics and producers were asked to nominate the 100 best films of all time, 14 GDR films were nominated, among them films by Wolfgang Staudte, Konrad Wolf, Frank Beyer, Gerhard Klein and Heiner Carow (Berghahn 2006: 79–80). The list of nominated directors and films demonstrates that the genres and traditions valued most by the critics were anti-fascist historical dramas belonging to the broader realist tradition, as well as a few heritage films based on literary classics. The line between a very ideological socialist realism and a freer and less heroic form of socialist narrative was always under negotiation in pre-1989 GDR film culture. In 1971, when Honecker launched the thesis of an already fulfilled and established socialist society, this meant a certain liberation for film-makers (Hake 2008: 140f). During this period, comedic and dramatic genres dealing with everyday life were established, as were some of the most interesting literary adaptations. But GDR film culture was increasingly in crisis from the 1980s until the fall of the Wall, having lost contact with its mainstream audience. Television and the growing influence of western cinema also contributed to this crisis. Despite the Wall and cultural controls, it became increasingly difficult to isolate the population from all aspects of the increasingly globalized media culture. In 1990, Treuhand took over the DEFA studios, selling them to FrenchAmerican Vivendi-Universal in 1992. This transformation of the old GDR film studios marked the transition in Germany generally towards a much more market-oriented cinema culture, while still maintaining a strong mix of public and private funding. After 1992, Studio Babelsberg was transformed and promoted as a new European centre for film production. Larger production companies with both national and transnational film productions like Bernd Eichinger’s Constantin Film and arthouse-oriented production companies like X Filme Creative Pool founded in 1994 by Tom Tykwer and Wolfgang Becker demonstrate the diversity and creative boost German cinema received after 1989. An increase in annual film production from around 60 in 1990 to close to 130 today underscores the same trend. In Germany, as global market forces immediately took over after 1989, the transformation of the once heavily state-controlled institutional film culture did not create the same collapse and creative vacuum that other communist countries experienced. The film culture of the new united Germany became a vital cultural and ideological part of its coming to terms with the


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past, managing to create popular narratives that contributed to a more reflexive understanding of the relation between past and present and the more invisible remnants of the Wall in the minds of people, in everyday life and in social and cultural divisions.

As a communist country, the GDR is a special case: this was where communism was expected to show its cultural strength and superiority, and this was consequently also where communism faced its final and most spectacular defeat. It could therefore be expected that the fall of the Wall and the transition from a divided to a united Germany would have a very strong place in post-1989 film narratives. This is however, not quite the case. Rather, many directors, including some born and raised in the GDR, seem to focus more on contemporary everyday life and when touching upon the transition, they seem to favour a more humorous or even slightly nostalgic or satirical point of view. In Laurence McFalls’s interesting study, Communism’s Collapse, Democracy’s Demise? The Cultural Context and Consequences of the East German Revolution (1995), he points to the fact that, at least for the period after 1945, the political system in the GDR seemed to offer a solution to post-fascist chaos. Despite wide criticism and resistance towards the regime in the post-1961 GDR after the building of the Berlin Wall, there has also been a certain popular support. This is the logical explanation for ‘Ossie nostalgia’ and criticism of certain aspects of the rough and competitive consumer society in the West. The fall of the Wall in November 1989 was a historic moment of great importance, and documentary footage from the event shows the immense joy and euphoria experienced on both sides of the Wall. However, the complexities and difficulties of reunification were tremendous and the whole transition and integration process raised a number of social, cultural, ideological and economic problems. An important peculiarity of German film in this period is that it has been directors from the West that have made three of the most dramatic, historical transition dramas, as well as some of the most serious and realistic attempts to come to terms with the past. Margarethe von Trotta made one of the most political and emotional transition dramas, Das Versprechen/The Promise (1994). In this film, we follow the complicated love story of Conrad and Sophie from 1961 to 1989 while, at the same time, we are shown the contrasting development of their lives in the GDR and West Germany. In the film, there is a breathtaking and symbolic scene in which a man in a GDR couple, after having tried to stay and live life in the GDR, suddenly loses patience and hope and stages a symbolic protest. He is imprisoned and interrogated and eventually the Stasi expel him and keep his wife. The sequences showing the authoritarian and inhuman society of the GDR are made with a grim and shocking realism, but West Berlin seen through his eyes does not look like a promising alternative either. The graffiti-covered walls of the subways, the drunkards and drug addicts, the pushers and prostitutes, the gangster types attacking him or the beggars wanting money become a distorted vision of capitalist consumerism and decadence. In desperation, he crosses the Wall to get back to the GDR, but though he raises his arms in surrender, he is shot dead by the GDR guards. Von Trotta’s film combines a private life story with historical moments in the transition from communism to its fall. The narrative is woven around historical dates and events with clear social and symbolic character: the establishing of the Wall in 1961; the rebellion and Soviet invasion of Prague in


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1968; the 20-year anniversary of the Wall in 1981; and finally the fall of the Wall in 1989. The film combines direct documentary footage from all these events, with the fictional story constructed in such a way that the personal relations, problems and stories clearly illustrate broader social and historical problems. In this sense, the film is prototypical for the historical transition drama: the fictional story illustrates and embodies the historical transition. In the first part of the film, the young couple, Konrad and Sophie, try to escape to the West before the Wall is completed, but whereas Sophie and some of her friends make it, Konrad is surprised by soldiers and has to give himself up. This cleavage begins the story of a very strange love affair marked by distance and different lives lived out in the East and the West. Konrad eventually becomes an important scientist supported by the system. In 1968, the couple are able to meet in connection with a conference in Prague where they make love passionately and plan a life together, only to see everything being destroyed as the Prague Spring revolution is crushed. In the last part of the film in 1989, on the night the Wall falls, Konrad is reunited with his now grown-up son. A freeze-frame of him and Sophie in the crowd seems to indicate a possible new life in the unified Germany. The portrait of the GDR in Trotta’s film is a sharp, critical and political critique of a system that employs systematic oppression of human beings and strategic manipulation and surveillance. There is no nostalgic or positive representation of everyday life outside the oppressive system, although some of the characters try to make the best of it, doing what they can to go against the stream. But the film also displays a rather low-key realism in the portrait of life on the other side of the Wall, and there is no naïve belief in utopia in the new unified Germany. The same must be said of the film by Volker Schlöndorff’s Die Stille nach dem Schuss/The Legends of Rita (1999), a transition drama that focuses on the life of a terrorist from the West working in both countries. ‘Politics today is war,’ says the terrorist Rita Vogt in a voice-over at the start of the film while she robs a bank. The film is partly based on the real Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorist Inge Viett’s story, but the film’s main plot focuses on terrorism in the West as a political link to communism in the East. In this way, the film actually contextualizes social and political problems in both German states. In the first part of the film, Schlöndorff explores terrorism in two ways, where violent actions and killings in Germany, Beirut and France draw an image of terrorism as an international network while, at the same time, the film demonstrates the cynical role played by the GDR in hiding and supporting Western terrorism. Although this film is very critical in its rendering of the GDR system, it is also a story that goes more directly into a portrait of life in the former GDR with both its good and bad sides. Rita’s life in the GDR is, of course, a life lived in an artificial bubble, and yet she is able to develop real friendships and love relations. When the Berlin Wall comes down and she is exposed just like all her RAF accomplices, she still seems to believe in communism. In the last scene of the film, Rita tries to escape and is shot down. The film tries to give a rather nuanced picture of the former GDR and even the life of a terrorist, and it does not focus on the 1989 turning point as a major historical shift – although it is mentioned and has direct implications for the way the story unfolds in the end. There is no apology for either the GDR system or the terrorism; rather, the film seems to simply try to approach a historical period and everyday life with all its complexities. The clearly most successful transition drama so far is, however, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others (2006).


Coming to terms with the past

This film was seen by seven million people in Europe – a high figure for a European art film, and it won both an Oscar and the European Film Award. Among the transition dramas, this film is a modern classic, one that most directly seems to have captured the imagination of German and European audiences. The way in which the film tells the story of the transition and life in Germany, East and West, is combined with both the realism of art cinema and the emotional and dramatic quality of a more broad mainstream drama. On 15 May 2006, Donnersmarck visited the German film museum to present his film and in his presentation he said: I believe that in 1989 and the period immediately after that our relation to the GDR and its history was rather tense. That is perhaps not the best starting point for telling a film story. One needs a certain distance in order not to pass a rushed judgement. (Quoted from, my translation) Donnersmarck, in the same presentation, tells that the opening of the Stasi archives made it possible for him to talk to and investigate former Stasi operatives as part of his year-long research for the film. The result of this research is a film of psychological complexity and insight into everyday life in the authoritarian society of the GDR, as well as the life of a particular Stasi agent. Donnersmarck makes a broader point out of the portrait of this Stasi agent who secretly rebels against the system, staging a plot to save a person and a couple that ends up undermining his belief in the state: Many people grew up with a belief in the GDR but had to realize sooner or later that the reality of this SED state had nothing to do with the initial positive expectations. I believe that this created a passive resistance in many people and led to the historically very unusual peaceful revolution. (Quoted from, my translation) Donnermarck’s film explores the operation of an authoritarian system by showing the various ways people might try to adapt themselves to it – either by submitting and conforming or by trying to live a secret life within the authoritarian system. The film shows the life of a Stasi agent who initially conforms to the system but then changes when he is exposed, through his surveillance work, to these ‘lives of others’ – an artistic and intellectual milieu very different from his own. In this way, the film tells a universal human story of not just the GDR but of all societies and authoritarian systems that employ this kind of intensive surveillance. In his presentation of the film, Donnersmarck clearly states that he is not interested in moral judgements or making some kind of a case: he is merely telling a human story. Part of the explanation for the film’s enormous success with the audience probably has to do with the fact that the film came at a time when the temporal distance from 1989 had sufficiently diminished the immediate tensions and resentments felt so keenly during the transition, allowing the history of the GDR to become a more complex, human story.

In Leander Haussmann’s very successful film Sonnenalle/Sun Alley (1999) about life in the GDR in the 1970s, the last words spoken in the film are from the voice-over of the young main male character Micha. These words virtually turn


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life and culture in the former GDR into a distant fairy tale as the images of the film show the gates and barriers opening onto an empty and deserted space: ‘Once upon a time there was a country. How was it to live there: it was the greatest time of my life, for I was young and in love.’ Haussmann was born in the GDR (1959), so, although the film is based on a novel by Tomas Brussig, the satirical and humorous look upon life in the GDR also reflects the director’s own experiences as a child and young man. In German and international film literature, there has been some discussion of the comic turn in films dealing with the GDR (see, for instance, Cooke 2005: 103f and Seán Allan, in Clark 2006: 105f). As Cooke remarks, the discussion has been about the reasons for and consequences of the move away from realism, social critique and the political. The comedic turn has been seen as a move towards ‘ostalgie’ (East nostalgia) (Allan 2006), and, with the so-called Trabi comedies of the 1990s (named after the GDR car the Trabant), this development can be seen as a commercial use of the culture of the ‘exotic other’, the underdeveloped, stupid and provincial character befuddled by the westernized culture. But, first of all, the move away from realism and social critique is not complete, as the success of Das Leben der Anderen proves. Second, the understanding of comedy as a genre in some of these critical comments is too simplified. Third, there is a much deeper socio-cognitive tendency at work here than noted in most of the film comment. As McFalls has documented in his interview-based study of GDR culture before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is sociologically impossible to conceive of the culture in the former GDR as just one of repression under which the whole population submitted. Rather, it would be more accurate to view it as a more complex and dual culture where people adapted themselves, finding ways to survive and developing a kind of everyday life beyond the system’s clichés. The freedom after 1989 and the newly opened consumer culture was greeted with great hope, but the reactions against the new society soon led to a sense of ‘verfremdung’ or alienation, the feeling some had of being unequal and out of tune with dominant values. Reactions have been partly political, and partly a rediscovery of life in the GDR as more than communist oppression. McFalls point to a dualism in life under communism, a dualism of a perhaps more universal nature. There is official reality and then there is everyday life grounded in universal human needs, passions and activities. What the new comedies actually do is combine a social and political-satirical critique of communism as a system with a strong focus on the kind of life people tried to live under the system’s surface, which are things people do all the time in all societies, as much as the historical circumstances allow. Zerubavel, in his book Social Mindscapes: An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology (1999: 20), has pointed to three levels of cognitive sociology which he identifies as the study of cultural, social and mental structuring: • • • Universal cognitive commonalities Cultural, historical and subcultural cognitive differences Personal cognitive idiosyncrasies

Comedies often reduce cultural differences to their more universal commonalities: a Stasi officer, for instance, does not appear as a dangerous political representative of a repressive system, but rather as a somewhat ridiculous show-off and a person very much occupied with taking advantage for his own


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personal interests. But, at the same time, comedy builds on identification, on the little man becoming the hero against all odds, in spite of the fact that we also sometimes laugh at him. This means that comedies make us sympathize with people in a particular subculture, even though we also have a certain distance from them, because comedies generally have an ability to make the universal and the culturally specific interact. In his analysis of Sonnenallee and Good Bye, Lenin!, the film scholar Seán Allan points to some of the same mechanisms at work in these GDR comedies: By setting their ‘universal’ stories within specifically East German settings, Sonnenallee and Goodbye, Lenin! open up a new perspective on the East for audiences with little or no firsthand experience of the GDR. In so doing, these films make an important contribution to the normalization of German–German relations. (Allan 2006: 124) The portrait of everyday life in Sonnenallee/Sun Alley (Hausmann, 1999) is characterized by elements of youth comedies known from most western film cultures and, in that sense, the GDR reality is normalized. What young people are interested in is love, music, friendship, partying and, in relation to this, schools, parents and authorities are viewed as hindrances. The main character Micha(el) is a fanatic about rock music and spends a lot of his time trying to acquire music that is illegal and difficult to get hold of in the GDR. But he is also (it seems) hopelessly in love with a beautiful girl who seems to care only for a playboy who represents all the worst stereotypes of the West. The film culminates with his love affair coming to fruition in a fabulous scene in which they play rock music on a balcony while the whole street, including Stasi agents and soldiers, rock with them. The film’s portrayal of everyday life in the GDR confirms all we know: the shortage of consumer goods, the bureaucracy and surveillance, the ridiculous ideological socialization and the group tyranny of the youth organizations, etc. But the film also revitalizes the image of ordinary GDR citizens, their ability to play around with the system, their creativity in getting the best out of very little to make life work. In this film, life in the GDR becomes more colourful and the almost carnivalesque energy running through many of the scenes aligns the image of GDR youth with western youth. The satire against the GDR system is friendly, but consistent in Sonnenallee, but the focus is on how ordinary citizens survived and created their own forms of life. In Goodbye, Lenin! (Becker, 1999) the political satire is more direct and dominant, and the sheer fact that Alexander has to reinvent a way of life after the Wall has fallen in order to protect his ailing mother who was a model GDR citizen, gives the film a sharper, satirical edge than Sonnenallee. In the film, everything from TV programmes, the communist scout movement, the ugly GDR furniture and all sorts of GDR food and products have to be restored, and this gives the audience of the film a chance to relate to and re-experience something that is already history. At the same time, the picture of Alex’s mother also modifies the image of the engaged, political worker in the GDR as a faceless and heartless bureaucrat. She becomes a sympathetic, idealistic figure, although naïve in her fundamental belief in the party and the cause. But the satire in the film is not just towards the GDR system. The West is also treated with a satirical and critical distance, mostly through themes of open commercialism and personal greed demonstrated by people taking advantage of the situation.


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The very first sequences of Goodbye, Lenin! are private family films of everyday life in the GDR, where despite everything, children are happily playing, and this entry through the perspective of the everyday life of the young Alexander (the film’s voice-over narrator) is fundamental to the film. The tone is comic and satirical for the most part. There are occasional elements of realist drama, such as the sequences that depict a moment just before the fall of the Wall where demonstrating GDR citizens are brutally suppressed and put in jail. Nevertheless, satirical humour is the basic tone of the film. Next to the film’s hybrid mixture of satire, comedy and realistic drama, the true quality of the film rests in its detailing of everyday life in the GDR. The depiction of all those ordinary moments spark memories and experiences, both in the audience with first-hand experience and in those members of the audience that can relate to the historic everyday universe through these universal characters, themes and relations. The film, however, takes a surprising turn at the end when the mother admits that she has been lying about her children’s father. He did not leave them behind when he went to the West, as she had told them. Rather, he had wanted his family to join him. Alex contacts him and, seeing his father, realizes how alike family life in the East and West is and how childhood conceptions can be out of tune with reality. The father comes to visit them and Alex presents a powerful, comic finale for the fictitious newscast in which his version of the fall of the Wall is played out. In this version, the GDR’s leader himself decides to tear down the Wall, and in contrast to the wholesale denigration of the old ideology, this newscast suggests that some of the ideas of socialism might just inspire the new Germany. The mother dies with a happy feeling of having associated herself with something that mattered and, through this careful deconstruction of the real story, the film reinstalls a sense of pride about some parts of former GDR history and culture.

The cinema of Andreas Dresen is also a cinema of everyday life representing new, post-1989 strategies in German film. The past, in fact, is only indirectly present in his films, as traces in a contemporary reality dominated by social problems and conflicts. But his films often take place in the now-transformed parts of the former GDR. Andreas Dresen (born in the GDR in 1963) is one of the more successful directors who made the transition from GDR film culture to post-unification German cinema. Dresen studied at the Konrad Wolf Academy for Film and Television and started as a director just before the Berlin Wall fell. He is influenced by the realism of GDR cinema and he often focuses on social differences and conflicts in contemporary German society but he is not political and ideological in an outspoken way. The stories take place in city milieus among ordinary people and the social critique or message is indirectly present in the way plots and characters clash and develop. His style demonstrates a documentary aesthetic in his earlier films, whereas a move towards humour and comedy becomes stronger in his later films. None of his films deal directly with the GDR past or the transition; however, they often take place in eastern parts of Germany and with typical East German social types. Dresen’s feature debut, Stilles Land/Silent Country (1992), set in the GDR in 1989 before and after the Wall falls, is a film about a small-town theatre


Coming to terms with the past

preparing to stage Waiting for Godot. The film clearly shows Dresen as a realist, political director, but one with a sense for the absurdities and the humour of everyday life. This is demonstrated in the way the theatre group and the play become an image of the historical situation, while the lack of heroism, ideology and grand narrative focuses on the ordinary subcurrents of history. A sharper everyday social realism is obvious in Nachtgestalten/Night Characters (1998), a multi-plot story about three main characters in Berlin and a decisive 24 hours in their lives. In the film, they try to break out or are forced out of their normal ways of life while, at the same time, Berlin is not business-asusual because the Pope is visiting. We have the homeless Hanna and her boyfriend Victor, trying to have just one decent night in a hotel for the 100 marks she finds on the street; the older private business-type Hendrik, waiting for a customer at the airport and getting stuck with an African boy whose relative does not come and pick him up at the airport; and finally the farmer Jochen looking for sex and finding the young prostitute and drug addict Patty whom he naïvely wants to save but who ends up robbing him of all his money. The characters thus represent typical characters in contemporary Germany, from the outcasts and criminals to yuppies, from those coming to the big city from the German heartland to those emigrating from far-off lands. Compared with Stilles Land, Nachtgestalten has a rough ‘punk aesthetic’ depicting Berlin as a bluesy big-city environment influenced by a global, multiculturalism. In this sense, the film shows the swift transformation away from the isolated, enclosed GDR culture in which Dresen grew up. But it is also a film about the colourful and problematic confrontations between different social and cultural subcultures seen through Dresen’s vision of the absurdity of everyday life in a modern city universe. There are clear links to the American tradition of multi-plot narratives, not least Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993) and a later film like Paul Haggis’s Crash (2004). The film lacks any dimension of moral decay, despite the clear social critique of modern urban life in modern Germany. It is rather a film with a certain bluesy mood and a poetry of everyday life in which moments of human relationships oscillate between confrontation, abuse, violence, care and even love and solidarity. The film thus balances a sharp, lucid everyday realism with a critique of modern life that suddenly burst with hope and human expressions of fragility. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the story of Jochen and the African boy, a story with broader symbolic dimensions in relation to the global inequalities threatening the modern, western welfare states. The film may have gloomy aspects but, like the American films cited above, we also see relationships developing between people that have elements of hope. One of the young punks suddenly shows sympathy for the homeless lady who has been beaten, and the woman from the airport develops a relationship with the relative of the African boy. Despite the image of a modern society with very little cohesion across the social and cultural borders in the new Germany – the film lights a little candle of hope. However, the last sequence of the film strikes a dystopian tone. The punks have stolen Jochen’s car and drive it to the sea, in an expression of their longing for escape and another life. Standing on top of the car, they set it on fire while listening to heavy punk music, expressing their anger and discontentment. Suddenly the music disappears and we get very close to the group of young people: the very last shot is a silent young man, suddenly staring into the camera, silent and serious looking. There seems to be a longing but also a social accusation behind the dysfunctional everyday life we have witnessed.


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Dresen’s films on everyday life in the post-1989 era also include more clearcut comedies among ordinary people, discordant family life, love relations and social problems in a new Germany where expectations do not quite live up to the utopian feelings of 1989. Halbe Treppe/Half Stair Case (2002) takes place in Frankfurt-an-der-Oder, in a typical post-1989 GDR neighbourhood. The film tells the rather turbulent story of two couples, Uwe and Ellen and Chris and Kathrin. It is a story about a midlife crisis, about dreams and hopes and what became of them after marriage, kids and perhaps not the most exciting work and living conditions. Everything is turned upside down when Chris and Ellen fall in love and start a passionate affair. The subtitle of the film is Zwei Paare, eine Affäre und 17 Hippies?/Two Couples, an Affair and 17 Hippies? and the film lives up to this title with its semi-casual chaotic narrative of a transformed East German life. The couples are not happy, the new consumer society is not all they hoped it would be and their happiness together seems to have vanished into routine. A symbolic scene in the film is the escape of Uwe and Ellen’s bird from a small cage. When they run around in their sterile 1970s high-tower flat, typical of both GDR and West Germany, the feeling of their own imprisonment becomes obvious. But the film also presents social satire in sequences showing dubious businessmen trying to develop the place into a new industrial development zone. A special element in the film are the ‘documentary’ sequences where the fictive characters are interviewed and speak directly into the camera. The interviews thematize their lives, hopes and dreams and attempt to answer how it is they got stuck somewhere on the road. It is characteristic that the film in the end returns to its starting positions with Chris and Kathrin reunited – but this time, with new experiences. Life goes on, although Ellen leaves Uwe for good – a new kitchen is not enough for her. But as a sign of the opposite, the escaped bird returns to its cage. In Dresen’s films about the everyday, life and endings are often ambivalent. Dresen’s German version of a romantic comedy, Sommer vorm Balkon/ Summer on the Balcony (2005) is a feel-good film dealing with two main characters, Nike and Kathrin, for whom life in general and love life in particular is certainly not happy, easy and glamorous. The film has lots of striking everyday scenes between the girls on their balcony overlooking Berlin, in cafés or on the job or looking for jobs. Side stories include Kathrin’s son and his young love, and the stories of the elderly people in Nike’s care. The film also moves between more serious, traumatic scenes and comedic scenes, but the overall purpose of the film seems to paint an image of life in Berlin that is constantly changing and under renewal. This is underlined by the fact that restoration and new construction is a common visual trope in the film. The film is a universal feel-good comedy about everyday life taking place in the new Berlin. Twenty years after reunification, references to 1989 and the time before and after are quite distant, only indirectly present in the plot and the settings of the film.

In 2006, the young German author Clemens Meyer (b. 1977) won a broad German audience with his novel Als wir träumten/When we Dreamt about life as child and young man in the former GDR and after 1989. It tells a harsh tale of a young generation with shattered dreams in a unified Germany. The enormous


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success of the novel proves – just as the enormous success of some of the films on the transition and life before and after the Wall – that the wounds after the collapse of communism are still not healed. There is a genuine need to come to terms with the past as well as the traces of the past in the present. In a broader perspective, this is not just true of Germany, but of post-communist Europe as a whole. The ‘rude awakening’ for the former communist countries that Jakubowicz talks about in his timely book from 2007 is long since over, but the reconstructing of a new culture and society in a globalized and changing world has only just begun. The three main strategies in coming to terms with the past and the present in this article represent very different forms of dealing with reality and addressing the audience. The historical transition drama deals with social and cultural transformation in a dynamic, historical perspective but combines a direct political and social agenda with a more personal and emotional dimension linking macro- and micro-history. The satirical comedy tradition moves away from the realist social and political critiques of the transition drama and instead tries to distance itself from oppressive social systems by employing satiric and comic distantiation, moving the lives of ordinary people to the centre. A universalizing effect is at work here since life in the GDR appears to be based on some of the same basic human needs, rituals and actions as in the rest of the world. In this way, comedic identification and alienating effects work together to make us both laugh and understand a different culture and system better. Deep down, we realize, the system is not so different from our own. Contemporary everyday realism, on the other hand is, just like the traditional comedic tradition, much more focused on everyday life in the here and now than in historical dimensions and explicit social critiques of a past society and ideology. Dresen’s films often take place in GDR states or neighbourhoods, and though life expectations are not the most positive, his films not only express despair and defeat, there is an underlying hope and belief in humanity. German film culture as a whole has enjoyed a revival over the last ten years, despite problems with the integration of the former GDR on all levels. As Maier (1997) suggests disappointment and resentment are likely to prevail for a long time yet. At least the rather diverse strategies of German film since 1989 offer forms of understanding and historical reflection that may, in the long run, contribute to a deeper integration and unification.

Altman, Robert (1993), Short Cuts, Los Angeles: New Line Cinema. Becker, Wolfgang (2003), Good-Bye Lenin!, Berlin: X Filme. Beckett, Samuel (1952), En attandant Godot/Waiting for Godot, Paris: Edition Minuit. Berghan, Daniela (2006), ‘East German Cinema after Unification’, in Clarke, David (ed., 2006): German Cinema Since Unification. London & New York: Continuum, p. 79–105. Clarke, David (ed.) (2006), German Cinema Since Unification, London and New York: Continuum. Cooke, Paul (2005), Representing East Germany Since Unification: From Colonization to Nostalgia, Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers. Donnersmarck, Florian von (2006), Das Leben der Anderen/The Lives of Others, Berlin: Berg Productions.


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Dresen, Andreas (1992), Stilles Land/Silent Country, Berlin: Max Film. —— (1999), Nachtgestalten/Night Characters, Berlin: Peter Rommel Productions. —— (2002), Halbe Treppe/Half Stair Case, Berlin: Delphi Film. —— (2004), Sommer vom Balkon/Summer on the Balcony, Berlin: Peter Rommel Productions/X Filme. Haggis, Paul (2004), Crash, Los Angeles: Lions Gate Films. Hake, Sabrine (2008), German National Cinema, 2nd edn., London: Routledge. Hausmann, Leander (1999), Sonnenallee/Sun Alley, Berlin: Boje Buch Produktion. Hensel, Jana (2004 [2002]), Zonenkinder/After the Wall: Confessions from an East German Childhood and the Life that Came Next, New York: PublicAffairs. Jakubowicz, Karol (2007), Rude Awakening: Social and Media Change in Central and Eastern Europe, Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. Jakubowicz, Karol and Sükösd, Miklós (eds) (2008), Finding the Right Place on the Map: Central and Eastern European Change in a Global Perspective, Bristol: Intellect Press. Maier, Charles S. (1997), Dissolution: The Crisis of Communism and the End of East Germany, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. McFalls, Laurence H. (1995), Communism’s Collapse, Democracy’s Demise: The Cultural Context and Consequences of the East German Revolution, London: Macmillan. Schlöndorff, Volker (2000), Stille nach dem Schuss/Silence after the Shot or The Legends of Rita, Berlin: Babelsberg Film. Trotta, Margaretha von (1995), Das Versprechen/The Promise, Berlin: Biskop Film. Zerubavel, Eviatar (1999), Social Mindscapes. An Invitation to Cognitive Sociology, Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. Weiss, Konrad, ‘Der Heimat Verlust schmetz,’ in Der Spiegel, no. 8, 19 February 1990, p. 27.

Bondebjerg, I. (2010), ‘Coming to terms with the past: post-1989 strategies in German film culture’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 29–42, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.29/1

Ib Bondebjerg is Professor of Film and Media Studies at the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen, and the Director of the Centre for Modern European Studies. He has published widely on European film and media culture. His latest edited book in English is Media, Democracy and European Culture (Intellect, 2008). Contact: Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, University of Copenhagen, Njalsgade 80, 2300 Copenhagen S, Denmark. E-mail:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 43–56 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.43/1

ˇ ´ JURICA PAVICIC Film Critic and University of Split, Croatia

‘Cinema of normalization’: changes of stylistic model in postYugoslav cinema after the 1990s
The topic of this article is the change of stylistic dominant in the national cinemas of post-Yugoslav countries after the year 2000 and the huge political changes in Croatia and Serbia. In all post-Yugoslav states this was a period of political, social and economic changes, which is usually named by a common denominator: ‘normalization’. The objects of my analysis are three films coming from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia. All these films: Grbavica /Esma’s Secret (Jasmila Žbanic’), Apsolutnih 100/Absolute 100 (Srdan Golubovic’) and Armin (Ognjen Svilicic’) share many stylistic and thematic similarities. All three ˇ films break, implicitly or explicitly, with the tradition of Yugoslav cinema of the 1990s and the notion of ‘Balkan cinema’, inherited by auteurs like Kusturica or Dragojevic’. Some of them even include a metafilmic critique of that model. These three films are examples of the broader stylistic shift, which is connected with political and social changes. Therefore, the new stylistic dominant could be named as ‘cinema of normalization’.

post-Yugoslav cinema normalization self-Balkanization Jasmila Žbanic ’ Srdan Golubovic ’ Ognjen Svilic ’ ˇic


Jurica Pavic ic ˇ ´

During the 1990s, a series of wars, bloodshed and material destruction strongly influenced film practice in the former Yugoslav states, preventing their normal, transitional development. In most of the Yugoslav territories (including Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Kosovo), any kind of film industry ceased to exist. In Croatia and Serbia, film production continued but under unfavourable circumstances of the undemocratic or semi-democratic regimes. At the same time, the 1990s were a decade of unparalleled success for the post-Yugoslav film directors. During that decade, at least five post-Yugoslav films became huge arthouse hits and gained significant critical acclaim and academic coverage to the extent that Dina Iordanova remarked that ‘in European cinema at large, the 1990s will be remembered with the films about the Balkan conflicts and traumas’ (Iordanova 2000: 15). Two of these films won major festival prizes – Golden Lion for Macedonian film Pred doždot/ Before the Rain (Milc Manc ˇo ˇevski, 1993), and Golden Palm for Underground (1995) by Bosnian-Serb director Emir Kusturica. At least, three other films became very famous: Lepa sela lepo gore /Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996) – and Rane/Wounds (1998) by Srd an Dragojevic’, and Bure baruta/Powder Keg or Cabaret Balkan (1998) by Serbian director, veteran of the ‘Prague school’, Goran Paskaljevic ’. Many critics noted stark stylistic, ideological and thematic similarities between these films, and some other post-Yugoslav hits of the 1990s in general. Almost all of these films dealt with political turmoils of the former Yugoslavia: war, ethnic conflicts and outbursts of violence in everyday life. While dealing with some obvious topics inevitably present in their social surroundings, the directors of these films have made a whole series of stylistic and thematic choices which unite them in a coherent poetic phenomenon. Following the term proposed by Tomislav Longinovic’, this stylistic phenomenon could be named the ‘cinema of self-Balkanisation’ (Longinovic’ 2005: 45). As many critics observed, post-Yugoslav arthouse hits of the 1990s have often exploited an exaggerated, grotesque and intentionally stereotyped representation of the Balkans. As Frederic Jameson comments in his seminal essay, Balkan cinema ‘includes the external look of the foreigners, of West, in the image thus presented. We are like this, and in fact, we’re even worse then you thought we are, and we love it!’ (Jameson 2004: 235). We can find such a self-conscious comment, an ‘external look’, in a famous introductory scene of Paskaljevic’’s Powderkeg/Cabaret Balkan, when a club entertainer, dressed as a drag queen, asks the audience: ‘Why do you laugh? Because I’m different? Because I’m a freak? Well, then welcome!’ (Longinovic’ 2005: 43). Films like Pretty Village, Pretty Flame; Wounds; or Underground present the Balkans and its inhabitants as a sort of filmically attractive, cinematic ‘freak’. All these films emphasize the violence and ‘untamed’, ‘savage’ nature of the Balkans by staging stories full of unmotivated violence, hatred, betrayal and cruel vengance. ‘Folklorist and exoticizing’, these films, as German critic Bernd Buder writes, ‘introduce the picture of the Balkans as a region in which people party, drink, and shoot, a picture based on profitable prejudices’ (Buder 2006, cited in Šošic’ 2009: 9). A typical character of such a ‘self-Balkanisation’ film is the ‘Balkan Wild Man’ (Jameson 2004), defined by Longinovic’ as a ‘global example of volatile masculinity gone mad’ (Longinovic’ 2005: 38). Often represented by actors Miki Manojlovic’ or Rade Šerbedžija/Sherbedgia, the Balkan wild man is a slave of his irrational


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passions, violent, drunk, misogynist, unable to control his violent impulses, and – as the ultimate consequence – arsonist, rapist and murderer. Contrary to the wild man, women in these films are submissive and passive, deprived of their own will and an object of lust. Or, as Serbian feminist critic Ana Jankovic’ Prljevic’ writes: A frequently used narrative of Balkan weddings in domestic films during the 1990s introduced a bride who takes the completely passive and humiliating role on her own wedding (which is everything but her own) within the hierarchy of power where someone else has a total authority over her life and destiny. (Jankovic Prljevic 2008: 32)1 ’ ’ Another typical mode of self-Balkanization is the choice of setting. Many successful post-Yugoslav hits of the 1990s used pre-modern, rural setting of the Balkan highlands (or heartland), a landscape barely touched by modernity that easily fits into a stereotype image of ‘imaginary Balkans’, defined by Maria Todorova. A typical example is the way in which Eastern Bosnia is depicted in Dragojevic’’s Pretty Village, Pretty Flame. In his film, rural Bosnia is a country of weird rednecks and fat women, in which local guys stumble over the pig while playing basketball, and walk through the mud in white dancing shoes. In Before the Rain by Manc ˇevski, the Balkan heartland is not ridiculed but romanticized – however selective, the colonial view is again present: Macedonia is depicted as an idyllic passatist garden, a land of meadows, orchards, pre-modern villages and monasteries. This ‘rusticalization’ is also visible in later films by Kusturica: in Život je cudo/Life is a Miracle (2004), ˇ and especially in Zavet/Promise Me This (2007) where a mountain village is described as a place of authentic, pre-civilized harmony, the opposite of the rotten, morally deviant city. By making those deliberate choices, Balkan film directors of the hits of the 1990s construct a ‘semi-mythical’ space (Halligan 2000: 78), and perpetuate a cliché on the Balkans as a ‘mystic territory’ (Lonc ˇarevic 2008: 169). Such a ’ visualization often comes hand in hand with highly aestheticized, postcardpretty camerawork, emphasizing exotic otherness. If modernity appears in such films, it usually appears in the form of a global metaphor, a symbol of aborted, unsuccessful modernization. In Pretty Village, Pretty Flame such is the case of an unfinished tunnel in which most of the plot takes place. In Kusturica’s Life is a Miracle the plot again evolves around an unfinished railroad and tunnel. In Underground the only productive activity in the film – a clandestine arms factory – again functions as a metaphor of communist deception and a useless effort to achieve anything through collective work and modern economy.

1. A typical example is the character of Natalija (Mirjana Jokovic in ’) Underground by Emir Kusturica, a submissive object of lust brought to her own wedding by force by her future husband Marko (Miki Manojlovic . ’).

Many of the popular Balkan films of the 1990s incited some fierce ideological debates locally, and some of them internationally. Two most obvious examples were Pretty Village, Pretty Flame by Dragojevic and Underground by Emir ’ Kusturica. Dragojevic’’s film had been and still is the object of harsh criticism in Bosnia and Herzegovina because of its presentation of war in Eastern Bosnia, and Sarajevo critic and film director Faruk Lonc ˇarevic’ has recently stated that this film is the ‘worst prostitution of film form since Triumph des Willen by


Jurica Pavic ic ˇ ´

Leni Riefenstahl’ (Lonc ˇarevic’ 2008: 168). Palme d’Or winner Underground became – due to the prize it had won – the object of an international political debate which lasted eight months during the spring and summer of 1995 and involved many German, American and French newspapers, several French philosophers, Balkan specialists, plus Slavoj Žižek and Peter Handke. In both cases, one side accused both films as being ‘(subtle) Serbian propaganda’ and a ‘flashy illustration of criminal clichés’ (Alain Finkielkraut), while others defended the directors from a ‘sectarian moral’ imposed on ‘creative liberty’, as Handke had written (Iordanova 2001: 127). Whether these films were war propaganda or not, they share a common ideological ground with other films of the ‘self-Balkanization’ label. In all of them, the Balkans is ‘visualized as an exotic region trapped in an endless cycle of ethnic conflict and crime’ (Samardžija 2007: 57). War and pillage in the Balkans are ‘natural phenomena’ like ‘earthquakes’, as Kusturica put in an interview (Iordanova 2001: 125–6). There is no exit, history is a perpetual circle, ‘forever condemned to eternal and unsavory repetition’ (Živkovic’ 2007: 54). Therefore, there is no catharsis or moral transformation. People never change, they never learn or get better. During the 1990s, this kind of ‘historical fatalism’ was not ideologically innocent at all. As Andrew Horton writes, the aim was to induce a ‘“there is no easy solution, let’s leave them to shoot it out” type of response’ (Horton 2000: 38). The negative fascination with the ‘wild Balkans’, and glittery self-Balkanization aesthetics have always implicitly included an isolationist message: don’t mess with us, we are different. Among the critics, artists and opinion-makers from the former Yugoslavia – who have not identified themselves as being different, but who disagreed with the isolationist agenda or simply disagreed with the status quo – the films of self-Balkanization have often provoked and still provoke criticism and fury. Among many reactions of this kind I quote a typical and recent one, by Bosnian director Aida Begic director of film Snijeg/Snow (2008), awarded as ’, the best film in the Critic’s Week section in Cannes 2008. In a recent interview, she said: By watching Balkan cinema […] I don’t find many connections with my views […] it’s often brutal and includes some elements which I call ‘balkanoid’: from characters to setting, camerawork, storytelling, swearing and so on. It has nothing to do with my upbringing, my ambient [sic] and way I look into life. I don’t feel that kind of cinema as mine, and I’m terrified by its approach which is not part of me. (Kuc Sorguc 2008: 11) ˇuk ˇ Begic’, like many others, feels that the self-Balkanization type of cinema deviates from Balkan reality in a way that works well in a specific market niche. The cinema of self-Balkanization has become a kind of arthousecircuit norm, an approved form of ‘authenticity’ opposed to a ‘westernized’, ‘unauthentic’ style. This self-exoticism of post-Yugoslav cinema has built a market niche for itself. That market worked and works on the same principle as a market of exotic souvenirs. People buy an imperfect, ‘authentic’ local product believing that some humble ‘savages’ make it, without realizing that these products are industrial products designed for a niche market. At the same time, consumers – i.e. big festivals – buy allegedly


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‘authentic’ films that fit into a presumed framework of ‘local style’. In such circumstances, there is no wonder why the cinema of self-Balkanization has become a popular and an imitable model for film-makers from Eastern Europe and Central Asia.2

During the 2000s, the ideological landscape of the former Yugoslavia changed completely. In 2000, the elections in Croatia and Serbia removed previously semi-democratic and authoritarian regimes and post-Yugoslav countries revived their previous economic and cultural communication, including economic exchange, tourism and cultural exchange. In the cultural sphere, the first commodities that crossed borders were (unsurprisingly) lowbrow cultural goods: Serbian folk music, Croatian confection pop, Bosnian sit-coms and Croatian soap operas. Today, most of the soap operas are immediately made for three local markets and include characters and actors from two or three countries.3 A symbol of this new cultural market unity is probably Toše Proeski, the ‘Balkan Elvis’, a Macedonian pop-singer who sang in Croatian and whose sudden death in a car accident in October 2007 caused an outburst of teenage grief and public mourning in all post-Yugoslav countries. At the same time, all post-Yugoslav countries started a process of political and economic reforms that is usually called by a blurry, seductive term ‘normalization’. The process of normalization included many aspects: the reform of the judicial system, the prosecution of war criminals, adopting European Union ‘acquis communautaire’ (EU legislation), the closure of shipyards, iron mills and old industrial mammoths, reform of universities, introduction of tax numbers and VAT, pension reform, etc. In all post-Yugoslav countries this process of normalization had an obvious, undisputed and almost eschatological goal, that of joining the European Union. One side-effect of this eschatological goal is supposed to be an evolution into a fully functional democracy and liberal market economy with their set of values and practices. In the period after the year 2000 there was an obvious shift not only in society in general but, not surprisingly, in cinema too. Economic, social and ideological changes in the former Yugoslav countries influenced film content as much as film style. In the period in which all the post-Yugoslav societies tried to prove and demonstrate ‘normality’ and reach the status of ‘normal’ (i.e. European membership, or at least candidacy for membership), instead of being ‘different’, the rhetorical strategies typical of the cinema of self-Balkanization had suddenly become counterproductive and unpopular. In former Yugoslavia, no one wanted to be perceived as ‘different’ or a ‘freak’, so the rhetoric of ‘weare-like-this, and-in-fact-we-love-it’ has suddenly gone. Self-Balkanization has ceased to be the stylistic dominant and it is now restricted to an exploitation niche for (often foreign) audiences, or to the stylistic choice of the auteurs who took explicit an anti-Western ideological stance, like Emir Kusturica.4 Instead of the previous stylistic dominant, in various post-Yugoslav countries a whole new group of films and film-makers have appeared who again have much in common. Whether they are Bosnian, Croatian or Serbian, their films deal with characters who try to cope with post-war reality. These characters live in a realistic, everyday, usually urban surrounding. They have to surpass traumas and obstacles inherited by the past (usually, war). Characters in these films take an active attitude to problems, engage themselves in problemsolving, trying to sort out a better future for themselves. Most of these films,

2. Visible in films like Gipsy Magic (1997) by Macedonian Stole Popov, In fiecare zi dumnezeu ne saruta per gura/Everyday God Kisses us on the Mouth (2001) by Romanian Sinisa Dragin, or Tulpan (2008) by Kazakh Sergey Dvortsevoy. 3. Probably the weirdest example of such a cooperation is the Croatian TV serial Zavjera/Conspiracy (Roman Majetic 2007), ’, produced by company AVA from Zagreb. This ten-episode political thriller tells the story of members of the Croatian secret service (SOA) and Serbian secret service (BIA) who together hunt a contract killer who attempted to murder Croatian prime minister. 4. This is most visible in his film Zavet/ Promise Me This (2007) which is conceived as an eulogy to traditional moral values (obedience to the elders, marriage, religion, traditional economy) and opposite to decayed city culture. In the film, the old grandfather salutes in tears to a Russian anthem on television, emphasizing values of Orthodox solidarity and an anti-Western political stance.


Jurica Pavic ic ˇ ´

therefore, revisit the essential principles of classic narrative style, applying a type of active, problem-solving hero who is capable of transformation into a post-war, transitional society. By doing this, these films implicitly illustrate or/ and discuss the values of liberal capitalism. Therefore, these films might be called ‘films of normalization’. In further chapters, I will analyse three films which (in my opinion) illustrate this stylistic change. These three films come from three different postYugoslav countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Serbia. Yet, they have some common elements in setting, plot and style. All three of them radically differ from the aesthetics of self-Balkanization. Some of them include some implicit, metafilmic critique of the dominant, internationally recognized style of post-Yugoslav cinema.

Grbavica/Esma’s Secret (2006) by Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanic is an interna’ tionally successful post-Yugoslav film of the 2000s. In February 2006, this film, made by a first-time female director from Sarajevo, won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, continuing a string of festival successes for post-Yugoslav films of the previous decade. However, in stylistic terms, Žbanic film was not ’’s a continuation but – on the contrary – a radical critique of self-Balkanization cinema. Set in contemporary Sarajevo, Grbavica tells the story of Esma (Mirjana Karanovic’), a Bosnian Muslim woman who had been raped during the war and gave birth to a child. Her daughter, Sara (Luna Mijovic’), knows nothing about her origin, and believes that her father had been a hero killed in war (šehid). Esma ekes out a living as a low-paid waitress and when the school authorities announce a school trip, Esma desperately needs to find money for Sara’s trip. If Sara’s father had really been a šehid there would be no problem as children of war heroes are entitled to benefits such as free travel. So, the routine of school paperwork dismantles Esma’s patriarchal lie and forces the mother to confront her child’s anger and to reveal the truth about her father. In every aspect of its content or style, Grbavica is a deep negation of the cinema of self-Balkanization. For a start, the film is deeply anti-exotic in its setting in post-war Sarajevo, a gloomy winter city, a microcosmos of bars, betting shops and decaying factories, Grbavica has nothing to do with the self-exoticizing prettiness of Kusturica or Manc ˇevski. Grbavica (a district of Sarajevo) could be easily mistaken for any degraded, post-industrial community from Dresden to Donetsk or Northern England. The only ‘local colour’ we see in the film is a mosque but this does not stand as a sign of identity or tradition that brings comfort and self-confidence to the characters. The mosque that we see is a newly built, flashy and ornate building in a Sarajevo socialist-style neighbourhood Otoka/Alipašino Polje. In the Sarajevo depicted in Grbavica, a wintergrey city of dilapidated communal buildings, backyards and ruins, it stands out as shamelessly nouveau riche among the surrounding poverty. We see it in a scene when Esma’s future boyfriend Pelda meets with local mobsters. In such a mise-en-scène, organized crime and the explosion of religion stand together as two manifestations of the same society gone wrong. In Grbavica, ‘identity/ authenticity’ is a cheap ideological fabrication, the mother of all lies. Unlike self-Balkanization films which over-saturate us with bloodbaths, pillage and ruthlessness, Žbanic’ avoids any negative pornography and leaves war, its perpetrators and violence off screen. Or, as Yvette Biro writes, Žbanic’ is ‘facing the unspeakable matters of human humiliation, naked to the bones –


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however, there is nothing to be seen here about the atrocity of violence’ (Biro 2007). In a sensitive reality of contemporary Bosnia and Herzegovina the director’s decision to avoid any flashbacks to the past war and avoid any explicitly Serb character in the film is an obvious ideological choice. She does not accuse, ask for revenge nor cry for justice, she only observes the victims. These victims are by no mean idealized. In an interpretation by the great Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic’, Esma is an unlikeable, unremarkable and tacit woman who could have otherwise been easily disliked, if we had not known her painful past. Sara is a typical adolescent, a stubborn and often ungrateful brat who projects her anger and generation conflict into a tired, overworked mother. Neither of them are too good or too bad. Despite such a terrible secret between them, both of them are convincing, vivid characters, the kind of people we find in any working-class neighbourhood, of the West or the East. After the testosterone machismo of Balkan cinema of the 1990s, Grbavica surprises as a film with very few men. Two main characters are a mother and a daughter, but without a father. The only important male character in the film is Esma’s boyfriend-to-be, Pelda (Croatian actor Leon Luc ˇev). Although Pelda comes from a semi-criminal milieu, he is the complete opposite of typical Balkan machismo. Being shy and insecure, he is a much weaker character than Esma. Pelda himself is also a captive of patriarchal duty; he intends to emigrate but cannot as long as he does not identify the body of his dead father. In a crucial scene when he discusses emigration options with Esma, she asks him: ‘Who’s gonna recognize your babo (dad)?’ That is Pelda’s burden of the past, if he left his father would remain without a proper burial, in a basement of a forensic clinic. While Pelda’s future is compromised because of his duty towards his dead parent, Esma invents a dead parent to preserve the illusion of family. Instead of an absent rapist father, the mother invents a patriarchal, fictional father-hero. In a patriarchal, post-war society full of heroic mythology, that fiction gives a shelter of acceptable ‘normality’ to Esma and Sara. But the fictional patriarch cannot last forever. Once it is demasked, mother and daughter stand one against the other, in a scene that resembles the final duel of a classical western or thriller, and even includes a gun. Once the mother tells Sara the truth, she abandons patriarchal fiction as a basis for their future life. The two women no longer need an invented patriarchal authority and, as Grbavica implies, if they do not need it, neither does society. For Žbanic patriarchal authority and integrative national myths about a ’, heroic ancestry are simply lies, a burden which could and should be poured down the sink. Similar to the characters of the cinema of self-Balkanization, Žbanic’’s characters are victims of history. Both Pelda and Esma are involuntary participants in ‘mythical’, ‘endless circle’ of revenges and wars. They both seek a better future but unsolved affairs with the past keep them away from social goals. In Grbavica, however, we do not find fatalism. Unlike the heroes of the cinema of the 1990s, the characters of Grbavica can change, can evolve, learn and get better. They both seek and achieve something better through an active confrontation with the burden of the past. Esma abandons a patriarchal lie. Going through a psychotherapeutic treatment, she finally speaks about the rape. Sara accepts her identity of ‘Chetnik bastard’ and she goes on the school trip and in the last, beautiful shot of the film, we see kids in a school bus chanting a merry song about Sarajevo, and in a reflection of the bus window – the ruin of a skyscraper devastated in war.


Jurica Pavic ic ˇ ´

5. The story of the film is loosely based on that of the teenage actor Armin Omerovic ’, who auditioned for a Croatian film Put lubenica/Melon Route (Branko Schmidt, 2006) shot in northern Bosnia the year before. Svilicic ˇ ’, who was a screenwriter on that film, met Omerovic and ’ based Armin on his experience – he even kept his name as the name of the main character. 6. It is not accidental that Armin plays and sings a song by a famous Bosnian singer of sevdah songs, Halid Bešlic Before the war, ’. Bešlic was the biggest ’ Bosnian folk star and he is still popular all over ex-Yugoslavia. The songs of Halid Bešlic or his screen ’, cameos, appear in many post-Yugoslav films as a symbol of regained normality or a better past: for instance, in Kod amidže Idriza/ In Uncle Idriz House ˇ (Pjer Zalica, 2004), or Karaula/Border Post (Rajko Grlic 2006). ’,

The decision of Jasmila Žbanic’ to portray active, problem-solving heroes has obvious stylistic consequences. In terms of plotting, Grbavica is a very ‘classical’ film. It has an orthodox three-act structure, a clear mid-point and a strong, emotionally involving climax. The characters are neatly, precisely tuned in a way that every character has a scene which counter-balances his/ her most obvious fallacy or weakness. The directing style is unglamorous, sober and minimalistic. As Biro writes, Žbanic’ ‘dares to keep it small’ (Biro 2007). There is no ‘authenticity’ in Grbavica, in terms of some distinctive local school. Grbavica has much more in common with the cinema of Ken Loach or Andrea Arnold, or British cinema of the 1980s, or some French new authors like Xavier Beauvois or Laurent Cantet, than with the Balkan-cinema niche. In a society that needs an active attitude and an urge to change, Jasmila Žbanic ’ has chosen a stylistic mode that is based on a concept of a reluctant hero who finally chooses to act. In these terms, Žbanic’’s Esma has more similarities with the heroes of Hamlet or High Noon than with the typology of Balkan characters. This leads to the choice of a classical narrative style that might be interpreted as ‘westernized’ and ‘colonial’. However, this kind of criticism would be colonial itself, its deep ideological underpinning is the notion that the people of the Balkans can be ‘themselves’ only if they submit to the West, and self-represent themselves through static misery.

This colonial search for false ‘authenticity’ is the object of an explicit critique in another key film of the cinema of normalization. This film is Armin, a Croatian-Bosnian family drama directed by Croatian director Ognjen Svilic ˇic’. Premiered in the Forum programme of Berlinale 2007, Armin has had a rich festival circuit life and has won several international awards, including the East of West awards in Karlovy Vary and the FIPRESCI prize in Palm Springs. The main characters of Armin are two Bosnian men, father Ibro (Emir Hadžihafizbegovic’), and son Armin (Armin Omerovic’). Father and son travel from a small town in Western Bosnia to Zagreb (Croatia), where Armin is supposed to attend an audition for a German co-production film.5 Father Ibro believes that Armin could get the role because he plays the accordion well. The father is childishly optimistic, too enthusiastic and full of initiative. On the other hand, Armin is a clumsy, insecure adolescent and slightly ashamed of his father. The two of them travel to Zagreb and to a cold, depressing modernist hotel in a suburb. Here, they find a German film crew (Jens Münchow, Maria Bäumer) and a likeable local secretary (Barbara Prpic’). Initially, the Germans are not interested in auditioning Armin but, after the father’s persistent pleading, they decide to hear Armin playing. Despite his stage fright Armin plays, only to succumb to an epileptic attack. From the father’s point of view, this is a catastrophe, but the Germans – who were rather disinterested in Armin’s music – suddenly become very interested in his sickness. Presuming his epilepsy is a result of the war, they offer the father and son a contract to shoot a documentary about Armin. After a short conversation and some hesitation, Ibro and Armin decline the offer and return home. This key scene turns Armin into an obvious metafilmic commentary on cinema colonialism. Ibro and Armin come to Zagreb both enthusiastic and willing to share their culture and identity with the westerners.6 But, the westerners turned out to be utterly uninterested in Bosnian music, talent and heritage but very interested in an aspect of Armin’s destiny that fits into a colonizing


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pattern, that of misery, suffering and war. In a final scene, naïve and apparently unintelligent Ibro realizes the manipulative mechanism and refuses the offer. ‘In Armin’, director Svilic explains, ‘by not wanting to be accepted only ˇic’ through war, the characters refuse colonization’ (Šošic’ 2009: 67). ‘They refuse the offer because they don’t want to take merit which they don’t have. They were victims of war, but that doesn’t make their whole life’ (Šošic’ 2009: 37). Through this scene, Svilic implicitly criticizes the pact of self-exotication ˇic’ offered to Balkan cinema by big festivals and co-production offices. At the same time, he does not condemn ‘western villains’. The German film-makers in Armin are generally good-willing and decent people who are unaware of the manipulative mechanism in which they unconsciously participate. Beside this aspect of metafilmic critique, Armin is another film about heroes who actively seek for something better in post-war society. But Svilic ’ is far ˇic more sceptical about the ideology of ‘normalization’, and its hidden premises. In his film the character who embraces liberal, ‘just-do-it’ optimism is Ibro, the father who sees no obstacles and who uncritically praises the West. An interesting example of this is a scene that takes place on the night before the audition, when Armin reads the screenplay for the first time. He remarks that the screenplay is ‘stupid’, and his father answers that film ‘cannot be stupid, since it’s a foreign one’. Ibro unapologetically believes in anything Western and European, and fully embraces liberal myths of mobility, enterpreneurship and meritocracy. Armin is younger, but far more realistic and mature, and sometimes we have an impression that father and son inverted their social roles and age in terms of mentality (Vojkovic’ 2008: 181). A sceptical approach toward the West is also visible in Armin’s setting. Excluding the very beginning and the ending of the film, Armin takes place in Zagreb. In the mythology of Yugoslavia (especially its western parts), Zagreb had and still has the role of a contact zone with modernity. Zagreb functions as a kind of limbo, an in-between zone between the Balkans and the West. Zagreb is a place through which modernity comes – it is a city of airplane pioneers, the first radio station, first television programme and first artificial insemination. Zagreb is still the part of ‘our’ world, but nevertheless the gate to modernity, to the ‘Western Other’ (Vojkovic’ 2008: 179). Zagreb has the same role in Svilic ˇic’’s film: it is a western outpost in the Balkans, in this case the outpost of the film co-production crew. But the modernity and the West offered to Svilic ˇic’’s heroes do not look glamorous at all. In Armin, Zagreb looks like any gloomy city in the Sovietstyle bloc, grey and unattractive. A huge suburban hotel is nothing but a depressing labyrinth of sad corridors, and most of the film takes place in poorly lit, narrow spaces: elevators, corridors, toilets, hotel rooms. While spending a night out in Zagreb, father and son go to McDonald’s – a sad and banal epitome of ‘westernization’. The West that is offered to characters in Armin looks very much like the West depicted in many European social films, like those of the Dardenne brothers. It is the West similar to the one in which most of the Eastern immigrants in Europe live – the basement floor of consumer society.

Both Grbavica and Armin share one crucial motif, the relation between children and their parents. In both of these films, this motif is similarly reversed. In both cases, children are more active and self-conscious than their parents, and less ready to accept the status quo, whether emotional, social or


Jurica Pavic ic ˇ ´

7. Excellent examples are the Bosnian film Ljeto u zlatnoj dolini/Summer in the Golden Valley – (Srd an Vuletic 2003) ’, and Croatian Ispod crte/Below the Line (Petar Krelja, 2003).

ideological. Children who have to solve problems inherited by the elders is one of the recurrent motifs of post-Yugoslav cinema of the 2000s.7 Present everywhere, this motif is, not surprisingly, the most frequent one in postMiloševic’ Serbian cinema. Reflecting the political changes, Serbian filmmakers after 2000 produced a whole series of films about young heroes who have to fight against obstacles inherited by the elders. In Nataša (Ljubiša Samardžic’, 2001), a teenage girl tries to avenge her father, a victim of a plot by mobsters and politicians. In Kordon/Cordon (2002) by the ‘Prague School’ veteran Goran Markovic’, a student girl opposes her father, a police commander, during the anti-regime demonstrations in the 1990s. We find a specific variation of this motif in a thriller Apsolutnih 100 /Absolute 100 (2001) by Srdan Golubovic’. Finished only a year after the fall of Miloševic’, Absolute 100 is another film that represents younger Serbs as victims of the failure of older generations. In this case, the main hero is Saša Gordic’ (Vuk Kostic’), a junior national champion in rifle shooting. The man who ruins his life is his elder brother, – Igor (Srd an Todorovic’). Himself a former shooting champion, Igor joined the Serbian army in the war as a sniper. He came back from the war severely damaged and suffers from post-traumatic stress and, riddled by remorse, he becomes a heroin addict. Since he owes money to his dealer Neške (Dragan Petrovic’), he sells everything he owns, including the shooting range which becomes the property of brutal, semi-criminal businessman Runda (Milorad Mandic’). The shooting range is commercialized and young Saša has no place to train, but the new owner Runda offers him training time if he serves him as a shooting instructor for his hitmen. But Saša cannot stand the way Runda humiliates his brother, so he refuses. Under the bed he finds his brother’s sniper rifle and decides to use his skill to kill both the heroin dealer and the new owner. On a superfluous level, Absolute 100 seems to be a very conventional revenge thriller, or, according to Serbian critic Velisavljevic’, a ‘revenge western’ (Velisavljevic’ 2008: 92). The main character Igor is a kind of Hawksian male hero – an introvert, sober champion who speaks little, avoids women, defies rational choices and follows his unwritten ethical guidelines. Bad guys in the film are simply bad. While the shooting-range owner Runda is a grotesque nouveau riche, the dealer Neške is a far more complex character. He has married Igor’s former girlfriend and he remembers times when Igor was a champion and when he himself was a loser, and sadistically enjoys the reversal of fortune. This reversal is – it is implied, but quite clear – a consequence of the war. During the 1990s and early 2000s, genre films like Absolute 100 were a significant proportion of Serbian film production. Several Serbian films, like Do koske/Bones (Slobodan Skerlic 1996), 1 na 1/One on One ( Mladen ’, Matic ˇevic’, 2002) used Hollywood genre tropes and dramatic devices and transferred them into a Belgrade urban surrounding. But, most of these films were simply a metafilmic game. This is particularly obvious in One on One, a thriller that merges Serbian urban iconography with American ghetto films. Many motives in Absolute 100 and One on One are similar or the same: a young, tacit sportsman (in One to One – a basketball player), local mobsters, a physically and morally ruined sport idol (in One on One – the former basketball player Guru, now just a drunkard). Both films share the same setting (New Belgrade), the same plot points (initial humiliation, corrupting but tempting offer, final confrontation), and the same genre


‘Cinema of normalization’

structure. But, the relation towards genre and social surrounding in these two films is very different. In Matic ˇevic’’s basketball thriller, genre motives are domesticated into a social surrounding but the director’s main intention is to recycle American genre mythology. His mobsters drive an American convertible car and are dressed like ghetto gangsters. They meet in a club which looks like the essence of urban subcultural decadence, it is full of stylized hyper-urban girls, the prostitutes wear radical chic and sport heavy make-up, the only music we hear is drum’n’base. The criminal underground looks and sounds cool and seems completely detached from social reality.8 In Absolute 100, Golubovic’ uses a similar genre, a similar main character and motives, but turns them into something opposite – an acute social commentary. His mobsters are not just cultural tropes: they are an integrative part of the economy, people who now invest their dirty money and take control of the infrastructure (shooting range). In Absolute 100, it is clear that the war is the cradle of a new power structure, a moment in time and space where small-time local crooks gain power, wealth and political relevance. These social observations are emphasized by Golubovic’’s restrained directing style. In One on One the directing style is more ‘intensified’ (in Bordwell’s terms), full of unexpected cuts, unusual angles, shifts in visual style and film stock. Golubovic’ directs more classically, with lots of relatively longer takes and many close-ups that emphasize introspection and encourage identification with characters. Both films use the setting of New Belgrade, the part of Belgrade on the western bank of the Sava river, a mega-city built in the communist period for hundreds of thousands of settlers coming to the capital to work in industry, the army or the state apparatus. In many Serbian films,9 New Belgrade is used as an anti-city, a soulless agglomerate, a metaphor for the failure of communism and society in general. In One on One, the character Guru refers to New Belgrade as a ‘hell’, a ‘city with a million people but no church’, and advises the main character to escape downtown as soon as he can. But, in One on One director Matic ˇevic’ depicts New Belgrade as the next of kin of bad housing districts in North America: we see graffiti, basketball grounds and a subterranean club. New Belgrade is just a ‘translation’ of the Bronx or South Central, a mediator in the transfer of mythology. In Absolute 100, New Belgrade is something else – it is practically the third main character. It is omnipresent, always visible in dialogue scenes behind a character’s back. The dominant visual motifs of the film are enormous: suffocating grey blocks that cover the sky. Golubovic’’s characters are visually, literally and metaphorically imprisoned in these blocks. The main difference between Absolute 100 and other Serbian genre cinema of the period – including One on One – is the relation towards social imprisonment. In films like Bones or One on One, the characters fight for their place within a hierarchy of power, never questioning outside borders. Saša in Absolute 100 fights against the criminal and financial power forged in war. Like the characters in Grbavica and Armin, he struggles against the heritage of war in a way that questions social order and the hierarchy inherited by the 1990s. Only, in his case the fight is not just a metaphoric fight, but literal one – with arms – and the film itself represents this struggle through a genre pattern. In Golubovic’’s case, genre is not just a transfer of mythemes, or, as Ognjenovic’ comments, it is ‘not as an end for itself’, but ‘a powerful mean of

8. It is worth mentioning that some Serbian critics consider this stylization as a ‘deviation’ from the original screenplay – ’. by Srdja And elic Vojnov (2008) writes that ‘Matic ’’s film ˇevic significantly changed the realistic essence of – ’s And elic screenplay through directing and production design’ (Vojnov 2008: 104). 9. Like in Ledina/Plain (Ljubiša Samardžic ’, 2003), or Kad porastem bic kengur/When ’u I Grow Up I’ll Be a Kangaroo (Radoslav Andric 2004). ’,


Jurica Pavic ic ˇ ´

expression’ (Ognjenovic’ 2008: 78). In Absolute 100, genre becomes an analytic device. For Golubovic’, Serbian genre-cinema with its metafilmic inspiration and raw machismo is just a distant starting point; he takes genre from there and brings it onto another ‘bank’ – the one which perfectly fits into a cinema of normalization.

In terms of style, all three films, Grbavica, Armin and Absolute 100, have some similarities. All three films are urban, set in grim cityscapes of three post-Yugoslav capitals. All three are based on narrative simplicity, with a three-act linear structure and a strong, cathartic climax. In Absolute 100 we have an orthodox thriller, in Grbavica a drama with strong suspense and clockwork-mechanism elements. All three directors use a minimalist directing style, deliberately avoiding (if not criticizing) opulence and the excess of the Balkan style. All three films in fact question the same problem, the problem of people damaged by war, who take an active stance and try to find their place in ‘normalized’ capitalist society through everyday effort. Answers to these questions are different in the three films as much as their societies are different. In the Serbian film, the hero fights the power system established in war, because this power structure disables any normalization. Croatian director Svilic more sceptically observes the bright future of ˇic’ promised normalization, implicitly criticizing the Croatian colonial mentality and cult of westernization. Bosnian director Žbanic’ chooses a cathartic, feelgood finale as a remedy for her society which needs, but has not attained post-war catharsis. These three films are by no mean excentric exceptions, singled out from the production of a whole decade. They clearly represent stylistic shifts visible in many successful post-Yugoslav film of the 2000s: among them, Ljeto u – zlatnoj dolini/Summer in a Golden Valley (Srd an Vuletic’, 2003), Nataša (Ljubiša Samardžic’, 2001), Kordon/Cordon (Goran Markovic’, 2002), Oprosti za kung fu/Sorry for Kung Fu (Ognjen Svilic ’, 2004), Kod Amidže Idriza/At Uncle Idriz ˇic House (Pjer Žalica, 2004), Što je Iva snimila 21. listopada 2003/What Iva Taped on 21 October, 2003 (Tomislav Radic’, 2005), Snijeg/Snow (Aida Begic’, 2008) or Kenjac/Donkey (Antonio Nuic’, 2009). With all their differences – rooted in specific social surroundings – all these films share some common ground. They are far more realistic, narrativedriven and classical than the key films of the Balkan cinema of the 1990s. It is wrong to understand this stylistic shift as westernization, or deviating from an authentic local school. It is quite the opposite, by opting for a classic narrative style these three authors, and many others from post-Yugoslav countries, question cinematic colonialism. They are searching for the best stylistic tools that could help them deal with a new, open society and characters who seek their place within it.

Biro, Y. (2007), ‘Plain, Pain: Grbavica’, Rouge, 10, grbavica.html, Accessed June 8, 2009. Bordwell, D. (2006), The Way Hollywood Tells It, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Buder, B. (2006), ‘Zwitschen Nation Building, nationalem Mythen und der Suche nach Normalität’, Südosteuropa, 54: 2, pp. 279–94.


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Halligan, B. (2000), ‘An Aesthetic of Chaos – the blurring of political subtexts in film depictions of Bosnian war’, in A.J. Horton (ed.), The Celluloid Tinderbox: Yugoslav Screen Reflection of the Turbulent Decade, Telford: Central Europe Review, pp. 62–77. Available from Accessed 11 January 2010. Horton, A. J. (2000), ‘The South Bank Gives Emir Kusturica an Easy Ride’, in A.J. Horton (ed.), The Celluloid Tinderbox: Yugoslav Screen Reflection of the Turbulent Decade, Telford: Central Europe Review, pp. 32–42. Available from Accessed 11 January 2010. Iordanova, D. (2000), ‘Introduction’, in A.J. Horton (ed.), The Celloloid Tinderbox: Yugoslav Screen Reflection of the Turbulent Decade, Telford: Central Europe Review, pp. 5–15. Available from http://www.ce-review. org/ebookstore/ebooks_main.html. Accessed 11 January 2010. —— (2001), Cinema of Flames – Balkan Film Culture and the Media, London: BFI Publishing. Jameson, F. (2004), ‘Thoughts on Balkan Cinema’, in A. Egoyan and I. Balfour (eds), Subtitles: On the Foreignness of the Film, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 232–56. Jankovic’ Prljevic’, A. (2008), ‘Who’s afraid of Alice in Wonderland’, in M. Vuc ˇkovic’ (ed.), Introducing Youth: Self-Reflections on Serbian Cinema, Beograd: Film Center Serbia, pp. 27–43. Krasztev, P. (2000), ‘Who Will Take the Blame’, in A.J. Horton (ed.), The Celluloid Tinderbox: Yugoslav Screen Reflection of the Turbulent Decade, Telford: Central Europe Review, pp. 17–30. Available from Accessed 11 January 2010. Kuc ˇuk Sorguc I. (2008), ‘Grozim se “balkanoidnog” izraza’, Sineast 119, ˇ, pp. 5–12. Lonc ˇarevic’, F. (2008), ‘Ubijanje film(om)a- sudbina filmskog jezika u ex jugoslavenskoj kinematografiji poslije 1992’, Sarajevske sveske, 19–20, pp. 165–74. Longinovic’, T. (2005), ‘Playing the Western Eye: Balkan masculinity and postYugoslav war cinema’, in Anikó Imre (ed.), Eastern European Cinemas, New York and London: Routledge, pp. 35–47. Ognjenovic’, D. (2008), ‘Genre film in recent Serbian cinema’, in M. Vuc ˇkovic ’ (ed.), Introducing Youth: Self-Reflections on Serbian Cinema, Beograd: Film Center Serbia, pp. 69–78. Samardžija, Z. (2007), ‘Bal-can-can’, Cineaste, 3: 32, New York. Šošic’, A. (2009), ‘Film i rat u Hrvatskoj, Refleksija jugoslavenskih ratova u hrvatskom igranom filmu’, Zapis, Bilten HFS, 64–65, pp. 5–78. Velisavljevic’, I. (2008), ‘How we loved America: the significance of Rock ‘n’ Roll and American movies in the Serbian film industry’, in M. Vuc ˇkovic ’ (ed.), Introducing Youth: Self-Reflections on Serbian Cinema, Beograd: Film Center Serbia, pp. 87–94. Vojnov, D. (2008), ‘The rise and fall of Serbian pop cinema’, in M. Vuc ˇkovic ’ (ed.), Introducing Youth: Self-Reflections on Serbian Cinema, Beograd: Film Center Serbia, pp. 97–114. Vojkovic’, S. (2008), Filmski medij kao transkulturalni spektakl: Hollywood, Europa, Azija, Zagreb: Hrvatski filmski savez. Živkovic’, M. (2007), ‘Cordon’, Cineaste, 3: 32, New York.


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Pavic J. (2010), ‘‘Cinema of normalization’: changes of stylistic model in ˇic´, post-Yugoslav cinema after the 1990s’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 43–56, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.43/1

Jurica Pavic is a film critic, screenwriter and filmologist. He is a regular film ˇic’ critic on the daily newspaper Jutarnji list. He teaches the history of cinema and the history of Croatian cinema at the University of Split. Contact: Kneza Višeslava 24, 21 000 Split, Croatia. E-mail: Web:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 57–70 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.57/1

HARRY WEEKS University of Edinburgh

Re-cognizing the postSoviet condition: the documentary turn in contemporary art in the Baltic States
Contemporary art in the Baltic States has recently undergone a ‘documentary turn’, part of a global tendency towards the use of documentary aesthetics and formal structures in art. In the Baltic context, this has been the result of a desire amongst artists to both recognize and re-cognize the post-Soviet condition, a subject that was consciously avoided by most artists in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania during the 1990s. Re-cognition has involved an attempt to de-flatten and humanize the postSoviet condition, which, although a valid framework for the theoretical discussion of Eastern Europe, has a number of shortcomings. This re-cognitive tendency has derived from a shift from ‘hot’ to ‘cold’ memory, the product of distance and detachment from the Soviet past and the rise of a new generation of artists, who were not active participants in the Soviet Baltic Republics. Artists have utilized documentary, as well as ethnographic and pedagogical strategies in order to achieve this re-cognition.

post-Soviet condition Baltic States contemporary art documentary Goba Norman Žiura


Harry Weeks

1. Although the terms ‘post-communist’ and ‘post-socialist’ have been widely propagated by theorists, I shall use the more specific terminology of the ‘post-Soviet’. This seems a more accurate and particularized lexicon with regard to the Baltic States, due to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s former status not as satellite states of the Soviet Union, as was the case with most of Central and Eastern Europe, but as Soviet republics within the borders of the USSR.

On 11 February 2009, Latvian artist Katri na Neiburga won the inaugural ¯ Purvitis Award, bestowed in recognition of the most ‘outstanding achievement in the visual arts’ by a Latvian. She was also nominated for the Ars Fennica prize in 2008, an award won by the Estonian Mark Raidpere. Raidpere represented Estonia at the 2005 ‘Venice Biennale’, an honour that in 2009 has gone to Kristina Norman. Norman had previously exhibited as part of the 2007 exhibition ‘New Wave: Estonian Artists of the 21st Century’, which ran soon before the ‘Biennale of Young Artists: Consequences and Proposals’ in Tallinn, another exhibition she was involved with. The ‘Biennale of Young Artists’ also exhibited work by the Lithuanian Gintaras Didžiapetris, who in 2008 exhibited at the Frac Lorraine gallery in Metz alongside fellow Lithuanian Deimantas Narkevic ˇius. Narkevic ˇius, together with Raidpere, was involved in ‘The Greenroom’, held at the CCS Bard Galleries in New York State between 27 September 2008 and 1 February 2009, while Gediminas and Nomeda Urbonai exhibited at Okwui Enwezor’s ‘Archive Fever’ show at the International Center of Photography, also in New York State, earlier in 2008. The uniting factors between the artists entangled in this Baltic web of affiliations, associations and achievements are both twofold and inextricably linked. First, there has existed a willingness amongst artists in the Baltic States in recent years to engage with questions of post-Sovietism.1 The aforementioned artists have all, to some degree, participated in this renewed interest in focusing on subject matter, or utilizing materials, relating to the period of Soviet occupation or its after-effects in the independent Baltic States. This tendency demonstrates an acknowledgement of and participation in the discourse of a post-Soviet condition. Second, this engagement with the issue of post-Sovietism has been facilitated by a documentary turn in contemporary art in the Baltic States. Edit András, while acknowledging that a standard definition of a postSoviet condition has stemmed from a supposed ‘trauma of victory’, proposes a more appropriate definition in the form of a ‘phenomenon of accumulated traumas […] that is, a kind of turbulence of unassimilated, unmourned earlier traumas of the socialist past, overshadowed by new traumas of change, originating in the odd, hybrid transition of the region’ (András 2008). Demonstrated here is, first, the dual and complex nature of the post-Soviet condition, rooted both in the socialist past and the capitalist present, and second, the central importance of transition. Russian painter Eugeny Fiks also highlights transition, in the form of the ‘turbulence of the 1990s and early 2000s’, as a formative factor of the post-Soviet condition (Fiks 2007). The final facet of the post-Soviet condition is that of placelessness, a result of the postSoviet subject moving from one reality, socialism, to an antithetical and novel other reality, capitalism. This sudden shift necessitated a transitional and consolidatory period during which a place within this capitalist system could be found. Vardan Azatyan compared the post-Soviet reality to an ‘unknown place where every moment the post-Soviet man appears in a new and alien situation for him’ (Azatyan 2004). Recent literature on this subject has largely attempted to question the characterization, validity and effect of this framework and its definition. Boris Groys (2008) states in his article ‘Beyond Diversity’ that Cultural Studies has […] some fundamental difficulties in describing and theorizing the post-Communist condition. And, frankly, I do not believe that a simple adjustment of the theoretical framework and vocabulary of


Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition

cultural studies to the realities of Eastern Europe – without reconsideration of some of the discipline’s fundamental presuppositions – would be sufficient to enable its discourse to describe and discuss the postCommunist reality. (Groys 2008: 149) Groys’s demand for a reconfiguration of the framework for the discussion of post-Soviet culture has been echoed elsewhere, particularly by artists themselves, either in their work or in writings. Fiks implores that ‘the post-Soviet artist must inject “post-communist”, “post-socialist” and “post-Soviet” with a new criticality. We must not forget that these terms are still open to negotiation’ (Fiks 2007). Indeed, the only concrete designation of these words is a temporal one, locating them in reference to the previous political system. Thus there is room for them to be expanded upon, questioned and critiqued. One such criticism has been that by differentiating the analysis of Eastern European culture from that of other geographies, the otherness and separation of Eastern Europe will continue and be deepened. This perceived restrictive aspect of a specifically post-Soviet framework for the discussion of art from the region has resulted in a reticence, especially evident in the art of the 1990s in the Baltic States, to acknowledge or partake in debates relating to the post-Soviet condition, which has, in more recent artworks from the region, diminished significantly. The second aspect of commonality the artists mentioned at the outset share is the manner in which they have approached post-Soviet subjects and the tactics used in the investigation of this post-Soviet condition. Baltic artists have variously used found news footage, attempted to infiltrate and alter the news themselves, created installations documenting political protests, documented the contents of women’s handbags and created anthropological documentary films dealing with subcommunities and minorities. These are but a few of the examples of a documentary turn in Baltic art, characterized by a widespread adoption of the aesthetics and formal structures of the documentary, and a willingness to locate, modify, utilize and create documents as an integral constituent of the artistic process.2 The shift towards the documentary in the Baltic States can – and must – be viewed within the wider contexts of a global documentary turn in art in recent years. Two previously alluded-to exhibitions, ‘The Greenroom’ and ‘Archive Fever’, as well as the recent incarnations of ‘Documenta’ and the 2005 show ‘The Need to Document’, embody the increased currency of the documentary mode within the contemporary art environment. Importantly to the current discussion, this documentary turn can be characterized by an increased involvement by artists ‘not just in storytelling, but more specifically in historytelling’ (Roelstraete 2008: 69). There is an apparently obvious distinction between the story and the history, the former locating itself within the realm of the subjective, the latter engaging with the objective. However, it has been argued extensively that the documentary form, despite its propensity for history-telling and emphasis on subduing the subjective, is by no means a purely objective mode. Indeed, history-telling itself cannot be conclusively equated to objectivity. Both historytelling and the documentary rely on the document, a necessarily fragmentary object, as their point of departure and, in order to tell a history, a process of selection is required, thus eliminating the possibility for an entirely objective relaying of history. This impossibility of true objectivity, when juxtaposed with

2. When using the term ‘documentary’ in this article I wish to invoke the phrase ‘aesthetics and formal structures of the documentary’. By doing so I am implying that the documentary turn in art does not entail a turn towards the documentary genre, rather a turn towards an adoption of some of its aesthetic and formal properties.


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3. Definition or characterization of the nature of the documentary mode has also been attempted by Michael Renov (1993: 12–36) and Carl Plantinga (2005: 105–17). However, Plantinga’s theories of the documentary as ‘indexical record’ and ‘assertion’, and Renov’s quartet of tendencies to record, persuade, analyse and express, both lack sufficient acknowledgement of the performative aspect of the documentary, which seems especially relevant in the contexts of the films discussed here. 4. Taking the prefix ‘re-’ to indicate repetition and the stem deriving from the Latin cognoscere, meaning ‘to know’, ‘re-cognition’ suggests an act of knowing once more, rather than simply realizing and acknowledging – the two fundamental qualities of recognition. One may further expand on this more complex definition by noting that ‘cognition’ denotes not just knowing, but the process of knowing, thus ‘re-cognition’ can be characterized similarly as a process. 5. The term ‘de-flattening’ was originally formulated and defined by Wu Hung (2007: 259–61) in his paper ‘De-flattening “Regional” Contemporary Art’.

the documentary tendency to subdue the subjective, is the root of great deal of criticism of the documentary mode and has been extensively discussed as the fundamental problematic of the documentary form, both in art and other contexts. Documentary theorist Bill Nichols provides perhaps the most useful guidelines for the examination of the documentary in the form of five adjectives which inform the documentary mode in all its manifestations: ‘expository, observational, poetic, participatory, reflexive and performative’ (Plantinga 2005: 105). This framework for the discussion of the documentary acknowledges the objective/subjective duality of documentary, placing performance on a par with exposition as one of the defining characteristics of the form. Nichols’s characterization is pertinent throughout this article, and should be kept in mind whenever the documentary form is mentioned.3 The two aspects of commonality amongst the aforementioned artists in the Baltic States – a dialogue with the notion of a post-Soviet condition and a documentary turn – are fundamentally linked in current art practice in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The tendency towards Soviet or post-Soviet history-telling has been facilitated by the documentary mode, the qualities – and indeed problematics – of which have been harnessed by artists in the Baltic States. Thus the documentary turn in the Baltic field can be viewed as a means, while what I wish to characterize as both a recognition and, more importantly, a re-cognition of the post-Soviet condition has been the end.4 This article will aim to demonstrate and analyse the documentary turn and re-cognition of the post-Soviet condition by looking at recent documentary works by Kristina Norman, Kaspars Goba and Darius Žiura. Through the examination of their work, I shall demonstrate two forms of re-cognition attempted by artists: de-flattening and ‘humanization’.5 I also wish to elucidate the nature of this particular Baltic documentary turn, by highlighting the use of ethnographic and pedagogical tactics in the works in question.

One particularly prevalent current within art in the Baltic States since the turn of the twenty-first century has been a conscious concern with microcommunities, minorities, diasporas and sub-groups, a tendency which has heavily employed the documentary form’s ‘expository’ quality. This represents the first tactic of re-cognition that I wish to discuss, a de-flattening of the post-Soviet condition. Post-socialist Europe – in particular those areas that were formerly Soviet republics – has been subject to a number of both global and local circumstances which have led to the existence of such communities, the most notable of which has been the mass intra-USSR migration, which took place during the years of Soviet occupation of the Baltic States. The 2000 census in Estonia recorded an ethnic Russian population of 351,178, more than 25% of the total population of the country (Eesti Statistiken 2008). And in Riga, Russians outnumber Latvians by 43.5% to 41.5% (Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia 2002). The imposition of borders upon a formerly unified political entity cannot give rise to an ethnically singular nation state, as has been most aptly demonstrated by the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. This example also made clear the potential conflict and unease this can give rise to, especially when one group is perceived to have been an aggressor or occupier under a previous regime. This has also very much been the case in the Baltic


Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition

States, and has been the source of interest amongst artists in the region, most notably those working in the documentary mode. The Latvian documentary film-maker and artist Kaspars Goba and Estonian Kristina Norman are two such examples. Goba’s Seda: People of the Marsh (2004) (from here referred to simply as Seda) and Norman’s Pribalts (2006) are both video works in a documentary mode observing subcommunities and minorities in post-Soviet Europe. Their focus on such subject matter represents a conscious and concerted effort to destabilize and de-flatten perception of the post-Soviet condition through the exposition of anomalies, contradictions and complexities hidden behind a veneer of supposed homogeneity and uniformity in Eastern Europe. The overt socio-political aspect of the two films suggests that there is a pedagogical as well as a documentary element present, the artists acting not simply as documenters, but as ‘informants’, intentionally locating their works within the field of knowledge production (Verwoert 2008: 77). Seda is an hour-long film, in which Goba documents the inhabitants of the town of Seda in northern Latvia over the course of several months leading up to the referendum on Latvian EU integration in 2004. Seda was constructed in the 1950s by the USSR in the architectural style referred to by Goba as ‘Stalin’s Classicism’. It was built to house workers on a newly established peat-mining project, making use of the huge peat resources in the marshes that make up the area around the Latvian–Estonian border. Workers were brought from across the Soviet Union to live in the town and work on the marshes. Train lines were built to connect this previously uninhabited and remote corner of Latvia with the rest of the USSR; however, the sheer distance and difficulty involved in reaching the town led to an isolated and independent community emerging. The fall of Sovietism in the Baltic States between 1989 and 1991 led to many inhabitants leaving, but some remained, and Seda is still populated with a vast array of nationalities, ethnicities and cultures, only a small minority being Latvian. Goba notes that the people of Seda refer to themselves as the ‘sixteenth republic of the USSR’. The town is a remnant of this bygone past, most of the inhabitants being ‘non-citizens’, people of non-Latvian descent living in Latvia but without full citizenship.6 They speak Russian, and only at official ceremonies and national holidays are proceedings carried out in Latvian by the mayor, who herself speaks Russian as her first language. Goba notes that little has changed as a result of Latvian independence in the manner in which everyday life is conducted. Not only have language and culture been preserved but the technology and routine of work have remained largely unaltered by the passing of the Soviet Union. The major change has been the diminishing of funding and investment in infrastructure. A scene late in the film shows a derailed train, with the tracks beneath it sinking into the marsh, the sleepers long having rotted away. This is a town that has been ‘willingly forgotten by the re-established independent state’ (Traumane 2008). Kaspars Goba frames the film around the upcoming referendum on EU integration, an event which most of the town, as ‘non-citizens’, are not permitted to participate in. The general consensus though is one of trepidation over entry into Europe. Many of the inhabitants relay their affiliation to Russia, saying that they do not feel European, some saying that they do not even feel Latvian. Goba himself grew up in the town, one of the few Latvians in this enclave of Soviet diversity. He indeed begins the film by revealing this personal connection to the subject matter. The film itself is professionally

6. More information on the precise status of ‘noncitizens’ in Latvia can be found in Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia (1997).


Harry Weeks

7. A detailed report of the surrounding circumstances and events of ‘Bronze Day’ can be found in Kaasik (2006).

produced, with a linear, chronological narrative, cinematic shots of marsh and machinery and English narration. It intersperses interviews with the people of the town with footage of everyday life. Norman’s Pribalts is altogether less slick and professional, shot on a handheld camera by the artist. The camerawork is shaky, the sound muffled and the footage grainy, with no narration and little discernable narrative. Rather, the film is structured thematically, dealing with concepts of European integration, citizenship, identity, migration, diaspora, language and culture. The film documents Norman’s journey to find her old classmates from her time at a Russian school in Tallinn during the late 1980s. Norman herself is half-Russian and half-Estonian, thus exists in a state of ‘being fluent in both Russian and Estonian and being part of both communities – and of neither at the same time’ (Wiarda 2008: 125). The film was shot shortly before the ‘Bronze Day’ riots in Tallinn, in which Russian and Estonian youths clashed and looted over the removal of a statue in the town centre commemorating Soviet soldiers of the Second World War, and thus gained significant exposure in the aftermath of this event.7 Another of her works, Monolith (2007) focuses explicitly on ‘Bronze Day’. Most of the film is centred on Norman’s trip to Moscow to meet the actor Seryozha Shchedrin, with whom she went to school. He left Tallinn to pursue his acting career but states that his goal is to return to Tallinn as a star and to reinvigorate the Estonian theatre scene. He discusses his lack of any need to speak Estonian, indeed the only people she meets who have learned the language and deploy it at all are those who work in Tallinn as lawyers and other public jobs where it is required. Shchedrin also states that he feels Russian, Estonian and European, and does not have any desire or need to close off his identity with any more precise pigeon-holing. Others seem less sure of their identity, while Norman herself, in her inquisitive and occasionally provocative interrogatory style, seems particularly dislocated and unsure of her place. Soon after her arrival in Moscow, Norman is caught in a underground train accident in which one of the foundation posts of an under-construction advertising hoarding is driven through the roof of the travelling train she is on. The footage she shoots of the aftermath of the accident, in which there no injuries, it should be pointed out, appears not only in Pribalts but was also bought by the Russian TV networks for their news reports. Norman and Shchedrin are interviewed on television and are utilized by the networks as the ‘human faces’ of the incident. Norman then in turn uses this news footage in her own film. She switches momentarily from interviewer to interviewee. One of the primary aspects of the theoretical negotiation of the postSoviet condition has been a questioning of its flattening effect. In applying one framework across the entire geopolitical space of Eastern Europe, thinking surrounding the subject serves to subdue and hide difference, variation and exceptions. This flattening aspect can, in part, be viewed as the reason behind the reluctance to engage in discussion of the post-Soviet condition by artists in the Baltic States during the 1990s. The choice to focus on subcommunities which exist as anomalies within their Eastern European contexts can be seen as an attempt at de-flattening the post-Soviet condition by introducing nuances that question the uniformity of post-Soviet Europe. This deflattening is the re-cognitive aspect of both Pribalts and Seda. Pat Simpson, in her 2004 essay ‘Peripheralising Patriarchy: Gender and Identity in Post-Soviet Art’, discussed notions of East and West in relation to identity formation in contemporary art in Eastern Europe. Central to her


Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition

argument is the term ‘imagined geographies’, which she uses to describe these geographical distinctions (Simpson 2004: 393). The Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova states that, ‘all of Central and Eastern Europe, seen from the West, appeared grey and monolithic, an expanse bristling with missiles and secret police, a monotonous wasteland, a great Nowhere’ (Venclova 2006). This touches on a number of stereotypes of Eastern Europe, formed predominantly during the Cold War, and relating to the supposed backward, militaristic and dour nature of ‘The East’. Of particular note here, however, is the fact that these stereotypes are of the entire region, and there is no suggestion of local variation. This single conception of an entire region demonstrates the existence of a flattened Eastern Europe as an imagined geography that has outlived the Cold War and its political East/West divide. Norman’s presentation of conflicting and confused identities, as well as the focus on linguistic and cultural differences between Estonia and Russia, subverts any notion of a unified whole in Eastern Europe, which can be treated with a singular framework for discussion and analysis. Likewise, in Seda, Goba presents an alternative to the idea of a ‘New Europe’ willing to ingratiate and integrate themselves into such bodies as the European Union, by demonstrating the fear and reluctance in parts of Latvia to aligning themselves westwards, when the inhabitants of Seda feel far more affinity towards their eastern neighbours. Thus, if the notion of a homogeneous, flat Eastern European entity is false, then a similarly uniform post-Soviet condition is fundamentally flawed. Norman and Goba utilize the documentary as an expository tool to assert the falsity of a flattened Eastern Europe and post-Soviet condition, re-cognizing and de-flattening both concepts in the process.

Norman’s and Goba’s concerted efforts at a re-cognition of the post-Soviet condition are achieved not simply through documentary means, but through a pedagogical engagement of the viewer. Jan Verwoert has commented that ‘artists are treated as informants and one expects to learn through their art things about the situation in their country of origin’ (Verwoert 2005: 77). The exposition of the untold histories of the subcommunities in question, and the resultant re-theorization of the post-Soviet condition exhibit this status of the artist as informant in Pribalts and Seda. The Estonian writer and critic Johannes Saar comments on the same point in a slightly more withering manner: ‘the emphasis is on conceptual, critical and social art that would also be internationally convertible. Sounds like a good business plan’ (Saar 2007: 4). It would be my assertion, however, that international convertibility is not a business plan, although there is a lively debate to the contrary, rather a tool to facilitate a pedagogy within art. The audience of contemporary art is no longer necessarily localized but globalized and as such there has emerged a ‘globally comprehensible visual language’ of which the documentary is an established component (Verwoert 2005: 77). Norman and Goba are not simply addressing their own compatriots, or even others in the Baltic States or Eastern Europe, their pedagogical efforts extend to this globalized audience. Carles Guerra’s article ‘Negatives of Europe: Video Essays and Collective Pedagogies’ discusses the work of Ursula Biemann and Angela Melitopoulos within a pedagogical framework. His theorization of the subject seems eminently relevant in the discussion of Norman and Goba as well. He states that ‘rather than merely narrating events, they [Biemann and Melitopoulos]


Harry Weeks

8. Norman states that, ‘here I see a difference between the artist and the journalist. I am not claiming I get the truth. I can play around with reality as well. I can document it at a distance and I can interfere’ (Norman, Ladõnskaja, Muravskaja and Siib 2008: 23).

generate knowledge about them in which information and opinion deliberately overlap’ (Guerra 2008: 146). While there is a far less overt expression of opinion in Seda and Pribalts than the works discussed by Guerra, their fundamental trait is knowledge generation through exposition. In the act of exhibiting or screening their re-cognitions of the post-Soviet condition, they are exposing the viewer to a previously unknown subject and untold history, and thereby generating knowledge through what Guerra refers to as a ‘collective pedagogy’ (Guerra 2008: 145). The overlap between information and opinion discussed by Guerra is an area of complexity when discussing the documentary form. Guerra is dealing with the video essay, a purposefully subjective medium. A more strict definition of the documentary, as stated previously, subdues the subjective and thus suppresses the possibility for argument or opinion. The documentary form, especially within an artistic context, is far more complex than this suggests, and there is an invariable subjectivity amidst all documentary practice thanks to human intervention in the documentary process; framing shots, editing, interviews and even choosing subject matter are necessarily subjective interventions. As Pascale Cassagnau comments, ‘The concept of the documentary […] stands in relation to a point of view, an attitude’ (Cassagnau 2005: 167). Thus while Norman and Goba may not present an argument in the same sense as Melitpoulos and Biemann, there is certainly a point of view present. The four interventions mentioned above are in evidence in Norman’s and Goba’s works, especially in Pribalts, where Norman herself is as central a player in her film as any, and it is in these interventions that the pedagogical agenda of the artist is located. It is here that the artist can exert a subjectivity onto the documentary and draw a pedagogical strand from the subject matter.8

Parallel – and inextricably linked – to the attempt among artists in the Baltic States to de-flatten the notion of the post-Soviet condition, there has been a widespread effort towards its ‘humanization’ (Enwezor 2008: 81). The flattening aspect of a pan-Eastern European discourse not only serves to disguise cultural or national difference, but also individual difference. The specifics of the individual are routinely overpowered by the sheer weight of theory diagnosing a more macroscopic condition, resulting in a lack within theory surrounding the post-Soviet condition of what Enwezor describes, in his discussion of identity politics, as ‘our sense of “humanity”’ (Enwezor 2008: 81). One response amongst contemporary artists in the Baltic States has been to adopt the lexicon and methodology of ethnography, leading to a recurrence of the ‘artist as ethnographer’ paradigm (Foster 1995). Darius Žiura’s film series Gustoniai (2003–07), like Goba’s Seda, is based around the return of the artist to his home town. Gustoniai is a village in rural Lithuania, and Žiura’s project of the same name sees the artist visiting every two years to take 60 one-minute video portraits of the inhabitants of the village. These portraits are still, posed and silent. The subjects are documented outside their houses, or at work, or in the street, but always unmoving and mute. A large proportion of those filmed are elderly, a result of the migration of youths to the urban centres of Lithuania, and some of those people we see in Gustoniai I (2003) reappear in Gustoniai II (2005) and Gustoniai III (2007) visibly aged, but once again silent and still. Žiura’s treatment of the subject


Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition

in these films is absolutely dry and methodical, almost scientific and clinical in the precise 60-second duration of each portrait. And by returning every two years and performing the same ritual, the films seem more ethnographic study than video artwork. Hal Foster has popularized the theoretical location of ‘the artist as ethnographer’. In order for this paradigm to be applicable to the Baltic States, some clarification must be made regarding the differentiation between the fields of anthropology and ethnography. Tim Ingold notes in his paper entitled ‘Anthropology is Not Ethnography’ that it has become commonplace […] for writers […] to treat the two as virtually equivalent, exchanging anthropology for ethnography more or less on a whim, as the mood takes them, or even exploiting the supposed synonymy as a stylistic device to avoid verbal repetition. (Ingold 2008: 69) Ingold proposes a disparity between the two based on objective and methodology, a proposition I shall subscribe to here. First he asserts that ‘the objective of anthropology is to seek a generous, comparative but nevertheless critical understanding of human being and knowing in the one world we all inhabit. The object of ethnography is to describe the lives of people other than ourselves’ (Ingold 2008: 69). This discrepancy in objectives is based on inclusivity. While anthropologists view themselves as a part of the subject of their investigation, the ethnographer remains external from the subject. There is a necessary process of othering intrinsic to ethnography, which is not present in anthropology. Second, the methodology of ethnography is based on the documentation of ‘particular facts of past and present lives’ through ‘direct observation of living people (Ingold 2008: 70). Anthropology may utilize this ethnographic approach as a means towards its end, but the anthropologist seeks ‘general propositions or theoretical statements’, moving from the ‘particular facts’ to the ‘general, the general to the more general and ultimately to the universal’ (Ingold 2008: 70). Again, anthropology’s search for the universal encompasses the anthropologist within his or her own propositions and statements. In Žiura’s work there exists a strange contradiction of intimacy and distance. On the one hand, the fact that the artist returns every two years to take new video footage and the same figures recur, two years older than their initial appearance, creates a level of familiarity and association with the subjects. On the other hand, however, there is an intense awareness of the medium once again. The one-minute-long, silent and unmoving portraits appear forced and unnatural, and the power relations between documenter and documented become hugely apparent. Jan Verwoert states that ‘curiously, photographers always remain alien to the site of the shot. Even if they happen to own it or be in a familiar place, the act of taking the photograph turns them into visitors’ (Verwoert 2008: 202). The simple presence of the camera creates a power relationship in which whosoever is in possession of the camera also has the potential to distribute and publish their documentation, whereas the documented has no power over the document. In relation to Ingold’s first point, I wish to argue that the relations between artist and subject – for example, Goba’s and Žiura’s use of their home towns – demonstrate a degree of inclusivity, suggesting that these works are perhaps more anthropological in character. However, this inherent othering quality of


Harry Weeks

the lens precludes the possibility for total inclusivity. There is a power hierarchy between documenter and documented, which overrides any relations the artist may have to the subject. It is important to keep in mind the connection between artist and subject in these works however, as this represents a shift from the almost colonial character of the ethnographic tendency Foster discusses. He focuses on the Western artist generally finding a subject who is both ‘the cultural and/or ethnic other’ and ‘socially oppressed, politically transformative, and/or materially productive’ (Foster 1995: 302). In the work of Žiura and Goba particularly the artist is acting as ethnographer of their own community and their own condition. This represents an almost ‘selfcolonizing’ aspect of the works, which Chari and Verdery comment upon as a potential path for the future of an ethnographic field devoid of postcolonial associations. They state that ‘post-Cold War ethnography could build upon work by “natives”, analysts of their own condition, on their own terms’ (Chari and Verdery 2009: 29). Ingold’s contrasting of the particularity of ethnography and the universality of anthropology also points one towards the use of the ethnographic as a framework for the examination of these works. There is little attempt to draw from the microcosmic studies of these artworks any grand narratives or generalizations, indeed it is the particularity of the studies that introduce a ‘humanizing’ quality to the post-Soviet condition. Enwezor discusses the use in contemporary art practice of ‘images that appeal to our sense of “humanity” or categorically reinvest the condition of the human with contingency’ (Enwezor 2008: 81). The lingering minute-long portrayals of the people of Gustoniai, people who are otherwise invisible to the viewer of the work of art in whichever international gallery it is exhibited in, allow the viewer to discern the nuances of facial expression, nervous movements of the eyes and mouth of the documented subjects. These indicators of ‘humanity’ are obscured by the homogeneity and generalization of the post-Soviet condition, and this exposition of hidden ‘humanity’ ‘invites viewers to invest interest and take on responsibility’ (Verwoert 2008: 198). Calzadilla and Marcus note that the ethnographic tendency in art differs from the traditional field of ethnography in that ‘the outcome is not a work of analysis or a representation, but a peculiar sort of chronotope’ (Calzadilla and Marcus 2006: 97). Gustoniai, with its dry, unmediated presentation delivers to the viewer this chronotope, a simple presentation of the people of a time and space – the two words that comprise the Greek etymology of the word ‘chronotope’. The artist allows the viewer to analyse or to feel responsibility, but does not engage in these activities himself.

The dual rise of art dealing with post-Soviet issues and utilizing documentary forms and aesthetics has been a relatively swift and recent process. Of the works discussed here as exemplars of the documentary turn the earliest dates from 2003 and there is little artistic output in the Baltic States that conforms to the assertions of this article previous to this. The most fundamental reason for this turn towards the documentary can be located simply by looking at the issues of memory and generation. A recent issue of Third Text (2009), guest edited by Reuben Fowkes, instigator of the SocialEast forum for discussion of Soviet and post-Soviet art,


Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition

dealt with the importance of memory in relation to this field. One current that recurs throughout the various articles in the journal was the notion of ‘generational difference’, and the effect age and experience has on memory and association with historical issues. At a rather simplistic level, but of great import nonetheless, an artist who was 30 years old in 1995 would have lived under Soviet rule for around 25 years thus would probably have studied and worked in a socialist system. For someone who was 30 in 2005, this number is lowered to 15 years, thus largely discounting the possibility of both work and extended study during the years of Soviet occupation (Arns and Wettengl 2006: 13). This basic distinction serves as the most fundamental example of the effect of generation in a transitional situation. One’s experience is informed partly by one’s age, and therefore memory and the manner in which the artist looks at the issues of Sovietism and post-Sovietism are also informed thus.9 Fowkes asserts that this is also the case within academia, noting ‘the more dispassionate approach of younger researchers who find it easier to maintain a critical distance from the turbulent history of art during the Cold War’ (Fowkes 2009: 3). It is this critical distance that has allowed the recognition and re-cognition of post-Soviet subject matter in contemporary art practice as well as theory. For artists who have lived for a substantial time under socialist rule ‘the past represented […] a former present’ (Szczerski 2009: 87). Artists for whom this is not the case can view the past in more detached terms as simply a history to be told. Those artists of a later generation can thus maintain a ‘distance which is not about morality but about detachment in reflecting, in seeing your “own” place’ (Milovac and Stipancic 2002: 45). The ‘own place’ of these artists is one of a non-active involvement with Sovietism, and from this emerges the willingness to engage with the subject matter without the baggage of personal experience. It is key to note that the unifying factors between artists collectively constituting a generation are ‘common experiences and a shared social context rather than […] any unifying aesthetic platforms’ (Epner 2007: 7). Thus, when discussing the pool of artists who are currently operating within a documentary tendency, it is inaccurate to group them in terms of their artistic idiom. Instead their shared thematic and aesthetic agenda is the result of their ‘common experiences and shared social context’, which derive from their generation and thus their personal relationship to Sovietism. Kristina Norman’s own personal history of socialism, as related in Pribalts, is not one founded on state politics, rather it is based on her school days and the social implications of ‘Russianness’ in Estonia. Indeed the main focus of her film is not of Russianness in Soviet-era Estonia but during the period after independence, thus the subject matter is truly post-Soviet. Hedvig Turai, in an article discussing statue parks in Hungary and Lithuania (2009), relates these reminiscences of socialism in terms of a duality of memory: this living relationship to the past is hot. In contrast to this, cold memory is frozen, the past remembered in a cold way is closed, is not kept open, not worked through […] hot memory raises emotions […] cold memory is more neutral, more forgiving. (Turai 2009: 99) Time, and therefore distance, generation and experience, have diminished the heat of memory in the Baltic States with regard to Soviet occupation. The

9. It should be pointed out that age is by no means the exclusive determinant for participation within a particular generation. Experience and attitude are the fundamental determinants, and there is nothing preventing artists of any age being considered part of a generation. The speed of the transition from socialism to capitalism and the attendant changes this brought with it does, however, increase the significance of age in the context of the Baltic States in comparison with most other situations.


Harry Weeks

immediate aftermath of independence may have been tempered with emotional, hot memory or ‘living memory’, but this has over time given way to the more neutral cold memory. It is the distance and detachment that cold memory provides that has given rise to the re-cognition of the post-Soviet condition in contemporary art in the Baltic States, and by extension, a documentary turn.

Thanks to Kai Kaljo, Anders Härm, Hanno Soans, Mark Raidpere, The CCAE Tallinn (Johannes Saar and Andreas Trossek), Rael Artel, Anneli Porri, Heie Treier, LCCA Riga (Ieva Astahovska, Eli na Hermansone), Egle ¯ ˙ Rakauskaite The CAIC Vilnius (Egle Mikalajunaite Dovile Tumpyte and Lolita ˙, ˙ ˙, ˙ ˙ Jablonskiene Tulips and Roses Gallery (Jonas), Elena Narbutaite Liudvikas ˙), ˙, Buklys, Gallerie Jan Mot, GB Agency, CAC Vilnius (Valentinas Klimašauskas), Jon Blackwood, Carla Easton, Kirsten Lloyd, Richard Williams and especially Angela Dimitrakaki. Without their assistance, this project would not have been possible.

András, E. (2008), ‘An agent still at work: The trauma of collective memory of the socialist past’, Springerin, 3/08, Accessed 16 August 2009. Arns, I. and Wettengl, K. (2006), Face the Unexpected: Media Art from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Dortmund: Revolver. Azatyan, V. (2004), ‘An Outline of Cultural Theory of Curatorial Practice’, Accessed 16 August 2009. Buck-Morss, S. (2006), ‘The Post-Soviet Condition’, in IRWIN (ed.), East Art Map, London: The MIT Press, pp. 494–99. Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Latvia (1997), Minority Related Legislation of Latvia, Latvia_noncitpas_excerpts_English.htm. Accessed on 20 August 2009. Calzadilla, F. and Marcus, G. (2006), ‘Artists in the Field: Between Art and Anthropology’, in A. Schneider and C. Wright (eds), Contemporary Art and Anthropology, Oxford: Berg, pp. 95–116. Cassagnau, P. (2005), ‘Future Amnesia (The Need for Documents)’, in V. Havránek, S. Schaschl-Cooper and B. Steinbrügge (eds), The Need To Document, Zürich: JRP Ringier, pp. 155–73. Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia (2002), ‘Riga in Figures’, http://www.riga. lv/EN/Channels/About_Riga/Riga_in_numbers/default.htm. Accessed on 20 August 2009. Chari, S. and Verdery, K. (2009), ‘Thinking between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51: 1, pp. 6–34. Eesti Statistiken (2008), ‘Statistical Database’, Accessed on 20 August 2009. Enwezor, O. (2008), ‘Documentary/Vérité: Bio-politics, Human Rights, and the Figure of “Truth” in Contemporary Art’, in M. Lind and H. Steyerl (eds), The Greenroom: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art, New York: Sternberg Press, pp. 63–102. Epner, E. (2007), ‘A Dispersed Generation’, in A. Härm and H. Soans (eds), New Wave: Essays, Tallinn: Tallinn Art Hall, pp. 7–8.


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Fiks, E. (2007), ‘Responsibilities of the Post-Soviet Artist’, Accessed 12 August 2009. Foster, H. (1995), ‘The Artist as Ethnographer’, in G. Marcus and F. Myers (eds), The Traffic in Culture, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 302–09. Fowkes, R. (2009), ‘Introduction’, Third Text, 23: 1, pp. 1–4. Groys, B. (2004), ‘The Postcommunist Condition’, Accessed 23 March 2009. —— (2008), ‘Beyond Diversity: Cultural Studies and Its Post-Communist Other’, in B. Groys (ed.), Art Power, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, pp. 149–64. Guerra, C. (2008), ‘Negatives of Europe: Video Essays and Collective Pedagogies’, in M. Lind and H. Steyerl (eds), The Greenroom: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art, New York: Sternberg Press, pp. 145–64. Hung, W. (2007), Making History: Wu Hung on Contemporary Art, Hong Kong: Timezone 8. Ingold, T. (2008), ‘Anthropology is not Ethnography’, Proceedings of the British Academy, 154, pp. 69–92. Kaasik, P. (2006), ‘Common grave for and a memorial to Red Army soldiers on Tõnismägi, Tallinn’, army_memorial.pdf. Accessed on 23 August 2009. Milovac, T. and Stipancic, B. (2002), The Baltic Times: Contemporary Art from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Zagreb: Museum of Contemporary Art. Norman, K., Ladõnskaja, V., Muravskaja, T. and Siib, L. (2008), ‘I constantly feel as if I am some sort of Michael Jackson’, Estonian Art, 1/2, p. 23. Pearce, G. (2008), ‘Is It Art?’, in G. Pearce and C. McLaughlin (eds), Truth or Dare: Art and Documentation, Bristol: Intellect, pp. 81–90. Plantinga, C. (2005), ‘What a Documentary Is, After All’, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 63: 2, pp. 105–17. Renov, M. (1993), ‘Toward a Poetics of Documentary’, in M. Renov (ed.), Theorizing Documentary, New York: Routledge, pp. 12–36. Roelstraete, D. (2008), ‘The Repeat Function: Deimantas Narkevic ius and ˇ Memory’, in The Unanimous Life, Madrid: Reina Sofía, pp. 69–80. Saar, J. (2007), ‘New Wave, Old Shores’, in A. Härm and H. Soans (eds), New Wave: Essays, Tallinn: Tallinn Art Hall, pp. 3–5. Simpson, P. (2004), ‘Peripheralising Patriarchy? Gender and Identity in Post-Soviet Art: A View from the West’, Oxford Art Journal, 27: 3, pp. 389–415. Szczerski, A. (2009), ‘Why the PRL now? Translations of Memory in Contemporary Polish Art’, Third Text, 23: 1, pp. 85–96. Traumane, M. (2008), ‘Kaspars Goba: Don’t Worry, Be Curious!’, http://www. Accessed on 16 July 2009. Turai, H. (2009), ‘Past Unmastered: Hot and Cold Memory in Hungary’, Third Text, 23: 1, pp. 97–106. Venclova, T. (2006), ‘The Best Way to Love our Identity’, http://www.lituanus. org/2006/06_1_04%20Venclova.htm. Accessed 20 April 2009. Verwoert, J. (2005), ‘The Expanded Working Field of Documentary Practice’, in V. Havránek, S. Schaschl-Cooper and B. Steinbrügge (eds), The Need to Document, Zürich: JRP Ringier, pp. 77–83. —— (2008), ‘Research and Display: Transformations of the Documentary Practice in Recent Art 01’, in M. Lind and H. Steyerl (eds), The Greenroom:


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Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art, New York: Sternberg Press, pp. 188–210. Wiarda, A. (2008), ‘Some Histories and a Brief Reflection on the Work of Kristina Norman’, A Prior, 17, pp. 121–30.

Weeks, H. (2010), ‘Re-cognizing the post-Soviet condition: the documentary turn in contemporary art in the Baltic States’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 57–70, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.57/1

Harry Weeks recently completed an M.Sc. by Research in History of Art at the University of Edinburgh, achieving a distinction. The focus of his studies was contemporary art in the Baltic States and his dissertation was entitled ‘Re-cognising the post-Soviet condition: the document in contemporary art in the Baltic States’. He has just begun his Ph.D. study, also in Edinburgh, examining the transformation of community in contemporary art. He has presented papers on Eastern European visual culture at conferences in Edinburgh and St Andrews. Contact: University of Edinburgh, History of Art, School of Arts, Culture and Environment, Minto House, 20 Chambers Street, Edinburgh EH1 1JZ, Scotland. E-mail:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 71–84 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.71/1

’ NIKICA GILIC University of Zagreb

Revolution, cinema, painting: creative recycling of images in the films of Tom Gotovac (Antonio Lauer)
Tomislav/Tom Gotovac (Antonio Lauer), one of the leading Croatian conceptual and multimedia artists, successfully recycles visual images in his recent films, as demonstrated in the best works of his more recent opus. By using stills and inserts from his own films and from films important for him or his art (e.g. ’ films by George Stevens, Lazar Stojanovic , the Vasiliev brothers), but also from famous paintings (by Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo) and popular songs, Gotovac’s films (Tomislav Gotovac, Dead Man Walking, Proroci) transcend the borders of cinema as much as his performances and exhibitions transcend borders of every medium of artistic creation. However, certain general questions are raised by such artistic procedure: broadly speaking, today’s conceptual art is institutionalized in some sort of artistic ‘genre’ and Gotovac/Lauer seems to be a true master of that genre.

Tomislav Gotovac experimental cinema editing conceptual art images genre


Nikica Gilic ‘

1. This article is broadly based on a presentation made at the conference ‘Text/Image/ Representation’ (Szeged, Hungary, 2005). 2. Since the majority of Croats declare themselves as Roman Catholics, HDZ, the anti-communist ruling party, built close ties with the Vatican (itself quite willing to establish close ties to all anti-communist governments).

Croatian conceptual artist Tomislav (Tom) Gotovac, the author of numerous exhibitions and performances, is usually credited for being one of the most prominent authors of ‘experimental’ or ‘avant-garde’ film in Croatia and one of its most radically modernist directors. Born in Sombor (Serbia/Yugoslavia) in 1937, in 2005 Gotovac officially changed his name to Antonio Lauer, temporarily using the middle initial ‘G’ (this name change is just one example of his self-referential conceptual art). From the very beginning of his career in the early 1960s, Gotovac concentrated on changing the definition of the artist prevalent in Yugoslav socialist society. Crossing the boundaries between several types of visual, audio-visual and performing arts, this pioneer of conceptual art in Zagreb has very often used the imagery of ‘revolutionary’ (communist) ideology in order to challenge aesthetic and other social norms. In the 1990s, Gotovac’s films became more frequently structured around recycling his previous artistic experience, which often includes the political imagery of the past. As art historian Ješa Denegri (2003: 268) points out, ‘film is crucial for Gotovac’s work as a whole, […] he was […] primarily brought up and formed on film […] film is not only a basic thread but [the] leading thread (of his work)’. In the same article, Denegri also discusses the way in which Gotovac’s cinematic influences (Hawks, Hitchcock, Dreyer, etc.) govern his work in the medium of photography. One might say that this thematic and stylistic shift corresponds nicely with changes in Croatian society after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Croatia is a country still in some sort of never-ending transition towards western-style capitalism. Ever since the end of the war for independence, Croatian society has become increasingly prone to recycling and constantly readdressing its present and past values, ideas and imagery. Old Yugoslav (Croatian, Serbian, Bosnian etc.) films are occasionally shown on national TV; in a Croatian political journal communist dictator Josip Broz Tito was voted the most influential Croat in history; Tito’s monument in Kumrovec (his birthplace) was blown up (which is again extensively covered by the media); and so forth. Without resorting to simplistic and perennial cause-and-effect explanations of art, it is interesting to note that images from Gotovac’s past – as seen in his films – consist predominantly of politically charged imagery, very similar to the imagery that is more and more present in the mainstream media as well. However, right before this basically peaceful (transitional) period in Croatian history, during the war fought against the Yugoslav People’s Army (Jugoslavenska narodna armija – JNA), the manner in which Gotovac was addressing political issues could hardly be considered challenging to the prevalent norms of the time. This war-time art is partly documented in the non’ ’ paginated section of Tomislav Gotovac (Nenadic and Battista Ilic 2003), with pictures from the 1992 performance Point Blank. In it, Gotovac paints words on the wall that are crucial for a nationalist paradigm (which is, admittedly, typical for most societies in wartime): the names of the towns and the villages that were torched by the aggressor, as well as the name of Pope John Paul II, who was considered a great friend of the newly independent country (see also in Stipanc ic 1995: 76–78). Another example of Gotovac’s anti-communist ˇ ’ views is found in his interview with Ivica Župan (1991).2 Although he was still reshaping the dominant ideology in order to fit his conceptual style, Gotovac’s anarchism seems to have perished together


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with the state in which his rebellion had begun. Later on, after having at least partly adopted certain values of the dominant culture, with the war over and cultural and other ties between parts of the former Yugoslavia emerging again, Gotovac also started to pay increasing attention to his own personal and artistic history, in some periods entirely inseparable from Serbian culture and society. Gotovac has managed to cleverly redefine communist symbolism and ideology in the process, but it is useful to bear in mind that redefining social heritage has also become a legitimate and quite frequent topic of Croatian mainstream narrative cinema – see, for example, the films Maršal/ ’ Marshal Tito’s Spirit (Brešan, 2000), Ne dao Bog vec eg zla/God Forbid a ’ Greater Evil (Tribuson, 2002), Duga mracna noc /Long Dark Night (Vrdoljak, ˇ ’ 2004), Karaula/The Guard Post (Grlic , 2006) and Niciji sin/No One’s Son ˇ ’ (Ostojic , 2008). So, if there is something original and therefore particularly interesting in Gotovac’s films, it clearly must lie in the realm of style, not in the realm of ideology or the realm of the social function of art. Naturally, as is the case with all conceptual artists, the domain of style must include references to the process of artistic creation and to the general questions of the definition of art. Has Gotovac, then, a self-proclaimed ‘anarchist’, somewhere along the line gradually slipped from the artistic (and social) margins into the mainstream? I would propose that he probably has; after all, he and his works nowadays get invited to the most prominent art forums and festivals inside and outside of Croatia – in Europe (Venice, Vienna) and beyond (New York, ’ ’ Kyoto). The book encompassing his entire oeuvre (Nenadic and Battista Ilic 2003) has been published by institutions crucial for archiving, studying and displaying modernist and postmodernist art and cinema in Croatia. The ’ authors writing about Tom’s work in this book are Hrvoje Turkovic , one of the most prominent Croatian film scholars and critics, and Ješa Denegri, one of the most prominent Serbian art historians (he was the curator of Gotovac’s very first solo exhibition ‘Tomislav®’, held in Belgrade in 1976). However, one could hardly say that canonizing a conceptual artist is strictly a Croatian phenomenon. It is actually a global(izing) trend, with the influence of and the attention given to the work/personality of Andy Warhol or Joseph Beuys being indicative of the same trend of canonizing the revolutionary, of conventionalizing (neo-)avant-garde styles and concepts both in Europe and in the United States (and probably elsewhere, as well). Of course, the person (the character, the masque) of the conceptual artist is inseparable from his work: it is very often the material for his work. Today, conceptual, radically modernist art has accumulated a rich multimedia tradition that the contemporary artist can draw upon. One might even say (especially but not exclusively when we analyse the conceptual style within the boundaries of a single art medium such as film) that conceptual art has become a fully-fledged genre. We can therefore put it in the context of other genres, schools or styles in painting, theatre or film and say that conceptual art is genuinely recognized and accepted within the social institution of art. The gestures of past revolutions and rebellions in art and society are still remembered, but nowadays they are adopted and widely accepted by museums, film archives, critics, historians, universities and younger contemporary artists (for successful attempts at writing the history of experimental film and video see Rees (2002) and Comer (2009)). Not being revolutionary any longer, the conceptual art is a multimedial genre.


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Being to a great extent fixed on the visual beauty and the power of cinema from the very start, Gotovac has created several visually very appealing films. However, since he mostly worked under low-budget (or zero-budget) circumstances – and since the rules of the beautiful in cinematography were among the general rules he was intent on breaking – many of his films look like home movies. Some sort of rule-breaking is, of course, a stylistic feature typical of modernist cinema, even for mainstream feature-film modernism. The cinematographer Raoul Coutard even claimed that, while filming Á Bout de souffle/Breathless (Godard, 1960), the director frequently consulted the script-woman about the correct procedures for achieving classical continuity, only to do exactly the opposite of what she would suggest (Bordwell and Thompson 2001: 370). And yet, even Godard made many visually stunning films, including the groundbreaking Á Bout de souffle, which uses natural lighting only, but nevertheless sometimes treats its heroes (particularly Jean Seberg) as photo models. Naturally, visual beauty in Godard’s films is often ironically encoded. In addition to that, it seems instructive to point out that the visual style of Á Bout de souffle, although different from the norms of French cinema of the 1950s, nevertheless seems significantly less radical when compared with the ‘documentary’ style of some American feature films (e.g. The Naked City (Dassin, 1948)) or with the style of some of the well-known films made by Godard’s compatriots Jean Renoir (Boudu sauvé des eaux/Boudu Saved from Drowning (1932), Toni (1935)), Robert Bresson (Le Journal d’un cure de campagne/Diary of a Country Priest (1951); Un condamné à mort s’échappé/A Man Escaped (1956)) and even Jacques Becker (Le Trou/The Hole (1959)). Some of the greatest revolutionaries also possess a sophisticated aesthetic sense – Godard, for instance, was an intelligent film critic and a keen observer of cinema (of Anthony Mann’s westerns, for example). Bearing this in mind, it is interesting to note that Gotovac is to some extent a unique figure in the circles of Croatian ‘radical’ art, because he proclaims love not only for Godard and ‘high modernism’ but even more prominently for the classical narrative cinema of Howard Hawks and George Stevens. This article is not the right place to address the distinction between the modern and the postmodern, but it seems interesting that Gotovac’s recent films, made in an age where artists are, generally speaking, more interested in recycling artistic images (and a bit less in changing society and challenging institutions), often display an increased interest in the visual. Gotovac’s frequent usage of ‘ready-made’ or ‘found footage’, both as the theme and as part of the structural pattern, is his most significant stylistic feature nowadays, and I will be discussing some of the films from this period. For instance, a ’ very short film Osjec aj devet/Feeling Nine (Gotovac, 2004) uses a powerful and visually magnificent sequence of an extreme long shot, an inserted extreme close-up and another extreme long shot from the considerably long feature film Giant (George Stevens, 1956). Naturally, when placed outside its original (narrative) environment, these high-budget shots have quite a different effect and gain quite different meanings. Some of these films use Gotovac’s previous works. His one-minute-long work Tomislav Gotovac (Gotovac, 1996), for example, in its visual aspect consists entirely of rhythmically edited shots of photos depicting his life, exhibitions, performances and films. In addition to that, the repetition of the verse


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‘We got machines to do your work for you’ – extracted from a 1939 Billie Holiday performance of ‘You’re just a no account’ (written by S. Cahn and S. Chaplin) – serves as a multi-layered and, to a great extent, ironic comment on the visual structure of this work. Appearing in isolation, this fragment of lyrics seems to comment on the mechanical process of the film’s creation: the editing (one of the most technical parts of the cinematic repertoire) is conspicuously rhythmical, and this is accentuated by a tempo too fast for the viewer to grasp fully most of the visual content. This mechanical rhythm, therefore, seems to be underscored by the words; furthermore, since the pictures shown are not actually moving (they appear and just as rapidly disappear, but do not move), the glimpses of their lifelessness seem to strengthen the mechanical connotations contained in the cited Billie Holiday line. In addition to that, the idea of a film encompassing the author’s life is one of the very few things a viewer can grasp from the kinetically charged sequence of images in Tomislav Gotovac. A self-referential slant is typical of this theme and style of experimental cinema, and the name of this film is at the same time the name of its author. The nostalgic feel of Holiday’s voice (and of her music’s overall sound) therefore acquires an unexpected poignancy, giving the musical clip the quality of a comment on the intensity of life that the viewer nevertheless senses is being depicted by the film’s strange visual sequence. Naturally, this nostalgic quality becomes increasingly conspicuous as the recording technology, the style of Holiday’s singing (and of the accompanying music) become more and more historical as they age together with the film that uses them. Extreme even when compared to Gotovac’s earlier standards in the recycling of images, this film creates a nostalgic mood typical of the mature, turnof-the-century Gotovac. That this maturity has coincided with general artistic and social trends towards the postmodern and the culture of recycling is very fortunate for Gotovac’s high reputation and continuingly excellent rapport with new generations of artists and critics, but I do not believe it is essential for the viewer’s pleasure or, dare I say it, aesthetic satisfaction.

Another prominent film that uses parts of the author’s previous works is Dead Man Walking (Gotovac, 2002), but the levels of recycling in this conceptual self-portrait are more complex, not merely because some of the recycled films themselves contain already recycled fictional and documentary footage. Dead Man Walking uses several of Gotovac’s previous films, such as his conceptual porn Obiteljski film 1/Family Movie 1 (1971), as well as Ella (1965 or 1966), Salt Peanuts (1970), Smrt/Death (1962), Broj 1/Number 1 (1962–72), and so on. Tomislav Gotovac, a far shorter film already mentioned, a sort of conceptual self-portrait, is used near the very beginning of Dead Man Walking, stressing the autobiographical nature accentuated, naturally, by the title as well. Dead Man Walking is the phrase used for a convict on death row, walking towards his execution. Allegedly, in the moment of death, images of the dying person’s entire life flash in front of their eyes, and images from Gotovac’s past make for the bulk of the film. After all these images, Gotovac appears in the last shot of the film (the only footage filmed exclusively for Dead Man Walking), only to disappear in the dark. In Dead Man Walking there are also scenes from famous examples of classical Hollywood cinema (e.g. A Place in the Sun (Stevens, 1951)) and Soviet


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Figure 1: Dead Man Walking (Gotovac, 2002). socialist realism (the Vasiliev brothers’ film Chapayev (1934)), while Gotovac’s home-made porn is contrasted with an example of John Stagliano’s professional, ‘real’ porn. Extremely graphic sexual images are, naturally, placed at the very beginning of Dead Man Walking, probably in order to attempt to stun the audience, to whom pictures of activated genitals are just as common as the pictures of muscular workers were to the mass audiences of socialist realist art. Dead Man Walking’s closing credits place Stagliano’s film in 1999 (the year in which the pornographer made several features), but only the Croatian translation is listed (Buttmanov odmor); in English it would be something like Buttman’s holiday/vacation. He made several films with ‘vacation’ in the title, but they were before 1999 making the precise identification of this film quite difficult. However, among the most significant films used in this complex work is ’ the controversial Plasticni Isus/Plastic Jesus (Stojanovic , 1971), one of key masˇ terpieces of Serbian experimental (avant-garde) cinema, which was shelved by the socialist regime and shown publicly only on the eve of Yugoslavia’s break-up. This stylistically highly radical film, often considered to be one of the best works of Serbian political cinema, comparable to the internationally more acclaimed WR: Misterije organizma/WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Makavejev,


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1971), stirred up emotions by using documentary footage depicting the troubled Balkan past and the turbulent (socialist and Yugoslav) present in the late 1960s and the early 1970s, while Tomislav Gotovac (at the time student at the Belgrade theatre and film academy) played basically himself in the leading role in the semi-fictional part of the film. Since Plasticni Isus is such a radical piece of work and since Gotovac ˇ was even at that stage an accomplished conceptualist film-maker, at least in socially marginal amateur and avant-garde circles (already having received several prizes at festivals in Zagreb, Kragujevac and Ljubljana), it is no wonder that some sources (admittedly, mostly Croatian ones) even go as far as to cite Gotovac as the co-author of Plasticni Isus, alongside director Lazar ˇ ’ Stojanovic (see, for instance, the filmography in Nenadic’ & Battista Ilic’ (2003: 305)). In this respect, it is probably pertinent to note that Ješa Denegri generally feels that Gotovac was very much able to perform a self-referential conceptual art work within the boundaries of another artist’s film (Denegri 2003: 272). However, Gotovac’s more recent films (see also Hot Klab of Frans or Salt Peanuts from 2007, another reworking of past images) show a great resemblance to the classic films by Serbian experimental film-makers Lazar Stojanovic and Dušan Makavejev, both of whom Gotovac had worked with in ’ various stages of his career.3 Naturally, as I have already pointed out, it would be inadequate to discuss Gotovac’s recycling of images without bearing in mind that some of his films have already used parts of previously made films; Broj 1 (1962–72) (re-used in Dead Man Walking), for instance, uses Gotovac’s first film, Smrt (1962) – so when these recycled films get re-recycled for the second time, it is very hard for the viewer (even if he is a long-time Gotovac fan) to keep track of what scenes he has seen under what title in what movie. Starting his career with conceptualist ideas (probably to a great extent intuited rather than fully thought out), Gotovac also worked in the era in which film critics and directors were widely embracing authorial politics (Wollen 1972; Naremore 2004) of French nouvelle vague greats such as Truffaut, Chabrol and Godard. If we simplify things a bit, we might be allowed to say that these critics-turned-directors made for a radically modernist group of film buffs with a penchant for classical Hollywood cinema, shared by Gotovac as well. It is no wonder then that Gotovac has managed to become one of the best examples of auteurism in Croatian cinema: in his work the boundaries of a single film are becoming less and less significant, so that his entire oeuvre becomes one giant piece of work.

3. Nevinost bez zaštite/ Innocence Unprotected (Makavejev, 1968) is structured around scenes from an actual fiction film made in Serbia during World War II.

Finally, probably the best among Gotovac’s more recent works, Proroci/The Prophets (2004), seems particularly interesting in the context of any intermediary discussion. It uses the imagery and sounds of Mexican revolutionary thought and movements, while these images and sounds are at the same time central to the international popular idea of Mexico. Among these images are those taken from Mexican painters: even if the spectator is not an expert in the field of art history, most can be expected to recognize at least the images of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (whom she portrayed next to herself in many paintings). In the Rivera–Kahlo couple, Rivera is the muralist famous for depicting history by using communist symbols and introducing murals to international revolutionary and historical painting, while Kahlo is famous for


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4. Illustrative of the Mexican culture of death (and similar to those used by Gotovac) are, for instance, the popular illustrations of José Guadalupe Posada.

her meticulous painting of self-portraits in various formal combinations of expressionism, surrealism and the neo-folklorist grotesque. Gotovac’s intriguing visual strategy includes portraits of Frida Kahlo, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and Leon Trotsky (Lenin and Trotsky as painted by Rivera), as well as populist drawings representing traditional Mexican culture (e.g. the cult of death).4 The photos of actual, historical violence and death in Mexico used in Proroci are equally powerful, and all this is contrasted with and, again, ironically commented upon by the soundtrack of the film. The sound is completely taken over by the joyous sounds of ‘La cucaracha’/’The Cockroach’, the internationally popular song about Pancho Villa’s ‘revolutionary’ vehicle, a shabby car nick-named after the insect from the popular song. Furthermore, one may also notice in Gotovac’s film an attempt to challenge the dominant political and aesthetic norms in Croatia by stressing the revolutionary side of Mexican art not only in theme, but also in the avant-garde form of rhythmical cutting and intercutting (the rhythmical joining of the sounds and the pictures) while Gotovac’s powerful symbolism follows the tradition established by Sergei Eisenstein, the artist who is the closest thing to a father that revolutionary cinema has. One might also speak of Proroci as an artistic (elitist) strike back at popular culture. For, in the Croatian as well as the international context, Gotovac’s film will probably be viewed in the background of Julie Taymor’s influential biopic Frida (2002), a film that has effectively canonized a traditional, narrative view of Mexican art and Mexican history through the romantic story of two artists (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera) and the people in their lives (an ex-wife, several friends, parents, sisters and numerous paramours). All this, naturally, fits Gotovac’s image of the challenger of artistic and other social norms, no matter what type of society he might be living and creating in, and no matter how meaningful a challenge to the norm might be in a given context. For instance, while making conceptual, constructivist and structural art, Gotovac was one of the most fervent advocates of emotionally charged classical American films (of George Stevens, John Ford and others), which was, although not so unusual in the European context, actually quite a reasonable choice for a provocative artist creating in a socialist country where the cultural establishment preferred either socialist realism or narrative modernism conveying ideas corresponding to the political left (e.g. the feature films of Croatian directors Lordan Zafranovic’ and, to an extent, Vatroslav Mimica). Classical narrative cinema was actually more subversive and radical than modernist cinema in many stages of socialist Yugoslavia’s history. Effective and rhythmically well organized, the imagery of Proroci includes several shots showing nothing but a red surface, used in the structure of this film both in its political and in its physical/bodily (and ‘bloody’) meaning. However, everything that Gotovac does is paratextually (see Genette 1997) marked by his own name and, as Hrvoje Turkovic’ (2003: 278) points out, Gotovac’s films are not meant for the casual, uninformed observer. It seems ’ safe to agree with Turkovic when he proposes that the ideal recipient of Gotovac’s work knows well the author’s strong inclination towards body art, as well as his tendency to turn everything that he experiences into the topic and material for his work. This body-art tendency started as early as 1962 (Denegri 2003: 269). Furthermore, the ideal recipient also knows Gotovac’s political obsessions, his frequent allusions to and citations of communist and revolutionary works/writing, et cetera, et cetera.


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This film thus strongly points to the bloody side of Mexican history, but the allusion to Trotsky’s death is particularly intriguing in this self-referential aspect of fitting the film into Gotovac’s lifework, informed by the inclination to create structures irrespective of the borders of a single film, thus transforming his entire multimedia oeuvre into a single piece of work. Although Proroci uses only one image of a hand that we suppose belongs to Gotovac – and only a few images of a pick, hammering at object(s) unseen – since this is a Gotovac film, it can hardly be a mere coincidence that the cross-cutting connects the image of the author’s fist and the portrait of Trotsky holding his fist in the same combative clench. Naturally, with the editing proceeding in step with the fast-paced rhythm of the song ‘La cucaracha’, this comparison must be ironic. The image of the pick is followed by pictures of stabbing and dying, while the last image of the film remains the photo of a dead man (presumably a Mexican), lying in his own blood. Perceived with the knowledge of other films by Gotovac, this allusion to Trotsky’s gruesome death can be seen as yet another recapitulation of the author’s life and career, similar to Tomislav Gotovac and Dead Man Walking, where the death-row convict from the title is obviously Gotovac himself. Finally, watching a film that alludes to Trotsky’s gruesome death, how can one distinguish what has been learned in school or by reading a non-fictional book from what has been learned from watching fictional and non-fictional films and television programmes? Associative presentation founded on Sergei Eisenstein’s historical concepts (Gilic’ 2005) is a complex issue, but it seems obvious that Proroci plays on the general, popular knowledge about Trotsky, which encompasses Frida, but is naturally more specific than the level of knowledge necessary for understanding more-or-less conventional narrative films (such as Frida). Taymor’s biopic is only one of the more recent visualizations of Trotsky’s death in Mexico, with Geoffrey Rush portraying the exiled Bolshevik revolutionary on the silver screen, while, for instance, movie superstar Richard Burton was wearing Trotsky’s shoes (and a beard to match) in The Assassination of Trotsky (Losey, 1972) three decades earlier. Naturally, the revolutionary imagery of Proroci is particularly interesting to those of us who have spent at least part of our lives under a socialist regime. I should therefore reiterate yet another point: Gotovac, formerly a prominent opponent of socialism’s pressures on art, continues to use revolutionary (communist) imagery in a new ‘transitional’ society. Knocking (and knocking, and knocking) at the door of the ‘New’ Europe (the European Union), Croatia for a time has attempted unsuccessfully to completely dismantle the imagery of the socialist era but the spirit of the past still haunts its social, cultural and political landscape. So, when Gotovac uses images from Croatia’s socialist past in Proroci (e.g. Lenin, the colour red), although he recycles them through a Mexican heritage (or through the grand meta-narrative of Mexican history),5 it is the aura/ spectre of the socialist revolution that foregrounds the figures of artists nowadays being received and recycled in today’s consumerist society. Ironically, the global financial crisis that began in 2008 suddenly revamped some of the ideas of socialism and nationalization even in the most anti-communist centres of world power (including the White House in Washington DC). However, Frida Kahlo has become a brand (a commodity) in the manner Gotovac will probably never become, regardless of the frequency of his contacts with the mass media. On the other hand, these contacts are far too frequent for us to believe Gotovac (or some critics) who claim that he has remained an anarchist or that he is still at the margins of the art scene or

5. Mexican culture greatly influenced the culture of socialist Yugoslavia in the 1950s and 1960s.


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’ society (Jelic and Kiš 2003). Regardless of that, one may say that the images of Mexican revolutionary art and history have received a far more satisfying artistic makeover by Gotovac than by Julie Taymor. If the idea of conceptual art as a genre is at least partly valid and convincing, I would propose that Gotovac is one of its better representatives, a true Howard Hawks of radical art.

I would like to thank the kind people at Hrvatski filmski savez, particularly ’ Željko Radivoj and Vera Robic -Škarica, for their help in getting hold of Gotovac’s films. Also I would like to thank Professor Boris Senker (University of Zagreb) for his help in securing the funds for my research as well as Peter, the webmaster of the Unofficial Billie Holiday Website (http://www.ladyday. net/) for his help in identifying the Billie Holiday song used in Tomislav Gotovac (Gotovac, 1996).

Becker, J. (1959), Le Trou, Paris: Play art, Filmsonor and Titanus. Berg, C. R. (2004), ‘Every Picture Tells a Story: José Guadalupe Posada’s Protocinematic Graphic Art’, in T. Miller and R. Stam (eds), A Companion to Film Theory. Malden, MA, Oxford and Carlton: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 363–86. Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin (2001), Film Art: An Introduction, 6th edn., New York: McGraw Hill. Bresson, Robert (1951), Le Journal d’un cure de campagne, Paris: Union générale cinématographique. —— (1956), Un condamné à mort s’échappé, Paris: W.N.E. Gaumont and Nouvelles éditons des films. Brešan, V. (2000), Maršal, Zagreb: Hrvatska radio-televizija and Interfilm. Comer, S. (ed.) (2009), Film and Video Art, London: Tate Publishing. Dassin, J. (1948), The Naked City, Hollywood: Universal. Denegri, J. (2003), ‘The Individual Mythology of Tomislav Gotovac’, in ’ ’ D. Nenadic and A. Battista Ilic (eds), Tomislav Gotovac: When I Open My ˇ Eyes in the Morning I See a Movie/Tomislav Gotovac: Cim ujutro otvorim oci, ˇ vidim film, Zagreb: Hrvatski filmski savez and Muzej suvremene umjetnosti, pp. 268–76. – hrvatski film online: Genette, Gerrard (1997), Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ’ Gilic , Nikica (2005), ‘Asocijativno izlaganje’ (‘Associative presentation’), in Hrvatski filmski ljetopis, 11: 41, pp. 57–59. Godard, Jean-Luc (1960), Á Bout de souffle/Breathless, Paris: Societé nouvelle de cinéma and Georges De Beauregard. Gotovac, Tomislav (1962), Smrt/Death, Zagreb: Kino-klub Zagreb. —— (1962–72), Broj 1/Number 1, Zagreb and Belgrade. —— (1965 or 1966), Ella, Zagreb: Kino-klub Zagreb. —— (1970), Salt Peanuts, Belgrade: Akademija za kazalište, film radio i televiziju. —— (1971), Obiteljski film 1/Family Film No 1, Zagreb or Belgrade. —— (1996), Tomislav Gotovac, Zagreb: Kino-klub Zagreb. —— (2002), Dead Man Walking, Zagreb: Hrvatski filmski savez.


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’ —— (2004), Osjec aj devet/Feeling Nine, Zagreb: Kino-klub Zagreb and Hrvatski filmski savez. —— (2004), Proroci/The Prophets, Zagreb: Kino-klub Zagreb and Hrvatski filmski savez. —— (2007), Hot Klab of Frans or Salt Peanuts/Hot Club of France or Salt Peanuts, Belgrade. Grlic’, R. (2006), Karaula/The Guard Post, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Skopje, Ljubljana, Belgrade and London: Propeler, Refresh, Sektor film, Vertigo/Emotion, Yodi and Film and Music Entertainment. Internet Movie Data Base, Jelic’, M. and Kiš, P. (2003), ‘Tomislav Gotovac: I nakon Venecije ostat c’u na margini’ (‘Tomislav Gotovac: Even after the Venice Bienalle I will still be on the fringes’), in Jutarnji list, 8 March, pp. 59 and 61. ’ ’ Jovanovic’, M. (2007), ‘Vuk Obradovic je poslao Lazara Stojanovic a na ’ ’ vojni sud’ (‘Vuk Obradovic sent Lazar Stojanovic to court martial’), Danas (online), Belgrade, Accessed 10 June 2009. ’ ’ Kragic , B. and Gilic , N. (eds) (2003), Filmski leksikon, Zagreb: Leksikografski zavod Miroslav Krleža. Kusturica, E. (1985), Otac na službenom putu/When Father Was Away on Business, Sarajevo: Centar and Forum Sarajevo. Losey, Joseph (1972), The Assassination of Trotsky, Rome and Hollywood: De Laurentiis, Shaftel & Cinetel. Makavejev, Dušan (1968), Nevinost bez zaštite/Innocence Unprotected, Belgrade: Avala film. —— (1971), WR: Misterije organizma/WR: The Mystery of the Organism, Belgrade and Munich: Neoplanta and Telepool. ’ Mandic , J. (2005), ‘Hrvatskom kulturom drmaju kreteni (Tomislav Gotovac/ Antonio Lauer, legenda kojoj je prekipjelo)’ (‘Croatian culture is ruled by morons (Tomislav Gotovac/Antonio Lauer, the legend who is finally fed up)’), in Novi list (online), Sunday, 13 February, Default.asp?WCI=Rubrike&WCU=2859285B2863285A2863285A28582858 285D28632895288D288C286328632859285B28582858285D285828632863 286328592863Q. Accessed 16 February 2007. Naremore, J. (2004), ‘Authorship’, in T. Miller and R. Stam (eds), A Companion to Film Theory, Malden, MA, Oxford and Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 9–24. ’ ’ Nenadic , D. and Battista Ilic , A. (eds) (2003), Tomislav Gotovac: When I Open ˇ my Eyes in the Morning I See a Movie/Tomislav Gotovac: Cim ujutro otvorim oci, vidim film, Zagreb: Hrvatski filmski savez and Muzej suvremene ˇ umjetnosti. (Bilingual book.) ’ Ostojic , Arsen Anton (2008), Niciji sin, Zagreb: Alka. ˇ Pramaggiore, M. (1997), ‘Performance and Persona in the US Avant-Garde: The Case of Maya Deren’, In Cinema Journal (online), 36: 2 (Winter), pp. 17–40, gt=62E771363C0635173766354632653E5227E361D36113669364E323E336 133503&return=y. Accessed 20 April 2005. Rees, A. L. (2002), A History of Experimental Film and Video: From the Canonical Avant-Garde to Contemporary British Practice, London: British Film Institute. Renoir, Jean (1932), Boudu sauvé des eaux, Paris: Pathé. —— (1935), Toni, Paris: Films d’aujourd’hui.


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6. In Nenadic’ & Battista Ilic’ (2003: 319) this article is erroneously listed under the year 2000. 7. Gotovac’s filmography is mostly based on two books (Nenadic ’ and Battista Ilic 2003, ’ Kragic’ and Gilic 2003) ’ and two Internet sites ( com, hr). The films produced during the existence of Yugoslavia are attributed to the constituent unit (republic) where they were produced. Some of Gotovac’s films are home-made and do not have that sort of attribution due to the fact that he lived both in Croatia and in Serbia at the time.

Stagliano, J. (1999?), Buttman’s Vacation/Holiday?, s.l., s.n. Stevens, G. (1951), A Place in the Sun, Hollywood: Paramount. —— (1956), Giant, Hollywood: Warner Bros. Stipanc ’, B. (ed.) (1995), Words and Images/Rijeci i slike, Zagreb: Soros Center ˇic ˇ for Contemporary Arts and Open Society Institute, Croatia. (Bilingual catalogue). ’ Stojanovic , L. (1971), Plasticni Isus, Belgrade: Filmska radna zajednica Centar ˇ and Akademija za kazalište, film, radio i televiziju. Škrabalo, I. (1998), 101 godina filma u Hrvatskoj, 1896–1997/ 101 Years of Film in Croatia, 1896–1997, Zagreb: Globus. (English summary: pp. 529–54). Taymor, J. (2002), Frida, New York: Miramax. ’ Tribuson, S. (2002), Ne dao Bog vec eg zla, Zagreb: Hrvatska radio-televizija and Maxima. Turkovic’, Hrvoje (2001), ‘Pitanje ready madea: Nostalgic ˇna putovanja Tomislava Gotovca njegovim povijesnim filmskim ljubavima’ (‘The question of ready-made: Tomislav Gotovac’s nostalgic journeys around his historical film loves’), in Vijenac, 10: 182, 22 January.6 ’ —— (2003), ‘Tomislav Gotovac: observation as participation’, in D. Nenadic ’ and A. Battista Ilic (eds), Tomislav Gotovac: When I Open My Eyes in the ˇ Morning I See a Movie/Tomislav Gotovac: Cim ujutro otvorim oci, vidim ˇ film, Zagreb: Hrvatski filmski savez and Muzej suvremene umjetnosti, pp. 277–79. Vasiliev, S. and Vasiliev G. (1934), Chapayev, Moscow: Leninfilm. ’ Vrdoljak, A. (2004), Duga mracna noc , Zagreb: Hrvatska radio-televizija and ˇ Mediteran. Wollen, P. (1972), Znaci i znacenje u filmu/Signs and Meaning in the Cinema ˇ (trans. from English by Branko Vuc ˇevic’), Belgrade: Institut za film. ˇic Župan, I. (1991), Art-projekt Jugoslavija’ (‘Yugoslavia as an art-project’), in Slobodna Dalmacija, Saturday, 5 October, pp. 29–30.

The majority of the films Gotovac directed before the 1990s are available on a non-profit basis for a technical compensation at Hrvatski filmski savez, Tuškanac 1, 10 000 Zagreb, Croatia (E-mail: The films he made in the 1990s and onwards are mostly available at the same address for a small compensation (Hrvatski filmski savez is a non-profit organization). Information on the company’s production of Gotovac’s films can be seen at The films are listed in date order, starting with the most recent. Abbreviations: Asst. – assistant, AKK Beograd – Akademski kino klub Beograd (Academic cine-club, Belgrade), d – director, ed – editor, HFS – Hrvatski filmski savez (Croatian Film Clubs Association), KK Zagreb – Kino-klub Zagreb (Zagreb Cine-club), p – producer, ph – photography, sc – screenplay. Director on all productions is Tomislav Gotovac unless otherwise stated. Hot klab of Frans or Salt Peanuts (2007), Serbia: Centar za kulturnu dekontamina’ ciju. (cast: Tomislav Gotovac, Lazar Stojanovic , Juan-Carlos Ferro Duque.) Performance Tapes (2007), Croatia: HFS.


Revolution, cinema, painting

Cesar Frank – Wolf Wostell (2005), Croatia: HFS. (ph – Tomislav Gotovac, ed – Željko Radivoj.) Proroci/The Prophets, 2004; Croatia: KK Zagreb/HFS. (sc – Tomislav Gotovac, ed – Željko Radivoj.) Osjec’aj devet/Feeling Nine (2004), Croatia: KK Zagreb/HFS. Dead Man Walking (2002), Croatia: HFS. (sc, ed – Tomislav Gotovac, asst. d & asst. ed – Željko Radivoj, cast: Tomislav Gotovac. In archive footage: Vukica ’ ’ Ðilas, Ljubiša Ristic , Josip Broz Tito, Ante Pavelic , Montgomery Clift.) Trocki/Trotsky (2002), Croatia: HFS. (ed – Željko Radivoj.) Identity Number (2001), Croatia: HFS, KK Zagreb. (ph – Vedran Šamanovic’.) Praznik rada or Majsko jutro matorog fauna/Labour Day or A May Morning of ˇ ˇic an aging Faun (2001), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF. (co-d, Damir Cuc ’ & Željko Radivoj, ph – Ž. Radivoj.) ’ Glenn Miller 2000 (2000), Croatia: HFS. (ph – Vedran Šamanovic , p – Vera ’ Robic -Škarica.) ’ Sjec anje na Hoagy Carmichaela/Remembering Hoagy Carmichael (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. Glenn Miller ili kako je U.S.A. pobijedila Europu/Glenn Miller or How the USA Defeated Europe (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. Mjesto pod suncem tri/A Place in the Sun 3 (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. Mjesto pod suncem dva/A Place in the Sun 2 (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. Mjesto pod suncem/A Place in the Sun (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ Osjec aj sedam/Feeling Seven (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ Osjec aj šest/Feeling Six (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ Osjec aj pet/Feeling Five (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ ˇ Osjec aj cetiri/Feeling Four (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ Osjec aj tri/Feeling Three (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ Osjec aj dva/Feeling Two (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. ’ Osjec aj/Feeling (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. Straža na Rajni/The Watch on the Rhine (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb-SF, HFS. Tramvaj 406/Tram No 406 (2000), Croatia: KK Zagreb – SF, HFS. (co-d – ’ Vanja Valtrovic , sc – Tomislav Gotovac, ph, ed – Tomislav Gotovac, Vanja Valtrovic’.) Tomislav Gotovac (1996), Croatia: Plavi film, Zagreb. (sc – Tomislav Gotovac.) Julije Knifer (1982), Croatia. (sc – Tomislav Gotovac. ph – Julije Knifer.) Glenn Miller I (Srednjoškolsko igralište)/Glenn Miller 1 (High School Playground) (1977), Croatia: Centar za multimedijalna istraživanja SC Zagreb. (sc – ’ Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – Ljubo Becic .) Obiteljski film 2/Family Movie 2 (1973). (sc, ed, p – Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – Slobodan Šijan.) Plasticni Isus/Plastic Jesus (1972), Serbia: Filmska radna zajednica Centar, ˇ Akademija za pozorište, film, radio i televiziju, Beograd. (co-d, ed – Lazar ’ ’ Stojanovic . sc – L. Stojanovic . Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – Branko Perak. ’ cast: Tomislav Gotovac, Ljubiša Ristic , Vukica Ðilas, Rusomir Bogdanovski, ’ Gojko Škaric , Josip Broz Tito.) Broj 1/Number 1 (1962–1972). (sc, ed – Tomislav Gotovac). Obiteljski film 1/Family Movie 1 (1971), (sc, ph, ed – Tomislav Gotovac). Sketches and Diaries (1967–1970). (p, ph, ed – Tomislav Gotovac.) 187 (1970), Serbia: Akademija za pozorište, film, radio i televiziju, Beograd. (sc, ed – Tomislav Gotovac. cast: Rusomir Bogdanovski, Gojko Škaric’, Danja Mirkovic’.) M (1970), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (ph, ed, p – Tomislav Gotovac.)


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Salt Peanuts (1970), Serbia: Akademija za pozorište, film, radio i televiziju, Beograd. (sc, ed – Tomislav Gotovac. ph – Juan-Carlos Ferro Duque.) Villen II (1969), Serbia: Akademija za pozorište, film, radio i televiziju, Beograd. ’ (sc, ed, p – Tomislav Gotovac. cast: Lazar Stojanovic , Tomislav Gotovac.) Peeping Tom (1969), Serbia: Akademija za pozorište, film, radio i televiziju, Beograd. (sc – Tomislav Gotovac. cast: Juan-Carlos Ferro Duque, Zlata ’ Bilic .) Alamo (1969), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (sc, ed, ph – Tomislav Gotovac.) T (1969), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (sc, ed, ph, p – Tomislav Gotovac.) 29 (1967), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (sc, ed, p – Tomislav Gotovac.) Ella (1965 or 1966), Croatia, KK Zagreb. (p – Tomislav Gotovac.) – S (1966), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (p – Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – And elko Habazin.) Kuda idemo, ne pitajte/Don’t ask where we’re going (1966), Croatia: KK Zagreb. – (sc, p – Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – And elko Habazin. cast: Ivo Lukas.) ’ Osjec am se dobro/I Feel All Right (1966), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (sc, ed, p – – Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – And elko Habazin.) Kružnica (Jutkjevic-Count)/The Circle (Yutkevich-Count) (1964), Serbia: ˇ ’ AKK Beograd. (sc – Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, p, ph, ed – Petar Blagojevic– ’ Arand elovic.) Plavi jahac (Godard-Art)/Blue Rider (Godard-Art) (1964), Serbia: AKK Beograd. ˇ – ’ ’ (sc, ed, p – Tomislav Gotovac. co-p, ph – Petar Blagojevic -Arand elovic .) Pravac (Stevens-Duke)/Straight Line (Stevens-Duke) (1964), Serbia: AKK – ’ ’ Beograd. (sc, p – Tomislav Gotovac, co-p – Petar Blagojevic -Arand elovic .) Prije podne jednog Fauna/The Forenoon of a Faun (1963), (sc, ed, p – Tomislav Gotovac.) Smrt/Death (1962), Croatia: KK Zagreb. (sc, ed – Tomislav Gotovac. co-d, ph – Vladimir Petek.)

’ Gilic , N. (2010), ‘Revolution, cinema, painting: creative recycling of images in the films of Tom Gotovac (Antonio Lauer)’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 71–84, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.71/1

’ Nikica Gilic (born in Split in 1973) received his Ph.D. in Film Studies at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (University of Zagreb). He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature at the same faculty, where he is the Chair of Film Studies and teaches various courses in film theory and film history. He has published two books: Uvod u teoriju filmske pric e/Introduction to the Theory of Narration in Film (2007) and Filmske ˇ vrste i rodovi/Film Genres and Types (2007). He also co-edited Filmski leksikon/ ’ Film Lexicon (2003) with Bruno Kragic . Contact: Filozofski fakultet-komparativna književnost, Ivana Luc ic a 3, 10000 ˇ ’ Zagreb, Croatia. E-mail:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 85–96 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.85/1

GREG DeCUIR, JR. Faculty of Dramatic Arts, Belgrade

Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic
The Yugoslav Black Wave film is polemical and rhetoric is one of its key aesthetic concerns – the Marxist rhetoric of a ruthless critique of all existing conditions. The polemical application of this rhetoric forms the basis of the Black Wave as a movement; the desired course of action was an engaging of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in a critical dialogue, for a more humane socialism. Black Wave films of concern here present the symbol of political speechmaking in this rhetorical/polemical context. They will be analysed with regards to content, or rhetoric, in an attempt to elucidate the contemporary issues that were important to some of the film-makers, also with regards to film language, or form. These films include Mlad i zdrav kao ruža/Young and Healthy as a Rose (Jovan Jovanovic’, 1971), WR: Misterije organizma/WR: Mysteries of the Organism (Dušan Makavejev, 1971) and Neprijatelj/The Enemy (Živojin Pavlovic’, 1965).

Yugoslav Black Wave polemics rhetoric aesthetics film Marxism

The Yugoslav Black Wave film is a polemical film and rhetoric – the Methodical Marxist rhetoric of a ruthless critique of all existing conditions – is one of its key aesthetic concerns. The polemical application of this rhetoric forms the basis of the Black Wave as a movement. Because cinema is the most powerful and persuasive of all forms of mass media as well as the art form that inherently encompasses other art forms, it becomes the ideal choice to lead one kinetically (or kinaesthetically, a term coined by the Yugoslav film theorist Slavko Vorkapich in 1998, specifically corresponding to the uniqueness of film art and


Greg DeCuir, Jr.

its capability for rhythmic visual tempos) towards a course of action, which is the general aim of persuasive rhetoric. That desired course of action was a transformational critique of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in the hopes of realizing a more productive society that practises an improved and humane form of socialism. In the Black Wave era President Josip Broz Tito’s party apparatchiks enforced a dominant ideological course that reinforced their own positions of power and the privileges that came with it – often including cars, homes, servants and other traditional bourgeois trappings of a ruling class. The ethical gap between those luxuries and the people it arrived at the expense of, who were being fed the values of collectivity and sacrifice for common goals while they often suffered for a stable means of subsistence, was exposed and attacked by the Black Wave film-makers. For the films in question rhetoric (through polemics as a method) is a means to an end, which justifies opting for the descriptive term ‘Methodical Marxism’ as the theoretical background and persuasion of the Black Wave. This also marks a point of divergence with the term ‘Orthodox Marxism’ as it was used by the League of Yugoslav Communists to uphold their dogmatic and flawed principles – the same principles which were used to service the attack and ultimate dismantling of the Black Wave. The film-makers of the Black Wave can be thought of as ‘Orthodox’ Marxists only in the sense of the term as outlined by the Hungarian philosopher György Lukács (1971). In his book History and Class Consciousness the first chapter is titled ‘What is Orthodox Marxism?’ Here, he proceeds to lay out his vision for the concept, which melds with the humanist Marxist outlook of the Black Wave. This vision was characterized by a progressive revolutionary position through the critical method of Marx’s early writings (including his letter to Arnold Ruge of 1843 and his essay ‘Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right”’ of 1844 – both written when Marx was in his 20s). Lukács defined orthodoxy as fidelity to the Marxist method, not to dogmas. Young Marx himself identified his method as a ‘ruthless criticism of everything existing’ – ruthless in the sense that this critique ‘must not be afraid of its own conclusions, nor of conflict with the powers that be’ (Tucker 1978: 13). It is this strategy that was adopted as the modus operandi of the Black Wave film-makers. Since Lukács felt that orthodoxy refers exclusively to method and the method of early Marx is an incessant critique, his conception functions well as a piercing methodological framework for engaging with the films of the Black Wave – a framework that helps to illuminate the strategies of the Black Wave film-makers and also the ends they were trying to achieve. However, due to the flexibility of the idea of ‘Orthodox’ Marxism and its multiple, sometimes conflicting, connotations, it is perhaps necessary to forward the term ‘Methodical’ Marxism which can be applied and utilized for the purposes of this study as something that will closely encapsulate the theme and spirit of the brand of Marxism that the Black Wave film-makers practised while at the same time evading confusion. Methodical Marxism can be defined simply as Lukács’s elaboration on orthodoxy: anti-traditional, oppositional and critical. This diverges from programmatic, optimistic and educational, which constituted the tenets of socialist realism as originally defined by Maxim Gorky in his manifesto On Socialist Realism (originally 1934, reprinted in English 1977), serving as the basis for classical Yugoslav cinematography as dictated in the foundational programme written by Aleksandar Vuc (Goulding 1985: 9) ˇo


Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic

when he was placed in charge of the Committee for Cinematography upon its formation in Yugoslavia in 1946. For the purposes of further clarification ‘rhetoric’ as utilized in this study refers to persuasive speech leading to a course of action – the classical definition of the term. Rhetoric will be equated with content, or ideology; the term ‘polemics’ on the other hand will refer to argumentative opposition, to be equated with form (or method). Polemics serve as the medium that advances rhetoric in the Black Wave film. These key terms are not interchangeable, though they will be revealed to share a mutually dependent relationship through the course of this analysis. As polemicists, it must be remembered that the majority of the Black Wave film-makers were practising film critics before they were practising film-makers. This lends a solid base to understanding why polemics form the foundation of the Black Wave film. No doubt inspired by Marx and his dynamic rendering of his thoughts in a literary form, the page was a space where young Yugoslav auteurs could work out their own formulaic conceptions about cinema. The Black Wave film-makers were also inspired by the French New Wave; if Jean-Luc Godard is correct in stating that writing film criticism is in essence a way of making films, then film criticism or theory contains a persuasive rhetoric that is inherently implosive in this instance – instead of leading an imagined community towards a course of action, it leads the writer himself towards that very action (see Milne 1972). The audience becomes a bystander in this process, or a witness to this methodical transformation. Since rhetoric is not rhetoric if it talks to itself as interior monologue, the complementary step in this process is the act of making films, which redirects the kinetic energy outwards towards the audience. In this sense writing film criticism and making films really are two sides of the same coin.

The Black Wave films were the cinematic examples of a new ideology at work in Yugoslavia in Methodical Marxist terms, exhibiting a modernist, nonconformist style. These films were a concentrated eruption that lasted from roughly 1963 to 1972 within the broader all-encompassing division of Yugoslav New Film, which constituted a new wave of young film directors who brought new sensibilities to Yugoslav cinema. Many of the Black Wave films were quite fatalistic and highly transgressive in relation to classical Yugoslav cinema and Yugoslav society in general, thus earning them the nom maudit ‘black’. The values of these films were called into question by the mainstream press, particularly the newspaper Borba – the official publication of the League of Yugoslav Communists, often featuring committee thinking in its film pages which took the form of consensus discussion-style articles from ten or so critics who were all in agreement on a particular issue, no doubt representing the party line. The reactionary attacks in the press culminated in a 1969 Borba article entitled ‘The Black Wave in Our Cinema’ written by Vladimir Jovic ’, ˇic which coined the very term ‘Black Wave’, identified films and film-makers to be associated with it and effectively launched the counter-action against them. This counter-action coincided with a general tightening up of progressive liberties that had been allowed throughout the 1960s (among them New Film and the Black Wave) in Yugoslavia in an attempt to present a positive image of ‘socialism with a human face’ to the rest of the world. The counter-actions were motivated in part by the Prague Spring in early 1968 and the Soviet


Greg DeCuir, Jr.

intervention that was read as a potential threat of incursion as well as the Belgrade student demonstrations in the summer of that year, which were seen as a possible fomentation of a similar uprising. Revolution was in the air in the 1960s throughout the world and it was in the vested interests of those maintaining positions of power to push back. Black Wave films were created by the post-war generation that was contemporary with other groups that came to embody the new waves of their respective national cinemas in the 1960s: the French and, more closely both geographically and ideologically, the Polish and Czechs. Like the French, many Black Wave film-makers got their start as film critics; many also circulated around the Yugoslav Cinematheque (which Henri Langlois visited in 1954 to programme a month-long series of screenings culled from the archives of the Cinémathèque Française) and their local ciné-clubs where they made fiction, non-fiction and experimental shorts. Like the Polish and Czechs many Black Wave film-makers received a higher education at their national film school: the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade (at that time called the Academy of Theatre, Film, Radio and Television); some eventually became professors there. The Black Wave film-makers were concerned with asserting authorial independence and a subjective point of view in their work. This was a rejection of the ‘romantic’ socialist realist aesthetic that the Yugoslav film industry was founded upon, which served heuristic and propagandistic purposes and was designed to avoid abstract experimentation, as was clearly mandated in Vuc programme (Goulding 1985: 9). The most vital issue for the Black Wave ˇo’s film-makers was confronting the constructs and confines of the state and its ‘orthodox’ tendencies from the perspective of the new generation. Though the Black Wave film-makers struggled against dogmatism they were not anticommunists – they simply wanted a better socialism with equality and freedom for all. Dušan Makavejev was born in 1932 in Belgrade, Serbia – later the capital of Yugoslavia. Around the time he finished high school he became involved with Belgrade Kino Club when it was established in 1950 (Babac 2001: 7), where he programmed silent films and taught courses in cinema studies. Makavejev also began making shorts at the club, his first effort a documentary completed in 1953 entitled Jatagan mala/The Sword. He entered the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Belgrade where he graduated with a degree in psychology in 1955. That same year Makavejev enrolled in the Academy of Theatre, Film, Radio and Television as part of the directing group. Živojin Pavlovic’ was born in 1933 in Šabac, Serbia. He moved to Belgrade as a young man and began his studies in 1949 at the Academy of Applied Arts where he focused on decorative painting. Upon graduating in 1959 he joined the Belgrade Kino Club and also the Academic Kino Club where he began making his early film shorts. Pavlovic’’s first production was an experimental film called Triptih o materiji i smrti/Tryptych on Matter and Death (1960). Jovan Jovanovic’ was born in Belgrade in 1940. He studied classical philosophy at the Faculty of Philosophy in the University of Belgrade. Jovanovic’ enrolled at the Academy of Theatre, Film, Radio and Television as part of the directing group in 1961, where his professor was the Black Wave film-maker Aleksandar Petrovic’. In 1964 for a class exercise he completed a socially-critical documentary film entitled Studentski grad/Students City, among his first directing efforts. One of the strategies utilized by these and other Black Wave film-makers to achieve a transformation in the audience from passive viewers/citizens to active agents of change is the use of the political speech. This is the most


Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic

concrete and immediate symbol of rhetoric – its most basic channel of expression. Pavlovic’ opens his 1958 essay ‘U traganju za pravim simbolom/The Search for Direct Symbols’ (Franic’ 2002: 163) with a quotation from Albert Camus (1991) from his philosophical essay ‘Le Mythe de Sisyphe/The Myth of Sisyphus’: ‘A symbol always transcends the one who makes use of it and makes him say in reality more than he is aware of expressing.’ The transcendent power of the political speech as a symbol is utilized by the Black Wave film-makers to give their rhetoric more of a charge and to express the theme, or logic, of their Methodical Marxist outlook, best described by Camus in the closing lines of the same essay: ‘The struggle itself […] is enough to fill a man’s heart’ (Camus 1991: 123). This struggle of opinions was designed to produce a ruthless critique of the system that structured Yugoslavia, which was an exposé on contemporary reality, necessary if society was to be improved and a better life crafted for all – especially those who were not ‘red bourgeoisie’, as the ruling party functionaries were commonly labelled by the oppositional mindset. The Black Wave film-making system was bait for constructive critical action on the part of the masses to challenge the apparatchiks. This baiting was recognized for what it was by the party functionaries, which is why many of the Black Wave films and film-makers were attacked and persecuted – because they offered a rhetoric of revolution and a rejection of the status quo. After his debut film Mlad i zdrav kao ruža/Young and Healthy as a Rose (1971) was denied a theatrical release because it was deemed to be a provocative film that went against the system, Jovanovic’ was unable to direct another feature-length film for thirteen years. Makavejev fled the country after his film WR: Misterije organizma/WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971) was held back from general release. Pavlovic’ had the notoriety of his first feature-length film, the omnibus work Grad/The City (1963), being the only one in the history of Yugoslav cinema to suffer an official court-ordered ban; he also was removed from his job as a professor of film directing at the Academy of Theatre, Film, Radio and Television in 1973. If the logic of political speeches in Black Wave films was something they held in common, their content (or subject) differed. Black Wave films expressed varying topics but with a similar thematic structure (and differing formal constructs). Films of particular concern in this study present the symbol of political speechmaking in this rhetorical/polemical context. We can now turn to an analysis of the films; first, in the area of content, or rhetoric, in an attempt to elucidate the contemporary issues that were important to the filmmakers in question; after that, film language, or form, to understand how style supports substance.

Young and Healthy as a Rose (an old Serbian expression meaning someone who is vigorous and prosperous) tells the story of a wayward criminal and his life on the streets of Belgrade, concluding with a speech that is delivered as a direct camera address. This speech is aimed at the audience beyond the film frame, allowing for a very immediate (and reflexive) presentation. Stevan (Dragan Nikolic’), the protagonist of the film, grabs a microphone and comments briefly on the ending of the film which he has just enacted and which we have just witnessed. He calls the ending a very ‘just’ conclusion, in which the gangster (Stevan himself) meets his demise in a hail of police bullets in classical Hollywood fashion. With satirical irony he also mentions


Greg DeCuir, Jr.

the exciting though educational aspects of the film, which he says is how his father would describe it, further linking to the hegemonic and patriarchal Hollywood tradition (and its production code during the classical era, which mandated social justice that was often realized in an educational, didactic manner) while also criticizing the corresponding Yugoslav tradition. He next refers directly to gangsters in classical films and how it is common for them to die there, though something that is not always the case in real life. Finally, he calls into question the convention of the happy ending in cinema and leaves the viewer with one final thought: ‘I am your future.’ This is a warning from the new generation to the old. Young and Healthy as a Rose becomes an outwardly polemical film at this and other points. It presents a picture of restless youth who are eager to dominate society, to sweep away the conventions and morals of their father’s generation. The final statement of the film is that youth will indeed be served. Youth as a concept represents something beautiful, like a rose, while everything old in the film represents authority, conformity – something to be rebelled against, to be corrected. The rhetoric of youth is a rhetoric of survival of the fittest, which often means the youngest and the healthiest. The revolutionary message is clear as well as the matching revolutionary form – following from that, the counter-revolutionary action of the older generation in suppressing the film, which was held back from general release, as was WR: Mysteries of the Organism that same year. Near the opening of the second act in the film WR: Mysteries of the Organism the protagonist Milena (played by the actress Milena Dravic’, an attempt to blur the boundary between documentary and fiction through the use of her real name) delivers an impassioned speech from her apartment building balcony addressed to her neighbours. Her primary subject is sexual liberation, which she equates to revolutionary activity and potential. She is a proponent of free love and a Reichian (the ‘WR’ in the title of the film has a dual significance: the Austrian-born sexual psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and also the phrase ‘world revolution’) of the opinion that abstinence is counter-revolutionary. Milena briefly polemicizes against trusting the press, among other things, saying there can be no conflict between socialism and physical love. Picking up where the film Young and Healthy as a Rose left off she also argues that frustrating the youth sexually will force them to resort to other illicit thrills such as burglary, violence, alcoholism and political riots. This statement evokes the orgy of violence seen at the conclusion of Young and Healthy as a Rose when angry youths invade Hotel Yugoslavia, turn it into a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, then engage in a wild shootout with police forces. Her reference to political riots recalls the Belgrade student movements against institutional corruption in 1968 and also the Prague Spring, thus grounding her rhetoric in a concrete analysis of history. The sexual revolution is equated with a free world erased of crime and other ills of society – in short, with paradise. Sexual repression is linked with destructive fascist regimes; those who cannot freely achieve an orgasm search for a dangerously powerful surrogate – power itself. Thus, she argues, the attraction of unfulfilled souls to politics and their mad grab for personal, public, ideological and practical wealth. Milena’s speech ends with the neighbours embracing hands and collectively singing about life not being worth a thing without love. Though this spontaneous eruption into song truncates her speech, the theme of the song supports Milena’s rhetoric of sexual release (also functioning as an example of such a release). Therefore, her success as a


Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic

polemicist is confirmed and her power (or potency) as a rhetorician consummated. She has sparked her audience kinetically toward a course of action. In the following section we will analyse how Makavejev likewise attempts to spark his viewing audience using a very unique filmic language. The film Neprijatelj/The Enemy (Pavlovic’, 1965) is based on the 1846 novella The Double by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It presents a practical plea for help in the ironic guise of a political speech. The rhetoric is one of solidarity; the polemics, a call to kinetic action. The film opens with the protagonist Slobodan Antic’ (Bata Živojinovic’) standing on top of a supply truck calling out to his co-workers for support in completing a task. The name Slobodan translates into English as ‘free’ which, when considered against his slavish dedication to work, is deeply ironic. He needs help unloading the large spools of printing paper for the press that he works for, but his pleas fall on deaf ears. In fact, his pleas are met with humour and derision. When Slobodan changes tactics, asking what happens if it rains or snows, his co-workers fail to see any urgency in this new message. Instead, it is every man for himself, especially after hours. This rhetoric of solidarity is resisted on all fronts, even as the exiting factory workers momentarily crowd around the truck to watch Slobodan plead helplessly. This is not a passive audience – they border on the antagonistic in their taunting attacks. Their excuses for not wanting to help range from having kids at home to take care of to wondering who will pay for the overtime if they stop to assist. The revolutionary rhetoric that produces a logic of collectivity is met with opposition through a conflicting rhetoric of individual (bourgeois) concerns. Slobodan comments on this when he mentions that the book they are printing must be a false one, being that it comes from a ‘revolutionary press’. This explicit criticism of (self-managing) socialism and the mythic ideology of the valiant worker is forwarded very strongly here in this opening pre-credit sequence. The reception of this speech is frustrated and blunted on a second, ironic level. Union members exiting a meeting see the commotion surrounding Slobodan from a distance and write it off as some anti-state political speech. Their indifference to what they see as hackneyed rhetoric and weak polemics indicates the fact that speeches of this type were common at the time and nothing to be considered too seriously. Of course, this indifference also implies an indifference to dogmatic socialist ideology. One of the union members even says to Slobodan, ‘All you do is talk and talk. Who’s gonna pay for overtime?’ Again, revolutionary rhetoric does not outweigh capitalist aspirations. This could be a commentary on the inadequacy of rhetoric or it could be a commentary on the inadequacy of the people to make accurate value judgements based on rhetoric. In fact, the inherent critical commentary here hits on both points equally, which produces the second layer of irony – what the union members hastily and mistakenly ignore and mislabel really is an anti-state political speech. As depicted in the film there is no unity, no brotherhood and no honour in work. The revolution is flawed and so is socialism. This speech is in line with the basic polemical structure of the Black Wave in general, which agitates critically against a dogmatic ideology, society and film form. We have been concerned with the first two up until this point; what follows is an analysis of the language of this rhetoric as film aesthetics. After the opening sequence in The Enemy, the credit sequence begins and depicts Slobodan struggling to unload the huge paper spools off of the truck by himself – at one point slicing his hand open accidentally as a result of the difficulty. Continuing with the theme of individual struggle versus solidarity


Greg DeCuir, Jr.

initially presented as a dialectical opposition of logic, the first shot of the film post-credits depicts the factory porter reading a newspaper entitled Jedinstvo, which translates to ‘Unity’. However, furthering the rhetorical critique of this ideology, the porter is situated in the frame alone. Not only that, he is placed in a frame within the frame, as the glass box he works in isolates him from his fellow workers and the rest of the society he is supposed to share ‘unity and brotherhood’ with. That unity and brotherhood is depicted as a questionable ideal in the opening sequence. Slobodan is consistently placed in a one-shot, as those he delivers his speech to are gathered together in various wide shots. The classical shot-reverse-shot pattern that the sequence utilizes thus has rhetorical implications, reinforcing the theme presented polemically through film language (content precedes and conditions form). The mise-en-scène of this sequence appropriates the traditional/classical form of a political speech – though this is something of an anti-speech, an ironic presentation of a speech. Slobodan is standing on the bed of his truck amidst the large spools of paper he has to unload. At this early stage of the film he is physically associated with the printing press he works for – one can even say he is symbiotically joined with this press. First appearing among the large paper spools as if he is aligned with them, in a later scene he is merged with the machinery of the press before he steps from behind its totally obscuring view when the factory director calls out his name. Slobodan is one with the machine – the blood on his injured hand that he pays no mind to is, to him, as ink is to the press. Slobodan stands above his audience when speaking to them and they must look up to regard him. He inhabits a position of authority – though in reality he has no authority and no persuasive rhetorical ability, which is another ironic juxtaposition. This initial irony creates a subsequent level of irony when the union members mistake his pleas for a political speech. Mise-en-scène, or film language, creates the conditions of this logic. In Pavlovic’’s written film theory he stated that ‘dimension is found in artwork through expressiveness’, which is evidenced in the symbolic visual expressiveness marking this particular scene; he also wrote that this expressiveness as ‘raw and unfinished pictures have the strongest associative ability, and towards that, the strongest destructive power’ (Pavlovic’ 1969a: 67). A revolutionary destructiveness is an ideal to be achieved in Pavlovic’ian cinema. By the crude and raw presentation of the aesthetics of the political speech, an association, or belief, in those aesthetics ignites their ironic destruction (or deconstruction) in meaning as well. Milena’s rhetoric in WR: Mysteries of the Organism also appropriates the form of a political speech, this time with the matching content devoid of any irony. The apartment building she lives in has four levels with an atrium that grants visual access to each floor. Milena lives on the third and delivers her speech from there, leaning over the railing so that all of her neighbours can see and hear her. As her rhetoric becomes increasingly fiery a crowd begins to grow on all of the levels, cheering her on when they hear points they agree with. Much like the speech in The Enemy, Milena inhabits a higher physical plane than most of her audience – save for the ones residing on her floor and above it. As a result, a great deal of the audience must gaze upwards to regard her. The camera consistently frames her from below on the ground level in an upward axis, sometimes in a level shot from the same floor – but never from above in a high-angle shot. This mise-en-scène serves to empower Milena, as is the norm in cinematic language when low-angle shots create an aggrandizing effect when


Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic

looking upwards at their subjects. This empowering position of authority adds visual potency to her polemics and her persuasive rhetoric realizes its intended effect of leading the audience kinetically towards a course of action. At a certain point in the scene Milena is framed in a close-up and delivers her speech as a direct camera address. This reinforces the point that her true intended audiences are those of us residing beyond the film frame, who must ultimately be affected by her critical challenge. Milena clothes herself in symbols of power and authority by delivering this speech while dressed in an army jacket, army cap emblazoned with a Partisan red star and boots – a uniform which she borrows from a Yugoslav National Army soldier who is affecting his own sexual revolution in the bedroom of her roommate. The fact that Milena wears no trousers, only a nightgown, visually fuses the revolutionary sexual content of her rhetoric to the appropriate revolutionary garb of power. Again, film language has been utilized to make content all the more expressive and dimensional. A reflexive film language not only kinaesthetically cements the course of action that the audience is stirred to but also furthers the rhetoric in a cinematic manner. This is achieved by Makavejev’s editing method in WR: Mysteries of the Organism, which goes by the name ‘Serbian cutting’. Serbian cutting as a theoretical conception was created by the Black Wave screenwriter and film critic Branko Vuc ’evic’ in his book Paper Movies (1998). Its original intention ˇic was humorous. Vuc ’evic’ (who worked on two films with Makavejev) felt that ˇic if Serbs are fond of slaughtering people, there must be a method of film cutting that corresponds. This method was elaborated on and defined as ‘using existing material, as in archive footage, to substitute as original footage within a scene in a film’ (Vuc ’evic’ 1998). To this end the usual (though not only) ˇic form of Serbian cutting is an interjection of illustrative documentary material into the dramaturgy of a fiction film as a surrogate, producing an ideological effect through dialectical alternation. The audience of neighbours locks hands and begins dancing up the stairs and across the floors while singing the praises of sex and that life without love is nothing, finally reaching Milena and absorbing her into their train of theory and practice. When Milena forms the final link in the human chain of solidarity while approaching the camera she suddenly reaches out and grasps the hand of the cameraman, thus absorbing the viewer, as the camera can be seen to reflect our point of view. This moment stands as a concrete example of how Black Wave film-makers attempted to aim polemics directly at an audience in an effective manner to bring about revolutionary action. The Black Wave film literally reaches out to the viewer, fracturing the screen’s fourth wall in an attempt to build bridges. After this initial reflexive pull at the audience Makavejev cuts in a rhetorical pattern that creates another reflexive pull – the next shot arrives as a result of a match cut in action and image but comprised of a huge disjunction in space and time. We are immediately shuttled to Peking’s Red Square in China and a huge demonstration in support of Chairman Mao. On the exact same axis of the previous shot, walking in the same screen direction along an elevated floor beside a balcony, are Mao and a few party officials. This documentary footage plays under the continued sound of the Serbian chanting, creating a dialectical opposition. The fiction film is given a documentary correlative in reality as we witness the massive Chinese crowd surging forward with their little red books held high. Makavejev delivers a critical underscoring and warning to his previous attempt to ignite a course


Greg DeCuir, Jr.

of action: what starts as a spark can quickly grow into an unchecked revolutionary inferno with misguided principles and disastrous outcomes (as was the case with Mao’s Cultural Revolution). The power of Serbian cutting as a practice, as cinematic rhetoric, is expressed here. The alternation between fictional footage and documentary actuality footage produces a third logic that is greater than the sum of its parts, yet is able to maintain a continuity of form through discontinuity. This is radical montage cinema, dialectical materialist cinema, and if we are now utilizing a formalist theoretical approach to gain an understanding and gauge the effectiveness of Makavejev’s and others’ methods in film language, it is because, as the literary critic Northrop Frye (1957) has stated, ‘We cannot judge a quality of style by choice of subject-matter. The real difference is rather in the conception of the sentence.’ In Young and Healthy as a Rose the visual conventions of the political speech are abandoned entirely. What we are left with instead is a complete appropriation of the documentary form to forward rhetoric. This is another reflexive moment that fractures the dramatic unity of the film and the seamless representation that it adheres to in a (post-)classical manner. The fracturing is indebted to the filmic criticism that is part of the polemical approach of the Black Wave film. In fact, the protagonist Stevan even engages in a bit of film criticism himself by rendering an analysis of the dramaturgy that he has presented. That this analysis is offered in a documentary presentation, a representation of reality is thus used to give extra weight to the rhetoric in question. Stevan holds a microphone much like a television news reporter, delivering his speech in a direct camera address; he is framed in a loose, handheld manner that recalls the conventions of cinéma-vérité, or direct cinema. Television journalism is also hinted at, particularly a contemporary Yugoslav news magazine programme called Aktuelnosti/Actuality. This scene plays out while Stevan and his friends from the film sit at a café on the streets of Belgrade. Reality has bled over into the film – to the point where that is all that remains, drama being entirely wiped clean from the screen. This is highlighted by the fact that in the previous shot Stevan is stumbling towards his doom after being hit by gunfire – but he does not fall or die. Instead he enters a wide ray of sunlight that causes a large lens flare that obscures him, immediately followed by a cut to a young and healthy Stevan sitting at a café with his friends. This is not quite a cinematic resurrection, as he did not reach the moment of death in the previous shot, but it is a renewal. The politics of that renewal is Stevan’s final statement, ‘I am your future.’ The implication is clear: this form of rhetoric, these youths, will inherit the nation and the world. Also, these directionless youths reflect the cycle of futility and deceit (while also being victimized by it) that would eventually bring down the entire country of Yugoslavia. If rhetoric is an aesthetic and style is the man, rhetoric evolves over time. It changes as it grows. What was once young and healthy can become old and dangerous. So this final comment is loaded with significance. The revolutionary youths of Young and Healthy as a Rose in the early 1970s became the politicians and party functionaries that presided over the wars of secession in the former Yugoslavia. The youths broke with the traditions of their fathers, the traditions of unity and brotherhood – but not in a way that was consistent with their original Marxist humanist ideal. This disastrous break is augured in Jovanovic’’s film, which ultimately proves to be very uncanny in its prediction of the future.


Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic

The climax of the film features the unruly youths inhabiting the symbolic Hotel Yugoslavia by force, by the barrel of a gun. They destroy themselves in a wild firefight with the authorities that explodes into all-out war. Polemical rhetoric is politics and politics is war without guns. War is politics with guns. The rhetoric presented in Young and Healthy as a Rose animates itself and comes to life, through a documentary aesthetic and through the course of time in reality.

Babac, Marko (2001), Kino-klub ‘Beograd’/Belgrade Kino Club, Belgrade, Serbia: Jugoslovenska kinoteka. Camus, Albert (1991), The Myth of Sisyphus, and Other Essays, New York: Vintage Books. Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2008), The Double, Stilwell, KS: Publishing. – Franic’, Severin M. (ed.) (2002), Svodenje racuna: jugoslovenska filmska misao ˇ 1896–1996/Final Account: Yugoslav Film Thought 1896–1996, Belgrade, Serbia: Ne & Bo/Yu Film danas. Frye, Northrop (1957), Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Gorky, Maxim (1977), Soviet Writers’ Congress 1934, London: Lawrence and Wishart. Goulding, Daniel J. (1985), Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Jovanovic’, Jovan (1964), Studentski grad/Students City, SFRY: Academy of Theatre, Film, Radio and Television. —— (1971), Mlad i zdrav kao ruža/Young and Healthy as a Rose, SFRY: Dunav Film. Lukács, György (1971 [orig. in German 1922]), History and Class Consciousness, London: The Merlin Press Ltd. Makavejev, Dušan (1953), Jatagan mala/Little Sword, SFRY: Kino klub Beograd. —— (1971), WR: Misterije organizma/WR: Mysteries of the Organism, SFRY: Neoplanta Film. Milne, Tom (ed.) (1972), Godard on Godard, New York: Da Capo Press. Pavlovic’, Živojin (1960), Triptih o materiji i smrti/Tryptych on Matter and Death, SFRY: Akademski kino klub. —— (1965), Neprijatelj/The Enemy, SFRY: Viba Film. —— (1969a), Ðavolji film/Devil Film, Belgrade, Serbia: Institut za film. Pavlovic’, Živojin, Babac, Marko and Rakonjac, Kokan (1963), Grad/The City, SFRY: Sutjeska Film. Tucker, Robert C. (ed.) (1978), The Marx-Engels Reader, Revised Edition, New York and London: W.W. Norton and Co. Vorkapich, Slavko (1998), On True Cinema, Belgrade, Serbia: Faculty of Dramatic Arts. Vuc’ievic’, Branko (1998), Paper Movies, Belgrade and Zagreb, Serbia and Croatia: Arkzin and B 92.

DeCuir, Jr., G. (2010), ‘Black Wave polemics: rhetoric as aesthetic’, Studies in Eastern European Cinema 1: 1, pp. 85–96, doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.85/1


Greg DeCuir, Jr.

Greg DeCuir, Jr. is a doctoral student at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade where he is writing a dissertation on the history of Yugoslav cinema. He holds a BA in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an MA in Cinematic Arts from the University of Southern California. Mr DeCuir works as an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Media and Communications at Singidunum University (Belgrade) and as an independent documentary film-maker. Contact: Faculty of Dramatic Arts, Bulevar umetnosti 20, 11070, Novi Beograd, Serbia. E-mail:


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 97–107 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.97/7

CATHERINE PORTUGES University of Massachusetts Amherst

Conversation with Yvette Biró: interviews conducted in Paris, 5 July 2008, and New York City, 1 November 2008
Essayist, theorist, screenwriter and Professor Emerita at New York University’s Kanbar Institute of Film and Television, Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Division, Yvette Biró has inspired viewers, students, film scholars, film-makers and readers throughout the world. Her books and essays, translated into French, Chinese, Czech, German, Greek and Slovenian, among other languages, include Turbulence and Flow in Film: The Rhythmic Design (2008); The Metamorphosis of the Image (2003); To Dress a Nude: Exercises in Imagination (1998, first published in French as Habiller un nu – de l’imagination au scénario (La FEMIS, 1996), and in Hungarian as Egy akt felöltöztetése (Osiris Kiadó, 1996)); Festina Lente: In


Catherine Portuges

Praise of Slowness (1997); The Seventh Art (1997); The Order of Disorder (1993); Filmkultura 65/67 (collected essays) (1991); Profane Mythology: The Savage Mind of the Cinema (1982); Miklós Jancsó (1977); The Dramatic Structure of Film (1968); and The Language of Film (1964). These magisterial texts, at once complex and devoid of jargon, traverse disciplinary boundaries from philosophy and literature to art history, aesthetics, music and film culture. Whether foregrounding Kiarostami or Kieslowski, Agnès Varda or Gus Van Sant, Wim Wenders, Béla Tarr or Wong Kar-wai, they argue in favour of an international cinema of resistance, of silence, of contemplation and reverie. In her native Hungary and in international co-productions, Yvette Biró has collaborated with major directors including Zoltán Fábri (Late Season/Utószezon, 1966); Twenty Hours/Husz Óra (1965, Grand Prix, Moscow International Festival); Károly Makk, Márta Mészáros, Agnieszka Holland, George Sluizer (The Stone Raft (2002), based on the novel by Nobel laureate Jose Saramago), and Miklós Jancsó (Winter Wind/Téli sirokkó (1969)); The Confrontation/Fényes szelek (1968); Agnus Dei (1970); Red Psalm/Még kér a nép (1972, Grand Prix du Jury, Cannes); Thomas Harlan (Wundkanal: Execution for Four Voices (1984), Reader Jury Prize, Berlin Film Festival); and Sudhir Mishra (Twist with Destiny/ Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi (2003), India/France). Biró’s screenwriting collaboration with Kornél Mundruczó includes Delta (2007, Grand Prize Golden Reel and Gene Moskowitz Foreign Critics Award, 39th Hungarian Film Week; FIPRESCI Prize, Cannes Film Festival (2008); Johanna (2005, Best Director, Hungarian Film Critics Award); and Pleasant Days/Szép Napok (2002, Silver Leopard, Locarno). Now residing in Paris, Yvette Biró has been visiting professor at Stanford and Berkeley, and at universities in Budapest, Paris and Jerusalem; she frequently conducts master classes in screenwriting in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia. The recipient of numerous awards and distinctions in each of the fields in which she has worked, she served as vice-president of FIPRESCI from 1970 to 1977. After twenty years of exile, she was awarded the Béla Balázs Prize for Life Achievement in Cinematography in 1995. CP: Your most recent book, Turbulence and Flow in Film, focuses on temporality as a primary element of film-making, on the ways in which rhythm endows cinema with its particular power through the flux and progression of images and the pacing of narrative. What did you wish to express that also is reflected in Delta? There seems to be an intimate link between these extremes or polarities. I’m especially interested in the connections between your generation and that of younger film-makers today. YB: There are two major questions here, both deserve an answer. For the first – the sense of time and rhythm in contemporary film-making – my intention came out almost as a cry against the hysterical speed of action films. I wanted to remind us of the values of human emotions, contradictions, complexities, calling attention to the calm and patience we need for a deeper understanding. In Delta, we consciously emphasized these oftenneglected features. Regarding the generation gap, yes, I dare say that there is a huge difference between mine and the contemporary one. My generation grew up with the excitement and pleasure of the discovery of the New Wave, of Antonioni, the Czech films of the 1960s, with the great challenge to classical storytelling, and tried to find a freer approach in terms of style, mise-en-scène, subject matter,


Conversation with Yvette Biró

performance – in fact, what film as an art has to contribute to contemporary culture. That period was the peak of modern film history, and my generation was inebriated by it. In Eastern Europe, it was further coloured by a social and moral urge to refuse a kind of official orthodox conception of film, to try to be at once personal while at the same time touching upon the most intense dissatisfaction and anxiety of a whole society and its ruling order. We called this refusal ‘democratic opposition’ and raised our voices against the prevailing repression and limitation of free speech. In Filmkultura, a journal I founded and edited, we tried to touch upon those taboo issues, to talk about the needs and pain and restrictions of personal and public life, risking the punishments that followed. Once it was no longer the artists’ subversive and audacious task to promulgate the goals of democracy, film-making lost something of its earlier fantastic power and opportunity to be the leading art that it had been during those years. It became something more common, closer to entertainment, which is not a bad thing or something to blame. Regrettably, however, the sense of a higher inspiration is very rare as a kind of primary need. There is no longer an everyday battlefield in the arena of film-making. Political struggle is no longer the privilege of the artistic endeavour. Something has been achieved, but something has also been lost. The exceptional role of film in the 1960s and 1970s worldwide is no longer prevalent. But, on the other hand, you still have to find your audience and understand how to address them with issues they’re concerned with, even though not necessarily on a daily basis, and sadly too often this can mean a loss of quality. It is understandable that film-makers today have to meet the needs of their own public, but it shouldn’t have to mean giving up taste and meaning. I’ve always believed that film has the right to play on different registers, some deliberately more ambitious than others. Making a good comedy is demanding and not easy. Moviegoers today are mostly very young, and there’s no reason to underestimate their needs, even though they’re so attracted to popular entertainment. There is still room for intriguing enterprises, not only the cheap or the vulgar. Technology, of course, has changed the whole structure of the role of film in society, and its potential is far from being exhausted. The surprising and the imaginative should and will find new genres and forms. CP: You’ve been collaborating with Kornél Mundruczo since 2001 on several film projects (Pleasant Days/Szép Napok (2002); Johanna (2005); Delta (2008)). You’ve also been instrumental in launching and encouraging the film-making careers of many younger directors such as Marcell Iványi, whose short subject Wind/Szél (Hungary, 1996) won the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film at the Cannes Film Festival. Ivanyi has said that you create an ideal setting for writing through your charismatic energy. YB: When I first saw Kornél’s diploma film, Aphta/Day after Day (2000), a short subject (which won several international awards), I was surprised by the ‘nothingness’ of the story and the subtle richness of the fine observations, so characteristic of today’s marginalized adolescents (all non-professionals, of course), with their unspoken desires, confusion and painful restlessness. The film was almost silent, the experience was expressed only in gestures and physical movements. Our ongoing dialogue started at that time, about seven years ago. When he started to prepare his feature film, he asked me to collaborate on it as well, first as a mentor and then as a consultant on Pleasant


Catherine Portuges

Days, and as a co-author on Johanna. For Delta, we decided to share the writing process and the elaboration of the idea. The drama, the tragic, sudden death of the original lead actor, Lajos Bertók, during the first half of the production process obviously affected us, and we immediately understood that if ever we wanted to recommence it, we had to radically depart from the more classical Electra story of Euripides, with its murder of the father that has to be avenged. Simplifying the plot entailed, of course a radical change of tone and style. We were striving for excessive simplicity. Not so incidentally, I had just published an essay, ‘The Fullness of Minimalism’, in Rouge (no. 9, 2006) which very much preoccupied not only me but also influenced both of us in the work on the film. CP: You have said that Mundruczó was the most brilliant participant in a workshop you conducted at the Hungarian Film Academy. Your discussion of his Diploma film, Aphta – his first prize-winning short film – began the substantial dialogue that endures today in your close collaboration. How would describe his creative process and your working relationship? YB: We start our ‘reaming’ process by thinking about interesting human characters who have a destiny, a path they have to follow. We try to imagine their behaviour, movements and motivations, sometimes even writing a whole CV of their origins, relationships. At first we don’t set up formal plots. I believe it is very important that, coming from the world of theatre, Kornél has had extensive acting experience. He instinctively senses the inner dynamics of action; he pays attention to the emotions and passions as they work ‘underneath’ at each moment. He looks for the most telling gesture as it embodies the latent turmoil of the characters. What is concealed and startling has to come through the smallest sign. Our discussions revolve around these aspects, and the final meaning has to spring out of this palpable vision, when suddenly a kind of model takes shape, in a distinct design, a living structure, a recognizable ‘topos’. One of our perhaps distant but nonetheless important inspirations in Delta was the Heinrich von Kleist novella, The Earthquake in Chile/Das Erdbeben in Chili (1878) with its cruel and unexpected ending when, after the relief of exoneration, a terribly evil indictment occurs. As in classical drama the denouement carries out a tragic destiny. Which also means that in our revised story the ‘moral’ has changed: instead of a justified revenge, we wanted to focus on the injury caused by a suddenly ravaging intolerance. CP: In Mundruczó’s artistic development, which film-makers would you say have been most influential thus far? YB: There have been two basic masters: Bresson and Ozu, although Fassbinder is of substantial importance to him as well. Absolute de-dramatization was the major principle of Bresson. In our collaboration on Delta, we wanted to emphasize that, as in Mouchette (1967, based on the novel of Georges Bernanos), the dramatic conflict and the conditions that lead the girl to suicide are never dramatized, only touched upon. The viewer has to put together the allusions, the bits of information, and when we arrive at the ending, the death becomes the inevitable yet somehow unexpected solution. CP: The primal, poetic tragedy of Delta follows the unwelcome return of a prodigal son, his incestuous relationship with his sister, and their attempt to build themselves


Conversation with Yvette Biró

a house in the middle of a river, far away from everybody else, to celebrate their freedom. What was the point of departure for making Delta? YB: Kornél first discovered the landscape (the Romanian Danube delta) and felt deeply that it called for a film. He made two short film études of its stillness and dangerous beauty, its non-idyllic yet more mysterious nature. Since distances there are so vast that people cannot easily communicate, that landscape evokes solitude, even threat. Everything is so isolated and far away, which makes you feel a sense of non-belonging. Buying timber takes almost a full day, which is why the girl has to sleep in their father’s once-abandoned shack for the first time. But we only understand this from a short sentence. These are subtleties – nothing is really spelt out. There is rape here, too, as in Mouchette, but it remains deliberately so much in the background that the spectator has to feel it from the distance, without lingering on the terrible action. CP: What were your reasons for bringing Bresson’s work to Kornél’s attention in making this film? YB: I felt that Bresson would be indispensable to the process of absorbing the film. For the purity – it’s so shining, it’s more dramatic than anything else, more than huge confrontations or expressions of fury or turbulence. In their unadorned simplicity, actions and events are almost sacred. In Mouchette the whole narrative is like a flow, which inspired the title of my book, Turbulence and Flow in Film: the Rhythmic Design. And the turbulence that lies just below the surface throughout creates a feeling of foreboding. I think that also in Delta the ambiance is constantly menacing, although not explicitly so. We feel the stepfather’s hostility, his harshness, but little is shown directly. CP: Were you inspired by other film-makers as well? YB: We ‘studied’ A Story of Floating Weeds (1959) and others by Yasujiro Ozu, in which the events are about everyday life, the conflicts beneath, without any special emphasis. Nothing theatrical, again, it’s the lack of strong dramatic accents, the flow that we were so fond of. Since we had the water – the Danube – the stream of images seemed natural. But by the end, the development had to become much more fragmented, creating a different tone and rhythm. This aspect was already in the script, but to realize it was a bit more complex. It’s my custom never to go to the shoot; it is and has always been Kornél’s work. With Miklós Jancsó, I did go on location because everything was created on the spot, through camera movement. Here, on the other hand, I followed it through e-mail and by telephone. I might be partly responsible for the specific approach and mood, but he’s the director and has to be given, with my great pleasure and confidence, this freedom. We discussed to what extent the expected evenness, the steady current (a defining characteristic of Bresson’s and Ozu’s film-making) could be acceptable to a wider public who might find it boring, hoping this smoothness would be rewarding, and that the visual part would be so sensuous, caressing, particularly with its troubling undertone, that the film would be engaging. The camera moves as the water flows, tenderly. On the other hand, so much of the film’s time is dedicated to the physical work of building the house that it brings about another aspect of the couple’s life – it becomes the tie that binds them together. No reason to deny the symbolic nature of this house-building – creating a free, independent home is the dream of people longing for liberty.


Catherine Portuges

CP: How did you work out the structure of the dialogue, then? YB: The dialogue is a work of progressive reduction – at the beginning it was much more written, and we constantly minimized it. He said: I think I’ll cut this part, and I said, do it. I can see the gesture, the composition of the miseen-scène, so there’s no reason to discuss it. Cut it, cut it! When we got to the editing, a lot was eliminated, because we realized that, by itself, the scene was strong enough without comment or verbal explanation. CP: How is this way of working different from other experiences you’ve had with directors? YB: It is different, because it is not very common to have this kind of close exchange. My other relatively recent experience was the Jose Saramago story, The Stone Raft (1996), in which I had a more initiating role. I discovered the book, wrote the screenplay out of passionate love, without a director in mind, and the master writer gave me full permission for everything. It was not easy to find the appropriate director, but in the end George Sluizer, a successful and intelligent person, faithfully followed the unusual, poetic story. CP: Can you talk a bit more about how you and Kornél work together as screenwriter and director? We discuss a lot and we discover from our long, long conversations what seems to be authentic, memorable. It’s an eternal dialogue that elucidates on both sides things that weren’t strong, or clear enough, before. Usually he has a more or less vague dream. But by discussing and questioning, then changing, restarting, omitting, we go recurrently all along the knots and decisive moments. The power of the ambience, the hidden emotions have to prevail. We work according to the inevitable rule: first building up, expanding the fabric and later cutting it away, peeling it off. So it’s not a one-way process. He needs a partner to discuss, to explain and imagine what he wants, and to listen to the impact. If I say no, that doesn’t work, we’ll find another solution. And then he asks: can you tell me in one sentence what it’s all about, the kind of core, the substance that sums it up? Tell me – and since I can feel it and I’m used to expressing myself in words, I can do that! It helps define the focus of the scene. CP: In your teaching at NYU and the many master classes in screenwriting and workshops and seminars you’re invited to give around the world, what concerns, fears and aspirations expressed by your students are particularly striking? What kinds of questions do they ask about your own work in cinema, such as your collaboration with Jancsó and Mészáros? And how does your workshop teaching differ from your classes at NYU? YB: I’d rarely talk about my personal inspirations or approaches. My only piece of advice in this matter could be: listen to your worries, the experiences that bother you, to the ‘pain’ and/or pleasure that doesn’t let you sleep peacefully… And then in class I usually say: forget everything you’ve ever known, read, were taught about film-making. I don’t believe in ironclad dramatic principles, I want to hear what you’re thinking, imagining, dreaming… What do you want to let me feel, what should I experience. And then I can help to clarify it, to define to what extent the little story serves the inner idea. We continue in a dialogue, I listen and discuss, since each


Conversation with Yvette Biró

one needs a different structure, style, tone. I try to follow this inner dream and stand by in the shaping of it – I’m not teaching. I’m listening and then weaving and shaping the piece. Are you aware, I will ask, of the impact of what you’re doing? Is it precisely what you originally wanted? All the changes happen in this ‘dialogical’ way. Ambitious students understand it and like it, I hope that they’ve gained something through this method and therefore may come back to me over and over. CP: You’ve obviously had a profound and lasting impact on film culture for many years. Would you say that you have a particular method or approach to working with your film-making colleagues? YB: I like to listen, discuss and read, so over the years I have found some kindred souls, directors, writers, thinkers with whom I feel close, in different fields, including psychiatrists, neurologists – not exclusively among film people, since I’ve never practised only a single profession. In addition to screenwriting, I’ve written critical essays and books, and taught in many settings. I’ve always combined them, each has helped the other, and I’m sure that without teaching I wouldn’t be so sharp and open, impolite and direct. With the critical essays, I am always affected by the sensual power and impact of the film – it is the emotional force of the movie that excites me, more than the plot. At NYU we have to follow the work with our students to the bitter end, from inception to the finished piece. I am happy to do so and am very familiar with each step and stage. CP: Are there, in your view, significant comparisons to be made between the process of film-making and the art of teaching? How might you characterize your greatest pleasures in each mode? YB: To put my finger on something which affected, touched me. This is a procedure, a process, you attempt to name a complex entity in a meaningful sentence, a specific idea or vision, to define something that has been so unfathomably vague. What intrigues me is how to seize the particular secret of a given work. I want to go for that special feature, the quality that characterizes the director’s or student’s talent, or even a general topic that could make a work unique and significant. That’s why I like to write reviews and critical essays as well. In some cases, it comes down to a single image or metaphor. I’m a ‘film person’ – but hopefully not imprisoned by that category. Painting, literature or music may offer a better way of summarizing the substance. For me, referring to musical terms and compositional elements can be very productive. Godard says, in a beautiful sentence, that to change from a close-up to a long shot is like going in music from flat to sharp – that’s a terrifically fine remark. He’s right that in film if you are aware of these chances and subtleties, your work will be extremely sensible and varied. CP: In Turbulence in Flow in Film you say that Béla Tarr uses only two lenses, two frame scales – the extreme close-up for the face, and the wide shot that contextualizes the environment and distances character. Both are associated with long takes, allowing ‘the elimination of all concrete and realistic descriptions’, as you suggest. What is the significance of this focus for you? YB: Little has been written about the role of rhythm in film, though I believe that it provides the spirit and ambiance of the work: patience and outburst are deeply interrelated. In the book, I tried to suggest that there is no turbulence


Catherine Portuges

without flow, and vice versa – to feel and understand this alternation is the heart of a film. Turbulence is an unexpected accumulation of invisible, growing energies, but it is a consequence, a result of deeply streaming forces. I’m clearly in favour of ‘slow films’. I do believe that we must rediscover the power of peacefulness and calm that rises to the surface, as in Delta. It’s the secret of the dynamics of energy. I adore Bergman, the great master of this psychic realm of unexpected outbursts of hatred and repression, which come out for reasons not logically related to the moment, but from far away. What is the unconscious, after all, if not repression? The lack of awareness, lack of understanding, of acceptance, the falsifying and covering up which after a while will come out – that’s turbulence. It doesn’t necessarily conform to direct intentions or sentiments; it may even seem unjust, as in Delta. It’s not a logical decision but irrepressible passion, emotion – in the end, experienced only physically. CP: And what of the meaning of ‘flow’, in your conceptualization? It’s our need to live life, to enjoy it, to pay attention, to be patient, to be calm, to wait, to wait, to wait. In cinema as in life we have to wait, following ongoing events for something that will definitely happen, there is no seamless unfolding of events. Therefore it is expectation that creates real suspense. The more you can wait and look forward to the next moment that hasn’t yet arrived, the more suspense can grow. Hitchcock does this consciously in a cunning way – playing with delaying techniques. All elements can be present to delay the denouement. Acceleration in modern life has become so aggressive and violent that we have no time for our pain or pleasure, events follow each other so quickly, we want to do everything at once, make love, go to the movies, watch TV – the rhythm of daily life is quite dizzying. It’s a tragedy that makes me want to say: slow down, stop, to become truer and richer in experience. CP: Your life and career have always been in some sense grounded in several cultures and languages at once. What would you say are some of the effects of that multicultural experience with regard to your concerns and inspirations today? YB: I’m trying to talk about art, as a person who came from Eastern Europe and fortunately succeeded in moving around in the larger world. I studied in Budapest and began my career there. When I realized I couldn’t fully accomplish what I wanted there, circumstances brought me to America where I found a totally different world. I enjoyed the freedom and enormous energy that I deeply respect and admire; I found that classical American films had great power, and that they were different from what we in Eastern Europe had imagined. On the other hand, I remained very deeply rooted in European ideas and culture, especially French culture, having spent many years going back and forth. Clearly, the major master film-makers of those days marked my ambitions and taste even today. I was fortunate to be able to benefit from both European and American visual cultures, never claiming or pretending that I could be an American artist, which I’m not. But I’ve learned and absorbed a great deal from living and teaching in the United States and especially meeting so many wonderful young people. And, since the world has become globalized, it’s been fantastic to be in the midst of these cultural influences, including those from Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, which are so important to me.


Conversation with Yvette Biró

CP: So would you say that your artistic and intellectual life has bridged these cultures? YB: I have the fortune or perhaps misfortune of not being rooted in a single culture, having instead lived in many different ones, which has brought me a broad experience as an artist. I could never state that I belong to any of them in particular. As a result, I became a wanderer, enjoying all these new influences, trying to use them in my own way. I’ve worked in Rome, Paris, Jerusalem, Germany, Finland, Istanbul and in India – in many, many places. My curiosity and openness didn’t allow me the option of landing in any one place, nor of claiming that there is one single, particular well-defined idea of the art of film. CP: In what ways, then, does being a wanderer have an impact on your experience as a film-maker? YB: Although there is still of course national film production everywhere, over the last few years it seems to me that the ‘wandering camera’ has become far more frequent. My students go to study and work in Prague, Budapest, Berlin, Beijing, as I do. Because of its mobility – film, after all, was born as a mobile art – it has become ten thousand times more open to travel. I think this is another reason why the boundaries between fiction and documentary are called into question so much today. To discover what’s new, anywhere – in Turkey, in Taiwan – is a fantastic contribution not just to culture but to our lives, to our attitudes. How do we approach things, how do we shape our lives, our children’s lives? What should our world become tomorrow? I have no grand answers to any of this … what’s exciting in drama and film is that you can focus on a small, personal issue. By developing it, you reach out to something larger, more general. You know, for me, Delta is a story about the terrible consequences of the refusal of difference, a story of rejection of the other. Intolerance happens all over the world. One cannot talk about it enough, or show its horrifying impact enough. Irrational hatred, envy and destructiveness are the most intolerable phenomena – their frequency and savagery have become the most scandalous banality of our time. CP: You seem to have a special affinity with and profound understanding of younger people – your students and film-makers. What do you find to be the source of this sustained interest? YB: Because they’re younger, they come from different circumstances and sensibilities. I hope I can learn from them – I ‘exploit’ them! I try to understand their different lives, their affinities, why they choose a story, for instance, what the core of their passion is, and then eventually to help them articulate it. When I came to NYU for the first time, I told them: I’m here to disturb you. I want to shake you up – to have you become restless, excited, to think further and more deeply, not simply do your homework. As you might imagine, this kind of thing was not so popular – here I was, coming from Europe where people are fond of irony, which is natural to me, but not necessarily to them! Yet I really felt that was my mission here – to disturb students. We played the game, ever more joyfully, and I hoped to help them find their own truth. Instead of following rules I say: try to discover who you are – then you’ll have a personal voice that will be unique whether you come from Slovakia or Hong Kong or Turkey, so develop it.


Catherine Portuges

Writing about a film-maker I love comes from the same passion as talking to a student who needs to bring out her own voice, just as I’m looking for the heart or central metaphor of a book, film or piece of music. In my writing, and in my own, unruly way, I may be emotional, biased, even rhetorical, but hopefully more or less consistent. This may sound strange, given all I’ve said, but I’m not patient, I’m not slow, I’m very fast, and maybe this explains my longing for calm and slowness. A paradox? Of course! I believe that we can stop time and in this way bring it closer to our needs and pleasure. I wanted to argue that we can tame time, joyfully – defeat, in some way, the tyranny of passing time.

Figure 1: Yvette Biro.


Conversation with Yvette Biró

Catherine Portuges is Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is the author of Screen Memories: the Hungarian Cinema of Márta Mészáros (l993) and co-editor, with Peter Hames, of Cinema in Transition: Post-Socialist East Central Europe (Temple University Press, 2010). She is guest editor of Kinokultura no. 7 (a special issue on Hungarian cinema) (February 2008) A specialist in European cinema and a frequent festival delegate and programmer, her recent essays have appeared in Projected Shadows: Psychoanalytic Reflections on the Representation of Loss in European Cinema (Routledge, 2007), Structures et Pouvoirs des Imaginaires (L’Harmattan, 2007), Caméra Politique: Cinema et Stalinisme (Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2005), East European Cinemas (Routledge, 2005), The Cinema of Central Europe (Wallflower, 2005), and The Holocaust in Hungary: Sixty Years Later (Columbia, 2006). Contact: University of Massachusetts Amherst, 129 Herter Annex, MA 01003, USA. E-mail:


Transnational Cinemas
ISSN 2040-3550 (2 issues | Volume 1, 2010)

Aims and Scope
Transnational Cinemas has emerged in response to a shift in global film cultures and how we understand them. Dynamic new industrial and textual practices are being established throughout the world and the academic community is responding. Our journal aims to break down traditional geographical divisions and welcomes submissions that reflect the changing nature of global filmmaking.


Call for Papers
Transnational Cinemas covers a vast and diverse range of film related subjects. It provides a new and exciting forum for disseminating research. The editors are seeking articles, interviews, visual essays, reports on film festivals and conferences. Articles should be up to 6,000 words in length and should be written in English, with all quotations translated.

SEEC 1 (1) pp. 109–126 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.109/4


‘THE TIME OF KINGS IS OVER’: HETEROGENEITY IN CONTEMPORARY POLISH CINEMA Polish Postcommunist Cinema: From Pavement Level, New Studies in European Cinema, vol. 4, Ewa Mazierska, (2007), Oxford: Peter Lang, 299 pp., ISBN 978–3039105298 (pbk), £35.00 Reviewed by Kamila Kuc, Birkbeck College, University of London

The United Kingdom rarely witnesses a flood of contemporary Polish films and, exaggerating only slightly, common knowledge has it that the best of Polish cinema ends with Krzysztof Kies ´lowki. Iconic figures such as Andrzej Wajda or Roman Polan ´ski are widely recognized; interestingly, Wajda’s last film to be distributed in the United Kingdom up until the recent Katyn (2008) ´ was Korczak (1990), while the majority of contemporary Polish cinema remains unknown in the United Kingdom. There is a rare occasion to remedy this at Kinoteka – London’s annual Polish film festival. With regard to critical literature, the past few years have witnessed a greater interest in the cinema of Eastern Europe in general and Poland in particular and here Marek Haltof’s book Polish National Cinema (2002) has been a key source; New Polish Cinema, which he co-edited with Joanna Falkowska in 1999, has been out of print for years now. Paul Coates’s The Red and White: Cinema of People’s Poland (2004) and Dina Iordanova’s Cinema of the Other Europe (2003) contribute to a general understanding of Polish cinema and East-Central European film industries for English speakers. In the past years much of the theoretical discourse surrounding Polish cinema was unavailable, due to a lack of translations, and only occasionally did Polish sources appear in English. Nowadays, there are many more books on Polish cinema in English and while they provide insights beneficial to Polish speakers, they often remain untranslated. Let’s hope this



will not be the case with Ewa Mazierska’s latest book, Polish Postcommunist Cinema: From Pavement Level, which joins the pantheon with grace. The publication offers readers a detailed tour of contemporary Polish cinema and the author’s in-depth knowledge, together with thorough research that has apparently lasted ‘as long as postcommunist cinema itself’, all of which makes this book a true gem. From page one it becomes clear that the book is written by a specialist and Mazierska is indeed an established film scholar, having published many articles and books on Polish and European cinema. With regards to English publications on Polish cinema, a few thoughts come to mind, particularly when juxtaposing Mazierska’s latest book and Haltof’s Polish National Cinema. Haltof’s book is an overview of Polish film from the silent era to the late 1990s and while Haltof demonstrates the most characteristic elements of Polish cinema, hence the title, Mazierska goes a step further displaying both its diversity and universality. Mazierska’s survey of Polish postcommunist cinema constituted a new field of exploration for the author herself, as she states: ‘I am searching for the presence of new subjects, ideas, styles and new influences’ (Mazierska 2007: 20). In her attempt ‘to establish what is parochial and what is universal in Polish postcommunist films, what is only of local interest and what appeals to international audiences, as well as what ages quickly and what remains fresh’ (Mazierska 2007: 20), the author offers a detailed account of the subject which still remains terra incognita in film studies. The truly valuable aspect of the book is the author’s familiarity with the history and mechanics of the Polish film industry. Mazierska explains changes that took place post-1989 in production, distribution and exhibition and analyses its impact on filmmakers. Haltof ends his book by saying: ‘contrary to many dark prognoses, the current situation in the Polish film industry shows no signs of crisis’ (Haltof 2002: 261) and Mazierska’s Polish Postcommunist Cinema maintains the same optimistic spirit. The book is divided into three parts and begins with an overview of the most important changes in the post-1989 Polish film industry. In Part 2, the author discusses various genres: gangster films, heritage cinema, comedy, as well as biographical films and proposes that they all belong to the movement that she names the ‘New Cinema of Moral Concern’. Finally, in Part 3 we get to encounter three auteurs: Marek Koterski, Jan Jakub Kolski and Jerzy Stuhr. The book begins with a quote from Koterski, who states, rather provocatively: ‘There is no Polish School, no Moral Concern, hence – there is no Polish cinema. Polish [postcommunist] cinema is not being compared to any other national cinema, but to an international super-league, consisting of Lars von Trier, Pedro Almodovar, Nanni Moretti and Mike Leigh. Should we compete against such a team? Those who think so must be crazy!’ (Mazierska 2007: 20). Incidentally, some of these names crop up in Mazierska’s comparison but the intention is quite the opposite – to show that Polish cinema can be equal to those of other cinemas and throughout the book she provides convincing reasons to think so. As Mazierska explains at the beginning of her book, the transition from a single-party system to a consolidated democracy was disastrous for many areas of life and the film industry suffered huge criticism. Many critics and filmmakers attacked it asking, ‘What went wrong with Polish cinema?’ According to Mazierska much of this critique lies in the nation’s attitude and tendency ‘to be self-critical’. I could find very little to argue with when she states that hardly ever were Polish critics satisfied with the cinema of their own country,



with the exception of the Polish School. She suggests that this ongoing criticism of their native cinema is a part of the Poles’ general disappointment with the postcommunist order. I must also acknowledge Mazierska’s insightful observation that many critics’ expectations have been unrealistic and, caught between the need to follow the commercial Hollywood pattern, the European auteur model or simply retain the notion of national cinema, Polish filmmakers have instead dispersed in many different directions, failing to meet all those expectations. Her view of contemporary Polish cinema is far from grim, however, and the author considers the variety of auteurs, themes and styles its great strength. Such is the rationale behind the book: ‘to present the films that were made in the period 1989–2005 in a way that will account for their heterogeneity’ (Mazierska 2007: 15). The book’s main thread and recurring theme is an assertion that there has been a shift from the ‘meta’ to ‘small narratives’ and Mazierska argues that many Polish film-makers after 1989 abandoned the representation of history and instead, focused on small narratives, often in a diary-like form (Koterski, . Kolski, Łukasz Wylezałek, amongst others). In The Postmodernist Condition ˛ Jean-Francois Lyotard proclaims the rejection of grand narratives in favour of ‘petits récits’. He sees the engagement with small rather than grand narratives as a rather liberating act and this is an implication of Mazierska’s book. In the case of Polish cinema the notion of meta-narratives goes even deeper, and as the post-structuralists suggested, such narratives reinforce dominant ideologies. For many years Polish film-makers were under the influence of metanarratives, such as communism, and the notion of national cinema became such. For Mazierska, Polish postcommunist cinema is much more diverse than that and with small narratives comes a conviction that they are all valid and there are no authoritarian value judgements. For Lyotard grand narratives dismiss naturally existing multiplicity and chaos in the universe, and Mazierska’s appreciation of new themes, genres and styles in Polish cinema argues for their acceptance in the postmodernist spirit. Mazierska’s demonstration of the heterogeneity of Polish films is reflected in her appreciation of different genres, with the most prominent being police/ gangster films. Gangster films dominated Polish cinema in the first half of the 1990s, with Psy/Dogs (Pasikowski, 1992) as a prime example. The most common view of Pasikowski’s films has always been that he simply imitates Tarantino and Mazierska challenges such assumptions with steady evidence. She argues that stylistically Dogs has little in common with American gangster films: the pace of action is slow, the camera is static and there are far more close-ups than action shots. She suggests that as a genre film Dogs is more indebted to Polish cinema from the 1960s and films such as Prawo i Pie s ´/Law ˛ ´c and Fist (Hoffman, 1964), which imitated classical Hollywood cinema, rather than Tarantino. The irony is that Tarantino himself finds the Hollywood classics his main inspiration. For Mazierska such connections between old and new Polish cinema testify to the strength of Pasikowski’s films. Crucial to Mazierska’s claim about the transition in Polish cinema is her discussion on the way Pasikowski uses actors who were previously associated with Cinema of Moral Anxiety. Bogusław Linda, who in the past played helpless victims of socio-political conditions, for example in Przypadek/Blind Chance (Kies ´lowski, 1981) and Kobieta Samotna/A Woman Alone (Holland, 1981) appears here in the role of gangster Franz Maurer, while Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, who is most famous for his role as a corrupted professor in Krzysztof Zanussi’s Barwy ochronne/Camouflage (1976), plays Maurer’s interrogator. To Mazierska this



‘sends a message that the political order in Poland might change after 1989 but not the political structures or people who take the advantage of the status quo’ (Mazierska 2007: 46). Mazierska also demonstrates that ‘small narratives’ feature strongly in Polish postcommunist comedy. As she notices its rise after 1989, she argues that the main reason for this is that they represent the working classes – life from ‘the pavement level’. Comedy also constituted a powerful platform for social criticism: after 1989 there are many more satirical comedies, which ridicule politicians, media people and gangsters as in Rozmowy Kontrolowane/ Tapped Conversations (Che cin ˛ ´ski, 1991). Mazierska also notices the emergence of a new type of comedy, around 2000, based on a ‘clash of elements that are in deep disharmony with each other’ (Mazierska 2007: 114), as in ´ absurd theatre in Golasy/The Naked (Swietnicki, 2002), Ciało/Corpse (Konecki, . 2003) and Łukasz Wylez ałek’s Darmozjad Polski/Polish Sponger (1997) and O Dwóch Takich, co nic nie Ukradli/About Two Who Did Not Steal Anything (1999). Similarly, biographical films reinforce the turn away from grand narratives. For example, films like Moj Mikifor/My Nikifor (Krauze, 2004) demonstrate a certain trend in Polish post-1989 cinema, with ‘the dislodging of grand narratives by smaller ones, the replacement of histories of the nations, classes and generations by individual biographies, what can be described as a “bottom up” approach to history and identity’ (Maizerska 2007: 17). She divides postcommunist biopics into two groups: one which presents a famous Pole and the other, which is of a particular interest to me, focuses on the lives of tormented and marginalized artists such as Wojaczek (1999) and Angelus (2001), both by Lech Majewski. Compared by Mazierska to Peter Greenaway, Majewski worked on such productions as Julian Schnabel’s Basquiat (1996) and he is one of the most intriguing Polish directors, yet one who is often ignored in critical discourse. His films tend to deal with outsiders who cannot find their place in society. Wojaczek, for example, was made with a small budget and depicts a few days in the life of one of the great Polish poets – Rafał Wojaczek. The film concentrates on the poet’s relationship to himself and, for the author, Wojaczek in Majewski’s film is ‘one of us – a symbol of the era of postmodernism and communism’ (Mazierska 2007: 126). He symbolizes many Poles who after 1989 were faced with a crisis of identity and here Mazierska reaches for Zygmunt Bauman’s Liquid Modernity to support her view. Mazierska argues that all the genres discussed in the book (the gangster film, heritage cinema, comedy and biopics) belong to the New Cinema of Moral Concern movement, within which such different films as Czes ´ Tereska/ ´c Hello, Tereska (Glin ´ski, 2000), Edi (Trzaskalski, 2002), Wesele/The Wedding (Smarzowski, 2004) and Komornik/Bailiff (Falk, 2005) are all set in contemporary Poland, deal with social issues and depict an individual who is facing difficult choices. These films share other common features, such as a deep disappointment with reality (corruption, poverty) and the death of certain values and they are all shot within realist conventions. According to Mazierska, this preoccupation with moral dilemmas and contemporary issues links these films with the old Cinema of Moral Concern and directors such as Kies ´lowski, Kijowski, Holland and Zanussi, to name a few. The main difference is that the first generation of morally concerned film-makers often blamed the state for not allowing the young generation to progress, while the new film-makers criticize the state for neglect of its citizens. She notices that protagonists of the New Cinema are more pessimistic and themes are darker.



The author does not forget about women, and while in her previous . book co-written with Elzbieta Ostrowska Women in Polish Cinema (2006), the authors concentrate on ideological themes and socio-political context, here Mazierska discusses these films’ form and style. She demonstrates that since the fall of communism, the Polish film industry has witnessed the growth of female characters involved in the film business and many more films have been based on books written by female writers. She exposes a whole gallery of new names: Dorota Kedzierzawska, Małgorzata Szumowska and Magdalena ˛ Piekorz, whose films deal with family life, children and abortion, rather than relationships between God, human beings and authority. Mazierska therefore claims that women’s cinema seems much more intimate and, according to her, Nic/Nothing (Kedzierzawska, 1998), a film about abortion, ‘is the most radical ˛ film defending woman’s right to abortion ever made in Poland’ )Mazierska 2007: 183). She observes that ‘whilst the specificity of women’s cinema made by women is an austerity of style, women’s cinema produced by men revels in emotional eloquence and visual prettiness’ (Mazierska 2007: 195). It is the last part of the book that begs a few questions since the rationale behind choosing these three auteurs: Koterski, Kolski and Stuhr, remains unclear. Admittedly, all these film-makers are different from each other and their work does reflect the proposed heterogeneity of Polish cinema: while Kolski’s films are classified as ‘magical realism’ such as Jas ´minum (2006), Koterski’s ‘imaginary autobiographies’ as Mazierska calls them like Dzien ´ ´ Swira/Day of the Wacko (2002), are comedies which criticize the contemporary social order in Poland and Stuhr’s films, such as Duze Zwierze/Big Animal (2000), are very intimate and driven by characters. However, the very structure of the book suggests an additional question: why aren’t there any female names in the auteur section? Mazierska’s argument about the patriarchal nature of Polish cinema, which re-appears throughout the book, could be challenged further had there been at least one female Polish auteur singled out in the last section. On the whole, there is no doubt that Polish Postcommunist Cinema achieves its aim. The author’s concentration on new films and film-makers is not without a connection to wider Polish cinematic heritage and in that it reflects the complexity and variety in Polish cinema. The concept of small narratives allows the reader to further understand the shift that took place in Polish cinema after the fall of communism. Mazierska’s background and in-depth knowledge of Polish film and the industry is an asset that most film historians can only dream of. The author’s expertise allows her to make striking comparisons and connections between old and new films and between contemporary Polish cinema and cinemas of other countries. If at times certain connections she makes between film-makers, such as one between Jan Jakub Kolski and Jean-Luc Godard appear slightly puzzling, one can see it as a trait of Mazierska’s inquisitive mind. Another value of this publication is the sheer number of film-makers and films discussed, which constitutes a great field for future researchers and proves that there is still a lot to discover about Polish cinema. The book confronts the reader with many previously unknown names and encourages a long list of films ‘to see’. Additionally, those who are not familiar with Poland’s history will find an index of the most important dates in Polish history at the end of the book very useful. Written in an accessible language, Polish Postcommunist Cinema is a great contribution to the field of film studies and a Polish translation would also be of a great benefit to film scholars and enthusiasts in Poland.



PETER HAMES’S STIMULATING PERSONAL JOURNEY THROUGH CZECH AND SLOVAK CINEMA OF THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition, Peter Hames (2009), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 264 pp., ISBN 978 0 7486 2081 4 (hbk), £60.00 ˇ Reviewed by Jan Culík, University of Glasgow

Peter Hames’s most recent work on Czech and Slovak cinema raises a number of interesting methodological questions. How do you actually analyse the cinematic history of two national cultures spanning over a century and several political regimes, within the space of some 230 pages (the remaining part of Peter Hames’s work being taken up by his bibliography)? As he says, ‘since 1918, Czech feature film production has numbered more than 2000 films and Slovak production over 350’ (p. 13). How do you deal with this plethora of material within a fairly slim volume, especially since no critical history of Czech and Slovak cinema of the past century exists even in Czech or Slovak? Peter Hames takes a highly personal approach and openly admits that ‘there are many subjects, areas and directors that have not been considered’ (p. 13). He bravely enters the jungle of Czech and Slovak film-making by ‘stalking it out’: he isolates a series of orientation points within the thick forest and joins the dots. He has divided Czech and Slovak film-making into eleven categories, each of which has a chapter of approximately twenty pages. Within these chapters, Hames concentrates on a handful of films that have personally fascinated him the most, although at the beginning and end of each chapter there are shorter remarks on other films. The works that he discusses date from the 1920s up to the present. Most attention is given to Czech and Slovak cinema of the 1960s, a period to which the author has devoted considerable attention in previous writing. Some of the chapters in his book are thematic (History, Politics, the Holocaust), others are genre-based (Comedy, Lyricism, Surrealism, the Avant-garde). Some critics might dislike this as methodologically inconsistent. Theoretically, you could have comedies dealing with historical themes, politics or the holocaust, or lyrical, surrealist and/or avant-garde films on these themes. But I would defend Peter Hames here, because it is extremely difficult to create these categories. The material discussed simply dictates how it should be divided. Some Czech or Slovak films defy categorization in any ˇ case. For instance, can Cerný Petr/Peter and Paula (1963), Forman’s study of teenage fumbling and middle-age disorientation, or the short film adaptations of Hrabal’s boisterous and eccentric texts that make up Perlic ky na dne/Pearls ˇ ˇ of the Deep (1965) really be described as comedies? Is Menzel’s film Ostre sleˇ dované vlaky/Closely Observed Trains (1966) also a comedy? The young proˇ tagonist of Ostre sledované vlaky grapples with his sexual problems, trying to reach maturity, and when he ‘becomes a man’ he dies. Is that a comedic ending? It is extremely difficult to put some of the films into chapters. Each of Peter Hames’s eleven thematic or genre-based chapters starts with a highly informed, succinct cultural, historical and/or political introduction. A brief outline of Czechoslovak history in the twentieth century is given and background information on literary, artistic and cultural developments is



provided. The author also defines, for instance, surrealism, what he means by ‘lyrical’ or ‘political’ films, or how absurd cinema relates to the theatre of the absurd. Then, in each chapter, Hames joins the series of dots, following each of his thematic or genre-based ‘traditions’ throughout the history of Czech and Slovak cinema. The discussion of the films, even those to which he devotes most space, is fairly descriptive. He primarily sums up the narrative of the film; if the work is visually original, he outlines the visual innovations. Critical assessment of the meaning of the films is usually quite short, as though the author deliberately refrained from any detailed debate on the film’s meaning, not wishing to influence the viewer. Often Hames quotes the views of the film directors or various critics. His monograph contains a number of highly interesting pieces of background information, evidently obtained from his interviews with film specialists in the Czech Republic. Regrettably, the sources for this information are not always given; similarly, when Peter Hames quotes from published video material (for instance the interview with Miloš Forman from Pawlikowski’s 1990 BBC documentary Kids from FAMU), this is not sourced either. Peter Hames’s monograph only quotes references to secondary works published in English although his bibliography at the end of the volume does include some works in Czech and Slovak without quoting them. While giving English references only may be motivated by the ‘educational’ approach of Peter Hames’s study (he wants to provide the English-speaking reader with further material to consult), English-language secondary literature on Czech and Slovak cinema is limited and it is somewhat frustrating that the publication disregards the extensive critical discourse on Czech and Slovak cinema that has been published in Czech and Slovak. Maybe it is a minor point, but the monograph also contains a number of typographical errors in the printing of Czech and Slovak names. Sometimes Hames stuns the reader with a succinct, spot-on characterization of a film or a literary phenomenon; for instance, the nature of the writing by Bohumil Hrabal (p. 40) or the precise, brief characterization of Forman’s Konkurs/Talent Competition (2003) (pp. 57–58). At other times, the reader feels that more could have been said about individual films. The chapters remain a mosaic of discrete elements: accounts of films are juxtaposed to one another and there is practically no debate regarding the possible overall meaning of films within each of the thematic and genre-based categories in a broader Czech and Slovak cultural context. There is also no summarizing chapter. While Peter Hames discusses an occasional remarkable film from the interwar period, the 1950s or the post-communist era, it is obvious that the 1960s was by far the most important time in the history of Czech and Slovak filmmaking. Uniquely, this was a period when film-makers could make highly innovative and original films with a political message, aimed at subverting the communist state which freely funded them. Apart from being political, these films usually had a profound general ethical and philosophical meaning, relating to the essence of the human condition. Film director and actor Jan Kac er went as far as to say at the new Festival ˇ nad rekou (The River Festival) in Písek in August 2009 that the creative freedom ˇ which he experienced in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s never existed before or afterwards. And he was possibly right. The Czech and Slovak film-makers of the 1960s had the luxury to experiment at leisure, the infrastructure of a professional film studio was fully at their disposal and money was no object. Many of the directors of the time produced mature, well-integrated, profound



works, while the experimental journeys of some others remained somewhere halfway. All these films are remarkable to watch. In this connection, Hames points out ‘East and Central European political cinema in general, and Czech and Slovak cinema in particular, was not held to be of interest by Western exponents of film studies’ (pp. 75–76). ‘The worst sin of these films’, apart from being paid for by the state, was that they ‘were perceived to be “art” films, produced by an intellectual elite, engaging in self-indulgent expression and designed for consumption by similar elites’ (p. 76). In Peter Hames’s view, western film specialists were ready to recognize only radically left-wing cinema (including Third World cinema) on the one hand and commercial western cinema on the other. The intrinsically different cinema of Central and Eastern Europe didn’t fit either of these categories, he says. Yet films of the Czech New Wave were circulated widely in the West and did receive often enthusiastic critical response. In their attempts to emancipate their countries from Soviet rule, the work of the Central and Eastern European film-makers can surely be usefully seen now as a part of the postcolonial and post-imperialist tradition, recording, as it does, the gradual disintegration of an empire. Peter Hames doesn’t examine this in detail. As he points out, he is looking at Czech and Slovak cinema as an interested outsider and although he has an impressive knowledge of the Czech and Slovak cultural context, he discusses the films in terms of what they mean to him rather than in terms of what role they might be playing in the continual process of formation and re-formation of the Czech and Slovak national identity. His approach is entirely legitimate: the international reader of his monograph will also assume the view of external observer, not necessarily interested in the internal political and cultural processes of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Yet a more sociological approach is obviously possible. In that instance, it would be necessary to discuss even some of the films made in the periods of oppression, such as the Nazi occupation, Stalinism and normalization, which Peter Hames generally omits as uninteresting. Cases in point are, for instance, some of the hybrids: the entertainment films whose denouements have been turned into political propaganda. For example, the thriller Težký život dobrodruha/The Difficult Life of an Adventurer (1941), which, ˇ at the end, suddenly argues that the state always knows best and the individual is a feeble creature who comes to see this and admits the errors of his ways; or the highly entertaining farce Jak utopit dr. Mrácka/How to Drown Dr. Mrácek (1974) ˇ ˇ about Czech vodníks, folklore water-goblins, who in this film interfere with life in the modern Czechoslovak metropolis – the film at the end suddenly turns into a diatribe against capitalism – or the blatantly neo-Stalinist TV series featuring ‘the Czech James Bond Major Zeman’, which is still so highly popular in the post-communist era that commercial companies have been paying millions for its DVD rights. Even works such as these have entered, in a complex way, the process of creation of the Czech and Slovak national identity. Ethics and politics have played a cultural role even at times of national oppression. In this connection, it is interesting that Peter Hames mentions director Otakar Vávra’s ‘chilling account of seventeenth-century witch-hunting’ Kladivo na carodejnice/Witchhammer (1969), a parable of the Stalinist showˇ ˇ trials, an openly anti-communist film, but doesn’t mention Vávra’s pseudohistorical, propagandist epic two-part feature Dny zrady/The Days of Treason (1974), which was made obediently to order for the neo-Stalinist authorities in the post-1968 period of ‘normalization’. In the 1970s, Vávra made two more such pseudo-historical films (Sokolovo (1974) and Osvobození Prahy/The Liberation of Prague (1976)). Peter Hames does say that Vávra supported



communism and ‘did little to rock the boat’, but in his view he maintained ‘a commitment to the country’s history and traditions’ (p. 16). Considering that Dny zrady is a total distortion of the facts, the statement about Vávra’s commitment to history doesn’t quite ring true. In an interview in Pawlikowski’s BBC film Kids from FAMU Otakar Vávra admits that in his historical films from the 1970s, he couldn’t ‘tell the full truth, so, in fact, what I said was a lie’. Maybe at least a brief mention could have been made here of how people like Vávra managed to produce, within a few years, films which communicate totally opposing political messages. It is highly commendable that Peter Hames’s work broadens the scope of Czech cinema beyond the 1960s, discussing as it does a number of films from the 1930s and even the 1920s. It was, indeed, important to mention the impressive output of the ‘commercial director’ Martin Fric who made some 85 ˇ feature films before his death in 1968 and whose work, as Peter Hames rightly says, was defined by ‘absolute professionalism’ (p. 6). But might not similar homage have been paid to Karel Kachyna, the director of more than 45 artˇ house feature films, whose work was consistently of extremely high quality? Kachyna’s output from the 1960s is discussed only on an ad hoc basis in Peter ˇ Hames’s book, his work from other periods being mentioned only briefly or not at all. For instance, Kachyna’s tour de force, a variation on the myth of ˇ Sisyphus, Kráva/The Cow (1996), isn’t referred to at all. The 2008 summer film school at Uherské Hradište ran a highly interesting retrospective of feature ˇ films from the late 1950s and early 1960s, written or even directed by the Czech writer Pavel Kohout. Kohout’s name is mentioned only once (p. 102) in Hames’s book, as a co-scriptwriter. Films like Jan Kadár and Elmar Klos’s Tri ˇ prání/Three Wishes (1958), or Vojte Jasný’s 1962 Cannes Special Jury Prize ˇ ˇch winner Až prijde kocour/The Cat (1963), which also played an important role in ˇ the gradual emancipation of the Czech and Slovak film-makers from the late 1950s onwards, could possibly have been also mentioned. But of course, any criticism of what should or shouldn’t have been included is unfair, since any judgement in a necessarily selective publication will be subjective. With this disclaimer, here are a few other thoughts which occurred to me while reading Peter Hames’s book. When discussing Vlácil’s film Marketa ˇ Lazarová (1967), which was inspired by a novel by Vladislav Vancura from ˇ 1931 (p. 23), it could have possibly been mentioned that Vlácil had successfully ˇ managed to retain the original message of Vancura’s literary work: namely ˇ that the lives of people in the Middle Ages, no matter how raw and brutal, were much more ‘full-blooded’ than our twentieth-century degenerate middle-class existence. He only briefly mentions Jirí Krejcík’s film Božská Emma/ ˇ ˇ The Divine Emma (1979), a political parable about the life of the famous Czech opera singer Emma Destinnová who, at the beginning of the First World War, returned to Austria-Hungary from the United States, where she was regarded as a celebrity, and was persecuted by the secret police and placed under house arrest in Bohemia, yet still managed to sing for the nation. The impact of this claustrophobic film about the power of the human spirit, made under extreme political oppression two years after the creation of Charter 77, was remarkable in the then Czechoslovakia and maybe a little more could have been said about this. Jirí Brdecka’s spoof of a western, Limonádový Joe/ ˇ ˇ Lemonade Joe (1964), is a comedy that has indeed reached a cult status (p. 4), but it could have perhaps been mentioned that, as with the afore-mentioned entertainment–political ‘hybrids’, it ends with a political message, turning into a criticism of manipulative capitalist business practices. As such, in this respect



it could be the film has more resonance today than in the 1960s, when a ‘biting satire on capitalism’ would have been construed by the audiences as a conformist gesture made by the director to the authorities. When in Kachyna and ˇ Procházka’s Ucho/The Ear (1970, released in 1989) the main protagonist, the deputy minister Ludvík, is promoted to government secretary, after a night of horror when it transpires that all the rooms in his residence are tapped, so that the secret police have a record of all his and his wife’s anti-regime statements, I would argue that this is not a ‘final irony’, as Peter Hames states (p. 8). This final twist to the story seems to me to be a logical outcome of the night of horror, because the regime only appoints compromised individuals into top positions, who can then be blackmailed at will. Similarly, when discussing Jasný’s film Všichni dobrí rodáci/All My Good Countrymen (1968), it seems that Peter ˇ Hames analyses a key motif in the film in a very magnanimous, fair-minded, ‘western’ way. ‘Bertin, the postman, is shot by anti-Communists’, he states (p. 84). I am afraid that an East European mind would interpret this twist in the story in a much more sinister way: it is hinted that the communist Bertin is in fact shot by a secret-police agent provocateur, so that the authorities can gain a pretext to arrest the village anti-communists on charges of terrorism. Jan Hrebejk’s Musíme si pomáhat/Divided we Fall (2000), perhaps the best film ˇ that this director has ever made, is indeed ‘about the adjustments likely to be made under any form of tyranny’ (p. 110), but it possibly could also be construed as a gesture of reconciliation after the fall of communism: the previous totalitarian regimes were so horrifying that no one has the right to judge how people behaved. ‘Bud’me lidmi – Let us be human’, says the main character Josef at the end of the film and that is what seems to be the director’s appeal. Jireš’s Valerie a týden divu/Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1969) is a wonderful example of ˚ visual surrealism in world cinema, but it is quite difficult to see it as a criticism of the repressive policies of the Communist Party (p. 175). It seems more pertinent, as Jonathan Owen says, to see Valerie as a ‘lullaby for the time of defeat’, a homage to the disappearing, ‘hippie’ world of freedom of the 1960s. Peter Hames seems to be impressed by the ‘experimental’ output of Jan Ne ˇmec, the films that this director has made since his return to Czechoslovakia from the United States in 1989, but in my opinion most of Ne ˇmec’s output from this time is somewhat uneven. After the traumatic experiences of the 1968 Soviet invasion and a frustrated life in the United States where he couldn’t make films, after his return to Czechoslovakia in 1989 Ne ˇmec has been looking for new means of expression. In fact, the message of his Nocní ˇ hovory s matkou/Late Night Talks with Mother (2000–03) seems to be that due to his traumatic experiences of life in the twentieth century, he feels that he has lost his power of communicating. It is extremely gratifying that Jan Nemec ˇ seems to have finally found himself in his latest venture, Holka Ferrari Dino/ The Ferrari Dino Girl (2009), a film about how he shot the first hours of the Russian invasion in August 1968 and smuggled the footage to Austria. The film was premiered at Festival nad ˇ ekou in Písek in August 2009 and it is, for r once, a mature, well integrated piece where Ne ˇmec displays all the characteristic features of his authorial style. Peter Hames’s monograph is an extremely important publication, providing guidance to the interested reader through the rich history of Czech and Slovak cinema. It will stimulate interest in the cinemas of East-Central Europe in the English-speaking world, undoubtedly becoming a catalyst for heated discussion, as this review has attempted to demonstrate.



ˇ Reviewed by Jan Culík, University of Glasgow ˇ and Emma Culík, Academy of Dramatic Arts, St Petersburg

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival takes place annually at the beginning of July in this West Bohemian spa town, which looks like a richly decorated wedding cake. It was once so famous for its waters that it attracted visitors such as Goethe, Beethoven and Schiller, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great, the Austrian Empress Maria Teresa and the English King Edward VII. These days, Karlovy Vary has become a favourite haunt of novye russkie, the Russian nouveaux riches and there are so many public signs in front of shops and restaurants in Cyrillic that one questions whether one is still in the Czech Republic or instead in Russia. When the film festival starts, the Czech media has a field day. The festival takes place at the beginning of the summer vacation period in the Czech Republic, when nothing else is going on, and so Czech radio and television become obsessed with the red carpet treatment given at Karlovy Vary to the handful of international celebrities that arrive there. Worthy Czech citizens then delight in getting scandalized by the ‘profligate’, ‘decadent’ parties,

ˇ Figure 1: A moment in the sun at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2009 (photo by Emma Culík).



1. cz/aktualne/1485festivalova-statistika/. These statistical details were published in David Kasl, ‘Byznysmeni, díky!’, Euro, 29 June 2009, p. 3. Josef Chuchma, ‘Vary, celebrity a spoutaný svet, Mladá fronta ˇ Dnes, 7 July 2007, p. 10. cz/aktualne/1304festivalovy-denik/.




attended by Czech entrepreneurs and politicians during the film festival. Compared to other major European film festivals such as Cannes, Venice or Berlin, the budget of Karlovy Vary is modest. In 2009, it cost some 5.5 million euros to mount the festival and to show more than 220 films to some 12,000 enthusiastic cinema-goers.1 Compare this to the Cannes budget of 20 million euros, where 138 films were screened or to the Berlinale, which cost 22 million euros and where 320 films were screened.2 Czech cultural commentator Josef Chuchma rightly pointed out a couple of years ago that the media frenzy surrounding the Karlovy Vary celebrities is meaningless.3 In Chuchma’s view, Karlovy Vary, of course, does have a problem: if the media are to notice it, the festival needs to attract at least some film stars. But, in fact, says Chuchma, Karlovy Vary is an impoverished festival and when trying to attract international celebrities, it cannot compete with other festivals, which often pay the celebrities to attend. But let’s forget the celebrities. The merit of Karlovy Vary lies in its two major advantages: • • This is a people´s festival, it caters for the enthusiastic cineaste. The selection of films Karlovy Vary presents is of an extraordinarily high quality.

This is greatly appreciated by its large audience of mostly young backpackers, many of whom sleep in cars parked throughout the spa or in tent cities especially created for the cinematic enthusiasts outside town, which are connected to the festival halls by free public transport for the duration of the event. Popular interest in the festival is also encouraged by an extremely democratic ticketing policy. A single pass for the duration of the whole ten days of the festival costs only 1000 Czech crowns, some 33 pounds sterling. This entitles the viewer to three films per day, or even up to five or six if you are willing to queue. Thus, if the viewer sees about 40 films during the festival, it will have cost less than a pound for each screening. One other democratic regulation is quite remarkable: all ticket holders must assume their seats in the screening halls five minutes before the beginning of each performance. Failure to do so invalidates the ticket: all remaining empty seats are given to the rank-and-file festival pass holders who are queuing outside. Thus almost all screenings play to capacity audiences. The festival is very user friendly for international visitors. It is bilingual – all films are subtitled in English and all information is made available in both Czech and English, including the bilingual Festival Daily newspaper.4 Over the past fifteen years, Karlovy Vary has developed into a global showcase of the best of world cinema. The fact that Karlovy Vary cannot compete with festivals such as Cannes or Venice actually works to its advantage. While well-established western directors send their work mostly to the West European film festivals, Karlovy Vary has become a venue for dynamic young directors primarily from non-European cultural areas. Karlovy Vary is particularly well known for featuring new talent from the East, including Asia. At a film festival that screens more than 220 feature films it is clearly impossible for a single individual to see all of them. Our account of this year’s Karlovy Vary is thus obviously based on a few personal preferences. We have seen, in all, about sixty feature films, most of them in the main categories of ‘Official Competition’, ‘Official Selection – Out of Competition’ and the ‘East of the West Competition’.



As ever, this year’s festival had a very strong representation of Russian and South Korean cinema. The festival also ran a special thematic category of work by Russian women directors, ‘A Female Take on Russia’. A remarkable film by Russian director Valeria Gal Germanika Vse umrut, a ja ostanus’/ Everybody Dies but Me (2008) portrays with brutal honesty the teenage experience of young Russian girls. It is about three best friends, Vika, Katya and Zhanna, who are in the ninth grade (that is, they are 15 years old) standing on the brink of venturing into unknown territory. But the castles they have built in the sky are dismantled brick by brick. Their exploration of the world around them ends in disaster, primarily due to their extraordinarily callous self-centredness. The film is, in effect a warning against the excessive individualism, which is so much a characteristic of life in post-communist countries. Each of the girls betray the others, they steal their boys, abandon each other in times of need, and refuse to stand by each other. They also systematically alienate anyone in their lives who could help them – teachers, parents, fellow students. ‘Everyone will die, but not me.’ The girls think they are invincible, but this is very much not the case. The film, though fictional, is shot in a documentary style that shows the girls in very frank detail. Intimate close-ups have an almost claustrophobic effect. Another noteworthy film by a Russian woman director was Anna Melikyan’s Mars (2004). Last year Melikyan made ripples all over Russia and also in Karlovy Vary, with her film Rusalka/Mermaid (2007) about a girl from a small town whose shattered dreams made her lose the power of speech. Melikyan’s début about a provincial Russian town, Marks, was a light-hearted and yet meaningful picture about the separateness of the Russian provinces, but mostly about people’s dreams and search for meaning in a country that has recently stripped itself of the ideology it lived within for the last seventy years. The letter ‘K’ fell off the town’s neon sign, and Marks (Marx) became – Mars. The ‘K’ has fallen off Russia too, and it has become Mars, a weird place to live in. Melikyan is hopeful about possibilities in post-Soviet Russia, but not naïve. People are disorientated, discombobulated – hence the dream-like filter and the brightly coloured image quality. But things are changing. The whole town is in scaffolding – things are being done. And Melikyan reassesses the stereotypical symbols of her country. She light-heartedly makes Putin into a sex symbol. The surrealist, almost Dadaist treatment of the various symbols of communism (Marx, Lenin and others) is startling. Stalin would turn in his grave. Vassily Sigarev’s film Volchok/Wolfy (2009) received a special mention at this year’s festival. Rationally, the viewer will accept this as a very good film, although one’s emotional reactions tend to be more complex. Emotionally, the film is a relentless assault on the viewer. Volchok is a study of absolute loneliness, the story of a young girl, living in a Russian provincial town, who pines for the love of her mother but the mother is disinterested in her, being utterly selfish and frustrated that her life is not more successful, exciting and happy. Her favourite question to the girl is ‘What do you want from me?’ And all she does is terrorize the poor child, emotionally and physically, despite the girl’s unwavering and loyal love for her. In the end the daughter ends up being hit by a car while chasing after her mother. The horrific story is told beautifully, laconically and poetically in its minimalism but it is a devastating film. Kislorod/Oxygen (2009), a film by young Russian theatre director and playwright Ivan Vyrypaev, is exhilarating. Two years ago his beautiful first foray into cinema Eyforiya/Euphoria (2006) was shown at Karlovy Vary to great




http://download. denik/14web1107.pdf.

acclaim. Vyrypaev’s recounting of a desperate and lonely love triangle, which on stage would have been closed into a box, was opened up to the swooping steppes in cinema. Vyrypaev’s plays, too, experiment with their constituent parts. Kislorod is based on text. The language is basically colloquial and uses simple words, but he plays with them carefully and wittily – to great effect. Vyrypaev experiments with genre and form because he understands that each of them is different and has its own specific characteristics. He introduced his film in Karlovy Vary by saying that he ‘wanted to reduce words to music’. There are ‘choruses’ in the film, where words are read with great attention to how they sound. And the words seem simultaneously to hold no meaning and great meaning. This works well to tell a story about a young man who kills his wife, because when he was being told that one shouldn’t kill, he was listening to his personal stereo and didn’t hear. And so he killed his wife and ran off with a red-haired Muscovite. The story is told with each section prefaced by one of the Ten Commandments, an interpretation of it which is suitably philosophical and which, at the same time, follows the cynical and jaded logic of the young generation. As usual, the South Korean films at Karlovy Vary were extremely hardhitting. South Korean actor Choi Min-Sik and activist for the independent South Korean cinema pointed out that South Korean cinema is still extremely varied, although it is now under American pressure. According to South Korean law, film theatres in that country were bound until recently by the so-called ‘screening quota’, according to which Korean films must be shown for 146 days in each venue each year. This quota had led to an unprecedented boom in South Korean cinema, but recently ‘the United States blackmailed South Korea into reducing this quota to a half of what it used to be,’ says Choi Min-Sik.5 The South Korean film Ddongpari/Breathless (2008) by Yang Ik-June can be seen a humanist protest against the extreme harshness of today’s world. It follows the lives of a group of debt collectors, young men who are the only people in their society capable of earning large amounts of money because they behave with incredible brutality and vulgarity to the people from whom they collect the money. The film reveals a vicious circle of violence: the cruelty of the aggressive young men derives from their childhood spent in their families where they saw how their fathers tormented their mothers. At the same time, the young men’s brutality hides a profound weakness and a yearning for tenderness and affection. Bong Joon-Ho’s film Madeo/Mother (2009) was perhaps the best South Korean film of this year’s festival, confirming as ever that a good film cannot be made without a well-written script. Mother is a thriller; at the same time it is a remarkable study of unintended consequences. It is also a tour de force performance by the actress Kim Hye-ja, who plays the loving mother of a handsome, mentally retarded 27-year-old man. The son has an impaired memory, so he doesn’t remember what happened just a few days or hours ago. On the whole, he behaves like a 5-year-old, except when someone calls him an idiot, when he reacts violently. The mother is extremely protective of her son and when he is accused of the murder of a young girl, she sets out to investigate the circumstances of the killing on her own because it seems that the police had taken an easy option and simply arrested the first suspect who happened to turn up. It is only in the course of the narrative that we learn that it is the mother herself who is actually to blame for the invalid status of her son and hence in fact also for the murder – and she commits another murder in the process. In the course of her intrepid investigation, the



mother discovers disconcerting revelations forcing her to face up to major ethical dilemmas. The only Iranian entry in Karlovy Vary this year, Bist/Twenty (2009), directed by Abdolreza Kahani, was a competent, though not terribly profound social drama about life in a contemporary urban setting in Iran. Even though strictly non-political, the film still provided a remarkable insight into the mores of today’s Iranian society. Primarily, it showed how incredibly insecure is the economic existence of most ordinary Iranians and how they have to behave with extreme deference to their superiors who have absolute power over their fate. The film is set in a small restaurant, whose owner, ageing ‘Mr Soleimani’, announces to his employees that within twenty days he plans to close his establishment: he is forced to do so for personal health reasons. This decision spells disaster for the workers at the restaurant, most of whom survive economically only with great difficulty (some do not even have a place to live). The film received a Special Jury Prize at Karlovy Vary this year (one suspects that the decision was primarily political and was intended as an expression of sympathy for the defeated Iranian revolution of June 2009). West European films at Karlovy Vary usually feel somewhat conventional and tired, in comparison with the incredible wave of energy coming from the non-western countries but there have been a few exceptions to this rule this year. One of these was a hilarious, yet serious and profound German comedy Whisky with Vodka/Whisky mit Wodka (Dresen, 2009). It deals primarily with often incestuous and comic interpersonal relations, but also with the problem of ageing, which eventually catches up with all of us. Whisky mit Wodka is a comedy of manners that takes place on a film set. An aspiring German film director is making a period piece about a real-life scandal from the 1920s when an ageing gigolo apparently had a seaside affair simultaneously with a young girl and her mother. The main role in the fictional film is played by a 60-year-old alcoholic German celebrity actor (played excellently by Henry Hübchen) who is extremely unreliable and uncooperative on the set. So the producers decide that all the scenes of the film will be shot twice, once with the celebrity actor and once, to be on the safe side, with a younger understudy. Thus male vanity and rivalry explodes and it creates great comedy. Hübchen’s Otto is very authentic and he is, indeed, an alcoholic womanizer, well aware of his celebrity status. At the same time, he is an experienced and cultured professional. However, towards the end of his life, under the shadow of death he no longer cares and he decides just to suit himself. The ambiguity of his personality comes out in a remarkable scene in a helicopter when the actor is being transported somewhere in the company of a young, attractive female production assistant. As the helicopter flies, we see the patchwork of colours of the autumn landscape. ‘Someone should write a poem about this,’ says the young production assistant. ‘Someone already has,’ replies Otto who starts reciting, by heart, the famous poem by Rainer Maria Rilke ‘Herbsttag’.6 The scene is truly magical. Although it is obvious that Otto does the extraordinary performance manipulatively, in order to impress the girl, we still see that he is a great artist. Andres Dresen received a prize for the direction of Whisky mit Wodka at Karlovy Vary 2009. But perhaps the most remarkable West European film at the festival was the intricately mind-blowing structure of Davide Ferrario’s film Tutta colpa di Giuda/Blame it all on Judas (2009). In it, a young theatre director, Irene Mirkovic ´ from Serbia, has become involved in a project to put on a play in a more lenient ward of a Turin prison. On the suggestion of the prison’s priest, they start


For the words of this poem see http:// rainer-maria-rilke. de/06b012herbsttag. html.




For more, see http:// art/47813.html. David Kasl, ‘Tuhý boj o premiéry’, Euro, 26 June 2009, p. 90.


working on a production of the Passion, for Easter. The film was shot in a real prison in Turin. The director takes the prisoners on a journey of faith and art, both of which are rather foreign to them. The main conflict lies at the centre of the film, and is treated from many different angles, taking in almost every side of the problem. We have a very explicit verbal conflict between the director and the priest on the subject. ‘Salvation lies in faith!’ ‘Religion is slavery!’ The principal problem lies in the fact that art is questioning set values and faith is taking these values to be true, though there can be no proof of their existence or truth. But this is not an anti-Christian film. Ferrario and all his characters are extremely respectful of religion, and if they are not believers, they are actively interested in it. Art can bring new insights, which not only give us enlightenment but can help us to live, argues the film. What wins? Faith doesn’t entirely win, because no one is converted, they do not reach salvation. Art doesn’t win, as the play does not go on in the end. And so, does life win? It doesn’t, either. At the end of the film, as the camera is panning over the faces of the prisoners just as they are about to leave prison, the fiction breaks down. We hear the voice of the director and the clapper girl. The real prisoners, who acted in the film, are not liberated. The film stops being a story, and starts being an artistic, philosophical object.7 The Czech films at Karlovy Vary were relatively disappointing this year. None of them made it into the official competition. ‘Czech film-makers feel that it is necessary to include certain formulaic ingredients in their films so that they would be attractive to viewers. They don’t make films because they feel the need to say something but because they calculate that in their view a film on a particular topic will be successful. While this works with the Czech audiences, it doesn’t work with international audiences or with film festivals,’ says Eva Zaoralová, the programme director of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.8 Yet Czech cinema should be able to produce interesting work. Economically, it is a success story: some thirty new Czech feature films are now made annually, a fairly impressive record for a nation of 10 million inhabitants. On the recommendation of Peter Hames we went to see Václav Marhoul’s film Tobruk (2008). It was a pleasant surprise. Ostensibly, it deals with the predicament of a Czech military unit under British command in the Second World War in Northern Africa, but actually the film is made on the basis of American writer Stephen Crane’s classic realistic novel The Red Badge of Courage (1895) and convincingly records the pressures that young men find themselves under when in action during the war in the trenches. Marhoul concentrates on interpersonal relations in the military unit and while the run up to the action may feel a little monotonous, the depiction of horrors during fighting, when all the individual characteristic features of the protagonists under stress stand out in sharp relief, is quite convincing. A Slovak film Pokoj v duši/Soul at Peace (2008), directed by Vladimír Balko, was included in the official competition. The script was written by well-known Czech scriptwriter Jirí Križan and the film bears the hallmarks of Križan’s ˇ ˇ ˇ characteristic style. His narratives tend to assume an uncompromising ethical stance, so much so that the conflicts depicted sometimes feel a little too black and white. Pokoj v duši is the story of 40-year-old Slovak entrepreneur Tono, who returns to his native village in the Slovak mountains after he has served a prison term for fraud. The film argues that life in contemporary Slovakia is based on corruption, double-dealing and Mafioso back-scratching. We learn that Tono ended up in prison because his closest business partner had reported him to the police using him as a scapegoat for his own fraudulent



business activities. When Tono, an honest man, comes back to the village, he discovers that his community will not accept him unless he agrees to take part in their criminal activities. There are barriers everywhere; he is not ‘one of us’. His life falls apart and he commits suicide. Apparently, Slovak audiences have found this film extremely authentic. Vladimír Drha’s Czech film Anglické jahody/English Strawberries (2008) seems interesting primarily from a sociological point of view. As anyone who follows day-to-day Czech politics knows, the 1968 Warsaw Pact-led invasion of Czechoslovakia remains to this day a deep trauma for the Czechs, and it still profoundly influences Czech political decision-making. Yet, as time goes on, the interpretation of the events of 1968 becomes more and more distorted. Anglické jahody in this sense is a film about the Czech Republic now, rather than about the events of more than forty years ago. Its highly subjective account of the 1968 invasion casts an intriguing light on contemporary Czech attitudes, or at least on the attitudes of the authors of this film. Anglické jahody takes place in the small village of Davle, some 25 kilometres south of Prague, over a few days from 21 August 1968 onwards, the day of the Soviet-led invasion. A young local Czech boy, Tomáš Sinek, is supposed to travel to England to pick strawberries on a farm there, but the trip never takes place because of the invasion. The film records the reaction of the local population to the invasion and, interestingly, contrasts it with the attitudes of some of the Russian soldiers. The film is extremely critical of the cowardliness and helplessness of the Czechs, who have no ideals and are only capable of taking care of their own personal interests. But even the members of the younger generation tend to be cynical. But what is particularly intriguing is that the negative image of the Czechs is contrasted strongly in this film with the positive image of at least some of the Russian invaders. At least two of the Russian officers are shown as very likeable human beings. Most importantly, the nihilism of the Czechs is sharply contrasted with the attitudes of an extremely charismatic young Russian soldier, Private Lebedev, who deserts from his unit and tries to defect to the West. He hides in the Sineks’ summer cottage in the woods, where he is discovered by Tomáš and Tána and tries to enlist their help. Father Sinek ˇ refuses to help him point blank; the young Czech couple gives him assistance half-heartedly and it soon becomes obvious that the Russian soldier, who constantly quotes Yesenin, is a much more attractive male character than the young Tomáš. At least, unlike the Czechs, he has a goal which he, romantically, pursues. The Czechs have no such goals in life, implies the film. After Jan Sve ˇrák’s Kolya (1996), which for the first time featured a charismatic Russian character, a 5-year-old boy, this is the second Czech film that compares the Russians to the Czechs favourably and finds the Czechs wanting. A major controversy was caused by the screening of Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009). In the beautiful prologue to the film, shot in slow motion, while a moving aria by Handel is sung by a female voice, a toddler boy releases himself from his pen, climbs up a table and falls out of the window to his death while his parents are making love. As a result of the death, the mother of the dead child falls into a deep depression; the father of the child, a psychologist, is trying to cure her. We saw this film during its only screening at the festival on Wednesday 8 July at 22:30 in the large festival auditorium, sitting in the proverbial Row 8, reserved for journalists, and when we looked around during the screening of the drastic scenes in the final parts of the film, we saw what we had never seen before: everyone was covering their





eyes with their hands. The film provoked a ferocious debate. Eva Zaoralová said that the main festival programmer Karel Och wanted to exclude the film from screening at Karlovy Vary. It was apparently only shown there because a Czech distribution company had purchased it for the Czech Republic.9 It is possible to understand von Trier’s explanation that he was suffering from a deep depression when making this film and that the drastic images that he included in the film pursued him relentlessly. That of course raises the question of the role of art, is it supposed to serve as a prophylactic remedy for an author who is suffering from an illness, or is a work of art to reveal something new? Von Trier’s Antichrist seems to be an eloquent example of the decadence of contemporary western society which often has no longer anything to say and the only thing it can do is to shock the viewer by excessive or violent images without meaning. But in spite of the shock of Antichrist – or maybe also because of it – taken all in all Karlovy Vary 2009 was a wonderful, even though exhausting, experience. We would thoroughly recommend it to anyone. Naturally, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is primarily an event of major cultural importance for the Czech Republic. It is the only forum where Czech cineastes can acquaint themselves with important recent developments in international cinema. Most of the films shown in Karlovy Vary will never be given a theatrical release in the Czech Republic. From the point of view of the distributors, this country of a mere 10 million inhabitants is too small to justify this from the commercial point of view. Yet from the international point of view, Karlovy Vary is extremely significant as a showcase for the work of young directors from Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Karlovy Vary is now attended by representatives from many other international festivals, in particular from the United States, who hunt for new talent there. At the same time, as the programming director Eva Zaoralová testifies, the Karlovy Vary programming team now closely collaborates with many other international events on the festival circuit.


SEEC 1 (1) pp. 127–130 Intellect Limited 2010

Studies in Eastern European Cinema Volume 1 Number 1
© 2010 Intellect Ltd Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/seec.1.1.127/7

JOHN CUNNINGHAM Principal Editor

The Hungarian tax credit system and the 20% rebate scheme
Occasionally Studies in Eastern European Cinema will publish documents relating to the film industry of the region. We do this in the firm belief that knowledge of the industry, its procedures, structures, technology, etc. is an essential component in developing a fuller understanding of the cinematic experience and all that might entail. The first contribution is an outline of the Hungarian tax credit system and rebate scheme. This is one of the most comprehensive pieces of film legislation to have been passed in Eastern Europe since 1989 and, so far, seems to be proving very beneficial to the Hungarian industry on a number of fronts. The text that follows is an abridged version of a briefing document issued by abacus-consult kft (Budapest) and Tenon media (London). It was distributed at a reception at the Hungarian Cultural Centre in London during the ‘Check the Gate’ Hungarian Film Festival in June 2009. SEEC is very grateful to both abacus-consult kft and Tenon media for permission to reprint this document.


John Cunningham

• • Indirect state subsidy through a tax certificate issued by the National Film office (NFO). Non-recourse, non-repayable and non-recoupable cash rebate, based on the Hungarian eligible production expenditure provided by local corporate tax payers’ ‘sponsors’.

• • Applicant must be a Hungarian company or a Hungarian branch of an EU company registered by the NFO. Applicant must be the film’s producer, co-producer or production service provider who is responsible for and actively involved in the production of the film throughout.

• Feature films; animation; documentary; experimental; TV film; mini-series. Films with highly violent or pornographic content are excluded. Also excluded are TV sitcoms; reality shows; daily soaps. Films registered after 1 January 2008 need to pass a cultural test with a minimum of 16 points out of 32 in the following categories: • Cultural content: 8 points. • Cultural contributions/hubs/practitioners: 24 points.

• • 20 cents of every Euro of eligible Hungarian and non-Hungarian spend, which is worth 25 cents of every Euro of eligible Hungarian spend. Definition of eligible HU spend: Production expenditure as per the film’s registered budget/spent by applicant(s)/accounted separately in the books of the applicant(s)/paid to Hungarian tax-registered sub-contractors (both companies and individuals). Definition of non-HU spend: Same as above with the exception that it can be paid to any foreign (non-Hungarian) entities. It is capped at 25% of the eligible HU spend. Excluded costs: a) Costs of copyright and acquisition of underlying rights costs above 4% of the budget. b) Producers’ fee above 4% of the budget. c) Marketing and publicity costs above 5m HUF or 2% of the budget. d) Travel costs without a Hungarian destination. e) Costs of services performed by foreign tax-registered entities – including non-Hungarian cast and crew – above 25% of eligible HU spend (transferred services bought from foreign entities need to be deducted from eligible HU spend). Third-country location shooting: any cost incurred abroad counts providing it fulfils the requirements for definition of eligible HU and non-HU spend.

• The film needs to be registered at the NFO. Application for the registration needs to include script, budget, production schedule, crew list, co-production agreement or PSA agreement with the sponsor, ledger of


The Hungarian tax credit system and the 20% rebate scheme

the separate account from the book(s) of the applicant(s). To register the film 100% financing of the local split budget needs to be proved. Upon completion of the production or after having finished a certain part of the production an application for a tax certificate to be filed to the NFO. The application needs to include the ledgers and other related lists obtained from the books of the applicant(s) and the supporting documents (e.g. contracts, bank statements). After the NFO has concluded the audit of the submitted documentation, the final amount of eligible HU and non-HU spend plus the amount of the 20% rebate is quoted. The NFO issues the tax certificate with the equal amount of quoted rebate. Upon receiving the tax certificate the sponsor transfers the fund to the producers.

HUNGARIAN CULTURAL TEST (2008) A: Cultural criteria
(a–h scores one point each) a) The storyline/underlying material of the motion picture is based on an event, which is part of the Hungarian/European culture, history, mythology, religions. b) The motion picture is based on a character, personality belonging to the Hungarian or European culture, history, society, religions. c) The motion picture is based on Hungarian/European traditions/customs. d) The story of the motion picture is in a European setting, has European landmarks, locations, architecture or cultural environment. e) The storyline or underlying material is based on a literary work or on an adaptation of other artwork (products of fine or applied arts, music, etc.). f) The storyline or underlying material of the motion picture is centred on a current actual cultural, sociological or political issue for Hungarian or European society. g) The motion picture reflects an important Hungarian or European value such as cultural diversity, solidarity, equality, protection of minorities or human rights, tolerance, environmental protection, respect for traditions of culture or family. h) The motion picture reflects the Hungarian and European culture and identity.

B: Industrial criteria
i) The film product is a motion picture that creates value as a result of its genre (4 points). j) The creators of the motion picture include Hungarian citizens or citizens of another EEA country (European Economic Area), or those non-EEA citizens who have received an international film festival award (6 points maximum from points i–xii, listed immediately below): i. Director ii. Producer iii. Director of photography iv. Script writer v. Leading/secondary actor/actress vi. Composer


John Cunningham

k) l)

m) n)

vii. Art director/production designer viii. Costume designer ix. Editor x. Make-up designer xi. Line producer or production manager xii. Post-production supervisor (audio/VFX/DI) Final version of the film in any EEA language (4 points). At least 51% of the contributors to the motion picture – not falling under the scope of point j) – are the citizens of an EEA country, or the motion picture is a co-production that does not qualify as a European co-production (4 points). The location of the shooting is in Hungary (3 points). Use of Hungary’s cultural resources, i.e. pre- or post-production in Hungary (3 points). Total points for sections A and B: 32


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of Britain’, Ph.D. thesis, Chelmsford: Anglia Ruskin University. Rodgers, Richard and Hammerstein II, Oscar (n.d.), Carousel: A Musical Play (vocal score ed. Dr Albert Sirmay), Williamson Music. Roussel, R. ([1914] 1996), Locus Solus, Paris: Gallimard. Stroöter-Bender, J. (1995), L’Art contemporain dans les pays du ‘Tiers Monde’ (trans. O. Barlet), Paris: L’Harmattan. UNDESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs) (2005), 6th Global Forum on Reinventing Government: Towards Participatory and Transparent Governance, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 24–27 May, United Nations: New York. Woolley, E. and Muncey, T. (in press), ‘Demons or diamonds: a study to ascertain the range of attitudes present in health professionals to children with conduct disorder’, Journal of Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. (Accepted for publication December 2002). PERSONAL COMMUNICATIONS Personal communications are what the informant said directly to the author, e.g. ‘Pam loved the drums (personal communication)’. This needs no citation in the references list. Equally the use of personal communications need not refer back to a named informant. However, a more formal research interview can be cited in the text (Jamieson 12 August 2004 interview) and in the references list. WEBSITE REFERENCES Website references are similar to other references. There is no need to decipher any place of publication or a specific publisher, but the reference must have an author, and the author must be referenced Harvard-style within the text. Unlike paper references, however, web pages can change, so there needs to be a date of access as well as the full web reference. In the list of references at the end of your article, the item should read something like this: Bondebjerg, K. (2005), ‘Web Communication and the Public Sphere in a European Perspective’, http://www. Accessed 15 February 2005. SUBMISSION PROCEDURES Articles submitted to this journal should be original and not under consideration by any other publication. Contributions should be submitted electronically as an email attachment. Please contact the journal’s editor for further details.