Post-Yugoslav Film: Style and Ideology

Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

5. The Film of Self-victimisation

The fifth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

5.1. Creating the model: A Time to  

In the summer of 1993 the Yugoslav war was at its peak. In Croatia, the territory of the secessionist Republic of Serb Krajina had already been under the control of Serb forces for almost two years, the large majority of the Croat population had been exiled from these regions, and in the border areas there was a state of neither war nor peace. At the peak of their domination Serb forces controlled 70% of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the anyway grave situation was further complicated by the Croat-Bosniak conflict, which had been ongoing in central Bosnia and the Neretva region from the summer of ’92.  The end of the political and humanitarian agony was not in sight.   

At that time Croatian cinema was also at the peak of its transition crisis. Only two feature films had been made in the previous 1992, only three in 1993, and all the films shown after independence had been gained in 1991 had in fact been prepared and their (pre)production started during late communism. This could also be seen from the fact that many of them thematically belonged to the “cinema of revisionism” and were a recapitulation of totalitarian, pre-war experiences: the fate of dissidents (Krhotine/Fragments, Zrinko Ogresta, 1991; Priča iz Hrvatske/A Story from Croatia, Krsto Papić, 1991), the collapse of the utopian communist project (Luka/The Harbour, Tomislav Radić, 1992) or the Croatian Spring movement (Zlatne godine/The Golden Years, Davor Žmegač, 1993). The war had already been raging for two years, but no war film had yet been made in Croatia. This situation frustrated the Croatian public all the more because the first films that showed the experience of the armed conflict from the Serbian point of view had already been screened in Serbia (Dezerter/The Deserter, Živojin Pavlović, 1992; Kaži zašto me ostavi/Say why have you Left Me, Oleg Novković, 1993).

In that summer the war drama Vrijeme za/A Time to premiered in Pula, coproduced by Jadran film and Italian public television RAI and directed by the painter and for many years the companion of Orson Welles, Oja Kodar (Olga Palinkaš). The film was made in international coproduction with the intention of creating an epic about the suffering of the innocent Croats, which would show the world what was colloquially known as the truth about Croatia. However, after the Pula premiere critics tore the film apart. Although it had a fair number of viewers (63,454), experts buried the film and called it “an orgy of cinema rubbish” (Visković, 1995: 19), “a shame for Croatian cinema”, “pure amateurism”, “trash” (Šošić, 2009: 13, 47), even a film “that is best erased from the body of Croatian cinema” (Juvančić, 1997: 27). A Time to became a symbol of the exceedingly nationalistic, wartime period of Croatian cinema and Croatian culture.

Oja Kodar’s film begins in an ethnically mixed village in an undetermined, rural part of Croatia. A JNA patrol has blocked the exits from the village and does not allow some Croat villagers to pass through with their tractor. Then a Serb wedding is shown, at which the local villagers celebrate together with JNA officers and the Orthodox priest and toast “Yugoslavia” and “Greater Serbia”. Soon an attack on the village starts, turning into a grotesque, caricatural orgy of rape, burning and slaughter. The father of a Croat family (Franjo Jurčec) is killed in his wine cellar by a Serb wedding guest to whom he had offered wine that very same morning. Having lost their father/husband, the mother Marija (Nada Gaćešić Livaković) and son Darko (Zvonimir Novosel) find themselves in the city as refugees. The mother intends to send her teenage son to his aunt in Germany, but he flees from the train, secretly signs up with the Croatian army and ends up on the front lines. After an artillery attack, an unrecognisable body is found in a gutted house with Darko’s Walkman and earphones, and his mother is told he is dead. The mother takes over the body and decides at all costs to bury him in her village, in no man’s land. As the village cannot be reached by car because the bridge has been damaged, she pulls a cart with the coffin through an apocalyptic war landscape of gutted houses, devastation and burn sites, like some variation of Brecht’s Mother Courage. She reaches the village graveyard, where she finds the family grave demolished, with an “inhabitant” in it: the local drunk and poet, the Serb Nikola. In the meantime Darko, lightly wounded, returns to the town in an ambulance and learns where his mother has gone. When the local Serb soldiers find Marija they intend to rape her, but the drunk Nikola interferes and shoots at them; he enables the heroine to escape but is himself killed in the shooting. Marija continues pulling the cart and the coffin, until she finds the living Darko, who had gone after her. The film ends in a frozen frame showing them running to embrace one another, and the narrator speaks the text from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, 3: “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born and a time to die…” This quotation from the Bible gives the film its title. 

There are many reasons why A Time to met with negative reviews and is remembered as the negative paradigm of a whole era. The first reason, of course, is that it is a completely dilettante piece of craftsmanship. The film was directed extremely incompetently, it is stiff and unconvincing, the dialogues are paper-thin and full of pathos, the acting is unconvincing with extreme exaltation, and the iconographic exaggerations and grotesque characters produced an unintentionally comic effect, so that – as  Josip Visković wrote at the time – the viewer of Kodar’s film inevitably “sobs with mirth” (Visković, 1995: 20).

Another reason for criticism was the strong line of “propagandistic lecturing” (Škrabalo, 1998: 481), which is obvious on at least three levels. The first is the portrayal of the characters, exceedingly black-and-white with a clearly ethnic dividing line: the Croats are all gentle, well-meaning, naïve, courageous and noble, and the only Croat with a slight admixture of “grey” in his character is a war profiteer (Damir Mejovšek), but he nevertheless transports Marija to the war zone thus risking his head. The Serbs, with one partial and miserable exception (the drunk Nikola), are not only negative but diabolically evil. This tone is already given in the introductory wedding scene, rich in all the Balkan stereotypes about the Serbs: there is blaring trumpet and accordion music, roast sucking pigs, shooting into the air and plum brandy, they wear caps from the Šumadija region in Serbia, which is geographically inauthentic, and speak in the ekavica dialect, all of which has nothing to do with the ethnography and dialect of the Croatian Serbs. This demonising of the ethnic Other continues throughout the film. Later on the Serbs commit the most gruesome atrocities (they rape, burn, crucify living people, while drunk throw bombs into graves, pull gold teeth out of a skull, and as an act of drunken wantonness they shoot at a crucifixion). Visually, Kodar’s film shows them more like the caricatures of Chetniks in the grotesque series of comics It's a Prot Pictures by Dubravko Mataković from Vinkovci, which came out in Nedjeljna Dalmacija[1] in the early nineties, than as an attempt to render a convincing representation of a war unit: they are fat, bearded, wear fur hats, are encased in Chetnik ornaments and cartridge belts, before an attack they roll about on the ground drunk, and they also have (excessively) typical Serbian names: Vuk, Stevo, Vasa. The Chetniks are also sexually insatiable, which does not only come to expression in the repeated raping but also in the grotesquely erotic relationship between the sniper (Ivan Brkić) and his mistress, a woman with a Roma accent and shown as a whore in a crimson negligee. The combination of eroticism and the fetish of weapons is clearly expressed in the scene when the sniper’s woman shoots through the window while the man, whose gun she is holding, caresses her from behind.[2] 

The second aspect in which propaganda comes to expression in A Time to is the pronounced explanatory discourse. In the beginning the Serbian war plan is explained by showing weapons being distributed at the wedding, at which the Orthodox priest corrects the officer who toasts “Yugoslavia” instead of “Greater Serbia”. At the same time, the Croats are talking politics in the inn, the old father refuses to see what is obvious and his son angrily says to him, “Old man, you’re a naïve Partisan!” When Darko refuses to go to Germany, he cries out in anguish to his mother, “But who will remain to defend Croatia?!” Perhaps the most direct explanatory scene in the film is that on the grave, towards the end, when an old Chetnik explains what an arms embargo is to a teenager by taking away his knife and making him defend himself bare-handed from an armed attacker. Made with the obvious intention of persuading the West to abolish the arms embargo imposed on the less well-armed Croatian side, this scene visibly demonstrates what director Lukas Nola in an interview called an “explanatory film”: “They kept explaining something to someone … we always had the need to explain to people in Sudan or Holland what is going on here.” (Šošić, 2009: 57)

The third propaganda aspect comes to expression in the way in which typical characters and situations are used to dramatise the way in which the inter-ethnic conflict begins and develops. It is shown through a repetition of typical motifs and dramatic structure which can be seen not only in this film, but also in many others from the nineties. In the beginning the film shows (motif 1) Serb treachery: although the Croat made him a gift of wine, the Serb plans to repay him with evil and says, “Well, tomorrow that vineyard is to be mine”; at the same time the Croat is naive (motif 2) and gives the Serb the wine as a wedding gift. Among the Croats, there are wise people who warn (motif 3) about Serb hypocrisy; for Kodar this is Marija herself, who cautions her husband, at the kitchen table, telling him “what it is all about”. However, he is in denial of reality (motif 4), which is expressed in the scene in the inn when he defends JNA “neutrality” and “state policy”. Then come revelation and the armed attack (motif 5) followed by banishment and life as refugees (motif 6). At the moment when the suffering in exile reaches its peak, self-victimisation reaches a rhetorical climax in the representation of a Roman-Catholic religious rite (motif 7).  The destitute and miserable refugees hold a requiem mass for Darko (thinking him dead) in a demolished town church. Water drips from the caved-in vaults, in the middle of the ruins is a black coffin, the stucco and frescoes show the impact of shelling, the wretched Croats begin to sing the old Croatian song “Oh Croat Mother, do not Mourn”, and the camera shows an ancient Madonna which is the only remaining inventory in the shattered church. The sufferings of the Croats are thus metonymically identified with the biblical Golgotha.[3]

This complex of components relating to dramaturgy, motif and style does not, of course, come to expression only in the cinematic rendering of the war in Croatia. The longish succession of motifs that we can single out in A Time to and in other films of self-victimisation can also be recognised – by no means unexpectedly – in the media depiction of the war, especially on television. Thus Puhovski (1999), in his analysis of hate speech in wartime Croatia, singled out many characteristics that coincide with the thematic components of A Time to. According to Puhovski, hate speech as a rule includes a negative presentation of the Other, conspiracy theory, mobilisation through an abstractly conceived cohesive community, and showing people who hesitate or are inclined to compromise in a negative way (Puhovski, 1999: 60). Turković gave a general overview of the characteristics of media bias and a list of the norms that govern it – “norm of conformity” (to the national interest), “norm of success” (or of optimism), “norm of rightness” (confirming the ethical superiority of our side), “norm of the inhuman enemy” and “norm of focusing on the national” (Turković, 1999: 408-410).  A Time to clearly obeys all these norms: it draws a clear ethical line between “us” and “them”, the heroes completely conform to the context of the national destiny/ideology, it demonises the enemy and concentrates only on the suffering of the Croats, and it offers – albeit a cautious and poorly motivated – happy ending.  But the central characteristic of this and all similar films is elevating victimhood to mythical proportions. As Puhovski noted, “… a demagogic interpretation … of victimised groups or the whole community … seen as a victim in their entirety is one of the essential characteristics of post-Yugoslav war propaganda” (Puhovski, 1999: 61). A Time to enlarges on this aspect of propaganda not only by showing suffering and martyrdom, but also through commentary on a meta-narrative level – in this case, it is the religious rite, the requiem mass among the charred wreckage. This kind of self-victimisation is a key characteristic not only of A Time to but also of the entire poetical model of which this film is the forefather.

It is interesting that many contemporaneous and later critics censured A Time to by comparing it with “the first Partisan films of the forties” (Škrabalo, 1998: 481) and recognising in it “conventions used in cinematic representations of the earlier war” (Šošić, 2009: 14). Ivo Škrabalo repeated this view in an interview published in Anja Šošić’s monograph about Croatian war film, where he repeated that Kodar’s film was “completely like Partisan films” and said that he was opposed to this poetical model because he was against the conventions of the Titoist genre: “We thought, since new times have come, that propaganda should not be used in the old way.” (Šošić, 2009: 50)

There are, naturally, certain similarities between Partisan war epics and films such as A Time to, for example, the distinct black-and-white division of the characters and visualizing the People as the collective victim/martyr/hero. There is, however, one essential difference between A Time to and almost all Partisan films, starting from the early socialist-realist ones to later “Hollywood-type” genre films from the sixties. Partisan films were based on a glorification of resistance and an active role. The key symbolic motif of the Partisan film was celebrating the gesture of rebellion and resistance, which ends in triumph however hopeless and pointless it may at first glance seem. Thus Partisan films always showed the active, enterprising hero, included violence and armed conflict, and had a dramatic climax which inferred the victory of the Partisans and the defeat of the enemy.[4] These characteristics made it easy to codify Partisan films as a specific genre of action films.  

In contrast, the “heroes” of A Time to are unbelievably passive. The Croats in the film are either meek and naïve or pathetically full of self-pity, crying around the kitchen table, lamenting and praying. The only real war scene in the film is when Darko’s unit lures local Chetniks into a village and kills them, but even this scene is directed without showing the main hero and there is an elliptic leap from the beginning of the armed conflict to its end. The film never shows Croat soldiers attacking, but usually joking or talking. The only active character in the film is the “Mother Courage” heroine Marija, but her epic effort is not directed at resisting the enemy but at giving her son a dignified burial. The only character who shows any activism based on ideological consciousness is Darko, but he is surprisingly absent from the dramatic development of the film.  Even at the end, when he courageously enters the enemy lines to save his mother, he arrives on the scene of the dramatic climax too late, after the mother has already been saved. In short, the dramatic hero of A Time to is a war hero who in the whole film does nothing in particular!

This is by no means unintentional. It is obvious that the ideological self-image according to which the Croats were the only and exclusive victims of aggression, and the film’s ambition to explain things abroad, implicitly placed a taboo on showing Croat characters as active participants in the war action. A Time to espoused that ideological taboo, because of which many televisions in the warring countries (including Croatian Television in the nineties) were banned from showing offensive actions of their own forces, or their own artillery in action (Turković, 1999). In films of self-victimisation our side could only be docile, passive and innocent victims, they never fought back, never took revenge or did anything to retaliate, because films of this kind served to illustrate the moral “triumph of the victim over the perpetrator” (Ravetto Biagoli, 2003: 455). Consequently, in films of self-victimisation the heroes were condemned to passively tolerating, and this is what makes them essentially different from the activist, enterprising heroes of Partisan films.   


5.2. A variation of the model: My Dear Angel

This shift in style from the activist war epic did not happen by chance. On the contrary, it had a deep ideological foundation. In the first half of the nineties the public, both conservative and civil-liberal, placed two contradictory priorities before Croatian cinema: to produce a war film that would have a propaganda effect, but which would not in the least resemble the Partisan films of former Yugoslavia, on which they looked as relics of a specific, failed ideology.   

The film Anđele moj dragi/My Dear Angel (1995) is an interesting case study inasmuch as it was an attempt to satisfy both tasks, to be an ideologically correct film of self-victimisation while at the same time avoiding the war-epic genre. It is not by chance that it was made by Tomislav Radić, one of the most outstanding filmmakers of Croatian intimistic modernism (Živa istina/The Living Truth, 1972; Timon, 1973), but also a representative of the ruling ideology in the nineties, either as a public figure or as editor at Croatian Television. All the contradictions of this dual approach can be clearly identified in the film through the dissonance between the two opposite stylistic approaches.

Based on Maja Gluščević’s youth novel Bijeg u košari/Escape in a Basket, the plot of My Dear Angel seems similar to that of A Time to: here, too, we follow the outstanding feat of an innocent victim who courageously and resolutely manages to escape from the enemy back lines. The film’s hero is Jerko (Milan Grabovac), a boy from a wealthy Croatian family in the surroundings of Dubrovnik (the film was made in the villages of Brgat, Ćilipi and Bosanka). After the aggressors kill part of his family (judging from the language they speak in the film they were, surprisingly, Serbs, instead of Montenegrins who actually besieged Dubrovnik), burn down his village and take his parents away, Jerko is saved because his mother threw him into the pack of a donkey, which carries him through the enemy lines. Finally he is found by a Croatian soldier and taken to a children’s home. But Jerko has become dumb with shock so the psychologist in the home, Bernarda (Sunčana Zelenika), tries to bring back his speech. In the film’s climactic scene, as he watches a report about the exchange of hostages on television, Jerko sees his family and his speech returns. But the soldier from Slavonia who saved him does not live to see that, because he is killed on his way home when his train is shelled.  

The story about an outstanding epic deed in Radić’s film is, however, pushed into the background because of introspective delving into the psychological. Radić’s film is structured in line with the conventions of modern psychologism and the stream of consciousness, and the material is organised similarly as in Mimica’s films from the sixties, Prometej s otoka Viševice/Prometheus from the Island of Viševica (1964) and Ponedjeljak ili utorak/Monday or Tuesday (1966). The framework narration follows the boy’s everyday life in the refugee home and the therapist’s daily attempts to establish contact with him. Some sensations from the present serve to “trigger” the boy’s retrospection, leading to the reconstruction of past events: the pre-war everyday life of a bilingual family (Jerko’s people are returnees from Germany), the war, escape in the basket and travelling with the soldier. The trigger for the key chapter in the retrospection is a small donkey in the Christmas Nativity scene organised in the home, which leads to an associative flashback of the boy’s escape in a donkey’s pack saddle.

Most of the film, especially the part that takes place in the children’s home, is consistently anti-epic, even non-narrative, and to a great measure dominated by little Jerko’s viewpoint. He wordlessly observes what is going on, equally scenes from his home in Konavle, a wedding, violent death, and the routine in the institution: bathing, going to sleep, watching television. Many subjective scenes dominate the style of directing, with a prevalence of close-ups in semi-dark interiors, which give introspective insight into the characters or their interaction during everyday activities: drying hair, showering, frying doughnuts, praying. In these sections, My Dear Angel calls to mind Radić’s cinéma vérité films from the seventies, but they can also be looked on as anticipation of the minimalistic verism of the coming decade as they are comparable to films of the Argentinian school (Lucrecia Martel, Lisandro Alonso) or films by Erick Zonca or the Dardenne brothers.  

Radić’s attempt to depart from the epic genre can be seen in avoiding to show the enemy (only two scenes are exceptions) and rejecting what was dominant in A Time to: explanation of how the conflict originated. My Dear Angel is structured as a series of intimistic scenes which are interrupted in a regular rhythm by eruptions of sudden, unexpected violence. This violence, because of the elliptic narration, seems unmotivated and unnatural, almost “ordered for the needs” of the script. Thus the boy’s uncle (Ivo Gregurević) is killed in a helicopter attack which ends suddenly and without motivation, just as it began. The death of the soldier who saved Jerko is the same: he is riding home (to Slavonia) in a train, one single shell explodes beside the train and he is the one who gets killed. The ending also comes without motive and preparation: Jerko’s village is suddenly free, the family and neighbours return and begin to renew the burnt down homes, and the whole political and military reversal is left out.

In short, in My Dear Angel Radić consistently uses a dramaturgic and directing strategy that avoids applying the conventions of a war film or anything epic. This makes it even more amazing that a film of this kind should contain almost all the general thematic and stylistic qualities of “films of self-victimisation”.

The first is idealising the national, rural arcadia: in this case it is Mediterranean (south Dalmatia) and Radić shows it as a sun-drenched garden of terraces, cypress and comfortable, prosperous households.

The second is the pronounced explanatory discourse in the film. Explaining the “truth about Croatia” is prominent in Radić’s film, and it is all the more jarring as it contrasts with the film’s dominant style, which strongly focuses on observation and has a pseudo-documentary approach. Right at the beginning the Dubrovnik family explain to their daughter-in-law, who is German, that the “Croatian flag used to be prohibited”, the psychologist Bernarda explains to the European observer (Zoran Pokupec) that the equidistance policy is unacceptable because “some people are attacking and others are being attacked. This is not a civil war.” Radić shows cynical Western indifference in the scene when two Italian observers visit the refugee centre, ignore Bernarda’s pleas for help and complain about the bad espresso in Gospić. Jerko’s uncle’s prison past is described in a dialogue scene – extremely clumsily written – that takes place in the kitchen where the women of the family are preparing food for a holiday and mention, in passing, that he had spent “ten or fifteen years” in prison because “he had been carrying a flag”. When they start off for the refugee home, Jerko’s parents say that they will be “coming back – but never again unarmed!” In the finale of the film Radić gives the explanatory monologue (impressively acted) of the mother (Dubravka Ostojić), who must care for the family although she left the prison camp with PTSP and had probably been raped. In this final monologue she asks “what does forgiving mean” and continues, “they did all the evil they could to me … I really don’t know what it is I should … I don’t want to think about them any more … but then, I must think.”

Even the genesis of the conflict – to which the film gives little space – is shown using the customary “grammar” of self-victimisation films. Here, too, in a family discussion about politics, we find (2) the motif of Croat naiveté (“Europe won’t allow it … it is important that we show respect for human rights”) which clashes with (3) the warning of the wise (“you don’t know the Serbs”). The military attack (5) is focalised through Jerko’s childhood perception with emphasis on a series of non-epic, intimistic sensations (for example, the scene where we see Jerko’s German aunt mourning her killed husband, kneeling on the kitchen floor). Refugee life (6) is shown through everyday routine without any scenes of exaggerated pathos, but the film nevertheless includes the mandatory theme of films of self-victimisation – the epic exodus of victims – through the media, on the TV news watched in the home. Finally, My Dear Angel also sacralises the victim through a religious ceremony (7): at the end of the film a bell from a bell-cote summons the villagers to the destroyed church (a general place of Croatian films from the nineties) and they all pray together beside the mass killing ground, with the army holding guard.

Like in A Time to, the heroes in My Dear Angel are also strikingly passive. The only heroine who concentrates on a task is the psychologist Bernarda, who is trying to make Jerko talk, which does happen in the end but not because of her efforts. The parents, relatives and the boy himself are once again passive, docile victims who do not resist and do not act. Military actions have been skipped and the liberation of south Dalmatia is left out. The closest to a film “hero” is the soldier who saves Jerko and brings him to the home – but Radić kills this character in a poorly motivated and unintentionally comical scene of an attack on a train. Here, too, as in A Time to, the hero’s epic exploit does not focus on resistance or defence, but on removing the consequences of martyrdom. This film, too, is highly symbolical and includes a religious metaphor, a metanarrative link between a child on a donkey with the Bible, the Flight into Egypt and the night in Bethlehem. Here, too, the national fate is allegorically linked with the Bible.   

My Dear Angel is interspersed with religious metaphor (the donkey, the fallen Christmas tree, the prayer that Jerko and his mother repeat at the beginning and the end of the film), and this highly metaphoric content clashes stylistically with the pronounced pseudo-documentary and veristic nature of the film. This is only one of the symptoms showing that My Dear Angel is a film torn between two contradictory stylistic imperatives. On one hand, the film had to conform to the imperative of the dominant ideology and the stylistic practice of films of self-victimisation, and on the other it is shaped by the author’s own (modernistic, auteur) sensibility, and also a desire to avoid the conventions of a war epic. Trying to satisfy this second impulse, Radić made a strongly intimistic and veristic film devoted to everyday routine, human faces, looks and interaction. In his desire to fulfil the requirements of the dominant stylistic model, he included in the film a remarkable, symbolically saturated adventure, epic components, biblical references, allegory and religious metaphor. These two contradictory forces left My Dear Angel with an unstitched interior seam, and the film never manages to bridge the rift between auteur strategy and the dominant, ideologically privileged stylistic model.


5.3. Completing the model: The Madonna

Made in 1999, at the very end of Tuđman’s political era and in the last year of his rule, Neven Hitrec’s film Bogorodica/ The Madonna closes the arc in Croatian cinema which began with A Time to. The Madonna is the last Croatian film belonging to the stylistic model of self-victimisation, but it is also a film in which some of the fundamental characteristics of this model appear in their purest form and have been shown the most clearly.   

The reason for this lies in the fact that The Madonna is not an unaccomplished film like A Time to, or a hybrid between two stylistic methods like My Dear Angel. In The Madonna the model of the film of self-victimisation is completely undiluted, but the film itself is a good piece of craftsmanship and a fine production, which only serves to bring out the problems immanent to this stylistic practice. After A Time to and other war-time state-building films (Cijena života/The Price of Life, Olovna pričest/Leaden Communion and the like), critics in Croatia attributed the main weaknesses of such films to the incompetence of Oja Kodar and other filmmakers. The case of The Madonna shows that this is not so, and that even well-made films suffer from the problems inherent in this stylistic model.

The scriptwriter for The Madonna was the director’s father Hrvoje Hitrec, a relatively popular children’s writer and scriptwriter who was prominent in the nineties as a fervent champion of the nationalistic ideology and spent a short time as director of Croatian Radio Television. At the time when The Madonna was made his son Neven was a debutant, member of the young Croatian film generation, who had made only several noted documentaries before tackling The Madonna. At Pula 1999 The Madonna won the main festival prize – the Great Gold Arena – although the awards for best director and script went to another and better film, Zrinko Ogresta’s Red Dust.  

While A Time to is a faltering and clumsy film, this is not the case with The Madonna.  It is a film of lavish production starring some of the best Croatian actors (Ivo Gregurević, Ljubomir Kerekeš, Lucija Šerbedžija), and even its most severe critics acknowledge its level of production and directing (Levi, 2007: 128), that is, “the director’s sure hand” in the “evocation of appalling destruction” (Škrabalo, 2008: 206). Nevertheless, all the typical weaknesses that were attacked in A Time to as “propaganda” and “trash” are repeated in The Madonna with striking consistency.  

The film opens with two gloomy, badly dressed men sitting silently in a dark church. One of them offers the other a pistol, which the latter refuses saying that he has his own. Then events in The Madonna go back in time, into an ambience very similar to that at the beginning of A Time to. Again things take place in the rural provinces of Croatia (here, in Slavonia) in a village with an ethnically mixed population. In this film the countryside is shown with great attention, unlike in Kodar’s film, and Slavonia is portrayed using typical imagery: it is summer, the landscape is brightly coloured and sunny with warm, arcadian colours, there is yellow wheat, a row of houses, flocks of geese, flowerbeds, a river and a baroque church. This arcadian summer scene is in strong contrast with the gloomy opening scene. 

In the beginning The Madonna seems like a film about a love triangle among members of the same nation. In its centre is the young schoolteacher Ana (Lucija Šerbedžija) who cannot make up her mind between the flighty and violent youth Đuka (Goran Navojec) and the older, sober amateur sculptor Kuzma Glavan (Ljubomir Kerekeš). Between the two of them Ana chooses Kuzma, and they start a family. At the same time, political tension begins in the ethnically mixed area: a Serb policeman spits at a Croat political gathering, a school child refuses to write in the Latin script, and the Serbs do not allow the Croats to take a hurt boy to a doctor in town. The tension finally escalates into a real war, burning and mass violence. During the attack, the bookkeeper Rade (Ivo Gregurević), a Serb employed in Kuzma’s carpentry shop, grabs the teacher Ana, takes away her child and rapes her in the church.

After the climax of destruction and suffering, the film returns to the frame scene in the church. The war is over, the two former contenders in the love story have in the meantime become co-fighters, and are now also allies. Kuzma Glavan is getting ready to go to Serbia, where he intends to find the bookkeeper Rade and take his revenge for what Rade did to his wife. He goes to Vojvodina and finds Rade, who now has an orderly household, a wife and child (what he had deprived Kuzma of). He seizes him, closes him in a shed, ties him to a table and places a booby trap at the entrance. And at this moment The Madonna ends.

Similarly as in A Time to, in The Madonna the polarisation between the characters is decisively black-and-white and blatantly divided along ethnic lines. The Croats are gentle, tolerant and well-meaning, the schoolteacher Lukač (Vanja Drach) – a kind of ideologue of the nationally awakened Croats – boasts to the Serb boy that he was the one who had taught him to write Cyrillic, the hero Kuzma employs and gives a living to the future destroyer of his family Rade, and even the only problematic Croat – the violent drunk Đuka – ultimately goes through moral catharsis and ends up as a war invalid and an accomplice in his former rival’s vengeful crusade. At the end of the film their antagonism is overcome by a fact that goes beyond any kind of difference in character, by the fact that they are – both Croat.      

On the other hand, all the Serbs in The Madonna are evil, it is only a question of dramatic mechanism when their vicious duplicity will be revealed. Thus Rade starts out as a loyal worker who pretends to be a mediator between the confronted neighbours, but in the war shows himself as a rapist. In the police station only one Serb remains loyal to the new authorities, but even he, in a critical moment, slits the throat of his colleague on duty and sends word to a Serb village that the police are on their way. The other Serb characters in The Madonna are not shaded even that much: the Serbs are simply shown as “drunken wild beasts who given suitable circumstances inevitably give way to the primary instinct to slaughter and rape” (Levi, 2007: 113). Once more the Serbs are unshaved, fat and bald, again they drink to excess, deliriously enjoy violence and, similarly as in A Time to, there is the motif of the Serb teenager taught to hate by an older man/his father: in this case it is the little Vidoje who runs away horrified by the violence and ends up in a minefield. In The Madonna, just like in A Time to, the Serbs are reduced to a chauvinistic caricature, and even the usually restrained Ivo Škrabalo wrote that Hitrec’s film is a “one-sided summons to revenge”, “very close to endorsing hatred” (Škrabalo, 2008: 206).

Considering that The Madonna was made after the war had ended, when the propaganda effect was immaterial, in this film there is less desire to explain than in Kodar’s or in Radić’s My Dear Angel. Surprisingly, this does not mean that it is absent. The script nevertheless feels the need to explain to the public, through dialogues, that “Lukač’s murder is part of a greater plan”, and the character of the police commander from Zagreb (Goran Grgić) explains the role of the JNA and who started it all. It is even more unusual that eight years after A Time to and four after My Dear Angel, The Madonna uses completely the same typical motifs and dramatic structure as the two earlier films to show the genesis of the interethnic conflict. It, too, begins by showing Serb duplicity (1), when Rade places an advertisement in Cyrillic in the papers for a carpenter’s shop and starts to read only newspapers published in Belgrade. There is also the motif of Croat naiveté (2), as in the scene in which Kerekeš, sitting at the table, says that the Kosovo crisis has nothing to do with us (“Kosovo is a long way away”).  Like in A Time to, wise Croats warn (3), and just like in Kodar’s film the scene takes place in an inn, where the educated and politically conscious teacher Lukač comments the political news on television.  As the crisis gains momentum, the Croats continue to live in denial (4). When the Serb Rade disappears from the village, Ana denies that there is a political explanation for his disappearance and supposes that “perhaps he has found the love of his life”. Similarly as in My Dear Angel, in The Madonna the older generation voices warnings from the past: like Jerko’s grandmother in Radić’s film, here Kuzma’s mother reminds her son that the Serbs killed his father in World War II, and places the present events in the context of the unbroken cycle of Croat martyrdom and Serb wickedness. 

Similarly as in both the earlier films, the military attack (motif 5) takes place suddenly, after a time gap, when tanks swarm into the village without any preparation in the storyline. The attack itself is impressively directed, visually expressive, with sharp contrasts and camera angles, very fragmented editing, and the film is dominated by epic scenes of chaos and exodus with some scenes in slow motion. The film does not show the life of refugees, but there are two scenes showing self-victimisation through a religious ceremony (motif 7): shelling a funeral and returning to the devastated church. 

In comparison with the time when A Time to was made, by 1999 the dominant ideological model had already been firmly established, as were its two fundamental components: pronounced anti-communism and clericalism. It is thus not surprising that in The Madonna there are much clearer dramaturgic links between institutionalised Roman Catholicism and the nation than in Kodar’s film. At the beginning the parish priest is preparing to refurbish the church, which coincides with the time of political changes – the national revival on the eve of and after the first democratic elections. Kuzma Glavan is making a wooden statue of the Madonna for the new church, modelled on Ana, which establishes a clear association: religious renewal/national renewal/starting a new family. In the war the Serb aggression destroys the church and wipes out Kuzma’s family and the rape takes place in front of the statue of the Madonna, which establishes a double/triple desecration: of state, church and family. At the end Kuzma prepares for a campaign of revenge – something that is essentially anti-Christian – but this did not prevent the authors of The Madonna from placing the scene of planning the revenge, on the eve of effecting it, in the church. There Kuzma and Đuka conspire and exchange a pistol, as Croats who have become allies and under the vault of their religion/nation contemplate their “legitimate hatred” of the eternal Other.

However, this hatred – which the ending of the film fixes as perpetual and continuing beyond history – does not get a concrete form in the film through Kuzma’s revenge. Kuzma goes to Vojvodina, seizes Rade and rigs a booby trap, and the film ends in a close-up of the Croat/Victim who has to decide whether to pull the vengeful trigger or not. Like A Time to, The Madonna also ends in a frozen frame of a hero who did nothing of fundamental importance during the film, and the ending robs us of seeing his further (in)activity.

In other words, The Madonna, just like A Time to, deprives the positive characters/the Croats of an active role in the dramatic action. Although The Madonna, unlike A Time to, is somewhat richer in war scenes and although they have been better filmed, the undertakings of the Croat characters primarily focus on symbolic and ritual issues (in A Time to – a funeral, in My Dear Angel – escape on a donkey, here – making a religious statue), and not on social, political and war issues. In the storm of the war the Croats function only as meek sheep for slaughter, victims who passively suffer and endure and do little or nothing. Accordingly, Pavle Levi is right in saying that in (this) film “patriotism is measured by the text’s ability to … kill one’s own nation by the hand of the neighbouring ethnic enemy. In other words, in these films patriotism is measured by the degree of self-cadaverisation … the intensity of national necrophilia which they are able to generate” (Levi, 2007: 128). Comparing The Madonna with Miroslav Lekić’s Nož/The Knife, Levi illustrates them with a suitable quotation of the nationalistic Orthodox Bishop Nikolaj Velimirović: “Mourn for me while I am alive, not when I am dead.” (Levi, 2007: 128) 

This “self-cadaverisation” is crucial for every film of self-victimisation. Unlike Partisan films, these films face a taboo: they must never show our side being active, retaliating or resisting. In films of self-victimisation our side can only be passive, inactive victims, and the power of this dramatic taboo comes to expression in the finale of The Madonna, in which Hitrec uses an open ending to avoid showing the hero taking revenge. 

This taboo – obviously typical in Croatian cinema of the nineties – is clearly rooted in psychology, real-politics and communication. As interpreted by Boris Buden, when the war began the message Croatian culture sent to the West changed from the formerly dominant: we are the same as you are (we are hard-working, Central European, cultured, antemurale christianitatis), into its complete opposite: we are victims. “The identity formed in the process of political recognition and under which the Croats were finally recognised is the pure identity of victimhood… Croatia was recognised only after it had become a victim.” (Buden, 1999: 81) Under these circumstances the victim role became such political and cultural capital that the filmmakers in institutional cinema did not even think of playing and gambling with this capital by offering their public the “sinful pleasure” of an action war film.

Thus The Madonna, like other films of self-victimisation, rejected the tradition of the classic narrative style. The classic narrative style implies that we follow an action of the main hero which is relevant enough to keep our interest, whereas in films of self-victimisation such actions are ideologically contraindicated, and thus tacitly prohibited. Between pandering to viewers’ enjoyment and satisfying the pragmatic requirements of Ideology as the Spectator-in-Chief, films of self-victimisation chose the latter. The consequence was completely understandable: these films were not popular with the public. 


5.4. A correction of the model: Surrounded

Most state-building films in Croatia met with derision, had few viewers and were largely unpopular with the audience at large. Critics usually said this was because of their “low quality” – without giving a closer explanation of what this meant – or their “propagandism” – forgetting the immense popularity and success of the just as nationalistic and propagandistic music of - for example - Miroslav Škoro or Marko Perković Thompson.

The main reasons why these films were unpopular may not have been their propagandism, or even whether they were well made or not. They were more probably unpopular because they departed from the norm of the classic narrative style whose imperative is an active hero instead of a hero who is passive and does not take part in the main action. If this is so, it explains why Croatian war veterans often did not like state-building films. Instead of films showing the Croats’ courage and active resistance, films that they expected and which agreed with their experiences as viewers of Western (and also Partisan) action films, Croatian cinema served them films in which their, i.e. our side, does nothing! It is therefore not surprising that veterans were angry with some state-building films, such as Dubrovački suton/Dubrovnik Dusk (1999, Željko Senečić). The Dubrovnik veterans and the local MP and war veteran Srećko Kljunak attacked this film, produced by Tuđman’s son Stjepan, saying that “it showed the defenders as drunks and deserters”, that the “film retailors Croatian history” and “leaves the impression that Dubrovnik was conquered” (Pavičić, 1999a: 6). What upset the war veterans was not the film’s “unpatriotic” ideological viewpoint (it was extremely “patriotic”, the producer had family ties with the President and the director was a privileged regime director) but something else: on one hand, the discrepancy between the stylistic codes inherent in a film of self-victimisation and expectations based on the classic narrative style, i.e. a genre film, and on the other, the imbalance between showing the Croats as meek and passive and the veterans’ own narrative identity, in which they saw themselves as courageous, enterprising victors.[5] 

This same happened in the wider cultural context. Cultural products based on self-victimisation were often met with irony and mockery (like Ivčić’s song Stop the War in Croatia), while the most popular cultural products of the era remain the ones with an activist viewpoint, those that showed resistance. This is equally true of high culture (for example, Antun Šoljan’s poem Vukovarski arzuhal/Petition for Vukovar, in which the poet threatens “you will pay for all this wreckage /you will remember Vukovar”), action pulp-novels, such as TG-5 by Igor Petrić (which describes a commando exploit by Croatian guardsmen in the enemy hinterland on Velebit, and the plot and style are reminiscent of Guns of Navarone by Alistair Mc Lean) and of pop-music (for example, the most popular Croatian “war evergreen” Čavoglave by Marko Perković Thompson, in which the singer specifies who the enemy are by listing the Orthodox villages in Petrovo polje and even threatens, “Our hand will reach you/even in Serbia!”).

Had there been a model for this in cinema, what would it have been like? Would it have been in the style of a genre film? Would it have resembled Voina/War (2002) by Alexey Balabanov or 9 rota/9th Regiment (2005) by Fyodor Bondarchuk, or any of the similar, extremely nationalistic Russian war thrillers? We cannot know for certain, because no such film was even made in Croatia, but we can make a guess based on the amateur short film U okruženju/Surrounded (1998) made in Požega by the war invalid Stjepan Sabljak (1968-2004) and a group of war veterans for only ten thousand German Marks. This amateur film – which also gained public renown because it was made using live ammunition – was completely the product of dilettantes, former fighters, which makes it interesting because despite the clumsy production it shows the kind of film that the target audience of self-victimisation films would have made.  

The outlook in Sabljak’s film is just as black-and-white, politically one-sided and nationalistic as in the films of self-victimisation. Here, too, the Serbs are shown as caricatures, dishevelled Chetniks, “the costumes and makeup are exaggerated, the Chetniks wear what are unmistakably cheap wigs, the characters are one-dimensional and the acting painfully self-conscious and unnatural … the narrative model is so obviously dilettante that it cannot hide the traces of its own structure” (Levi, 2007: 119). But where Sabljak’s attempt fundamentally differs from the norm in state-building films is not the (basically identical) ideology of nationalism, but the dramaturgic choice. In Surrounded the dramaturgy of self-victimisation is replaced by the dramaturgy of typical action films, whether those made in Hollywood or the Partisan type as made by Hajrudin Krvavac. The makers of Surrounded even advertised their film as the “first Croatian amateur action film”, not shrinking from using the label of a “trivial” genre, in which they differed from mainstream filmmakers.

In his analysis Pavle Levi rightly notes that Surrounded, unlike The Madonna, “shows no interest at all in the reasons for the ethnic hatred”, which it “accepts as a natural fact not open to discussion, something that is simply given” (Levi, 2007: 118-119). Rightly recognising this as a naked and pure symptom of the self-perpetuation of nationalism, Levi fails to notice the local Croatian context of this choice. Leaving “even a  pretence at an explanation” out of the film (Levi), not showing the causes, relinquishing passive self-victimisation and opting for the rudiments of the action genre of both the Krvavec and Walter Hill type, Sabljak and his amateurs in fact (completely unconsciously) metafilmically attacked the film of self-victimisation. Instead of it, they chose a classic action film in the Partisan tradition, which closes the circle in a way that must obviously be a nightmare for the conservative aesthetic public. Films of self-victimisation, i.e. state-building films, were not bad because they resembled socialist-realistic Partisan spectacles, but – the opposite – because they were fundamentally different from them: and Surrounded was an attempt by amateurs to bridge that stylistic gap.

Nonetheless, in the state-ruled Croatian cinema state-building films of self-victimisation were made, despite their unpopularity, during the entire Tuđman era, in the first place because Croatian films were not really made for the public but for the state/ministry/ruling ideology and for an imaginary world public with the task of informing it of the truth about Croatia. This poetical model developed and survived because of the wish to satisfy those two tasks, and died out the moment when political changes made these tasks superfluous.


5.5. The case of Kosovo: Anathema

The Croatian public and critics prevailingly believed, and still do, that state-building films of self-victimisation were a locally specific trend of the Croatian nineties, made as the product of a particular social climate and cultural policy exclusively connected with Croatia in the nineties under Tuđman.   

The following example shows that this is not so and that films of self-victimisation appeared in other post-Yugoslav cinemas as well, where political and ideological preconditions existed: heightened nationalism, armed aggression, a prevalent feeling that our nation is someone’s victim, and the wish to send abroad a message about political conditions understood in this way. All these components existed in Croatia in the nineties, just as they did in Kosovo after 1999. The example of the film Anatema/Anathema (2006) by Agim Sopi shows the appearance of the film of self-victimisation there, too, in a very different cultural context.

Kosovo cinema was brought back to life in the real sense with Isa Qosja’s film Kukumi (2005), which had a degree of foreign success partly also because it mocked and ironised the exaltation of young statehood. Sopi’s film Anathema is completely different: although very critical of Kosovo reality and especially of the inherited patriarchal mentality, this film in many ways includes the general points seen in Croatian films of self-victimisation.   

Anatema begins with a title sequence showing visually stylised documentary war scenes: attacking Serbian tanks and ruins. After this sequence the film takes us to a small, unnamed Kosovo town through whose streets terrified civilians are running from the Serbian army which is shooting and killing indiscriminately. An American television crew appears in this chaos, and they find a wounded little girl in the street. They take her to the nearest medical facility, which is in the Serbian military base, where the Serbian officer accuses the journalists of spying and the girl is killed. Astounded by what he has seen, the American journalist Schwartz (Doug Barron) wants to inform the world, but his editor tells him that his assignment has been cancelled and that he is being sent to Gaza. His interpreter, an Albanian woman Ema Berisha (Lumnie Sopi), decides do the task herself. She goes to her own town, which is already in disarray because of the advancing Serbian forces. Ema uses the lull in the war to get married and spend her first wedding night. But in the morning the Serbs occupy the town, take away the Albanian women and mass rape them, and the colonel kills Ema’s mother. Ema ends up in Tirana with relatives. After the war, however, she faces new suffering: she has had a child but the community casts her off because they think that the child is the fruit of rape, and her husband no longer wants to have anything to do with her. Seeing that the child is a burden on her future, Ema takes him to an orphanage. The reporter Schwartz soon returns to Kosovo, and Ema is also helped by the Albanian officer Shpati (Blerim Gjoci) who was the one who saved her in the war. Ema soon realises that the monastery/orphanage is only a front for child prostitution and white slavery organised by local gangsters and the Belgrade mafia. She enters the institution pretending to be a servant, finds her child, in the decisive moment Shpati and the Kosovo army occupy the monastery, but then KFOR buts in, disarms the Kosovo forces and saves the villains.

As can be seen, Anatema is a dramatic diptych that can be clearly divided in two parts: the first is about the martyrdom of the Albanian/Kosovo collective ethnicity, and the second a rather inept film of social criticism showing the martyrdom of an educated and self-confident single mother in the patriarchal society of independent Kosovo. The first part is especially interesting because it is unusually similar to Croatian examples.

In Anathema, too, the place where the war suffering takes place is shown as traditional, highly idealised and very appealing. All the sites in which the Serbian crimes take place are ancient, stone-built centres of small Kosovo towns, the streets are clean and unspoiled by new interpolations, with a prevalence of the traditional architecture of stone paving, doors and stairways. Most of the places with a modern connotation are linked with the Serbs: the Serbian army has its headquarters in an abandoned industrial plant.

In Sopi’s film demonising the ethnic Other goes even further than in Croatian examples. The Serbs in Anathema literally stop at nothing. In the introductory scene their officer does not kill the wounded child saying, “leave her there, let her feel the pain”. The Serbian colonel later has the girl killed in cold blood. The Serbs in the army base are very similar to those in Oja Kodar’s film: unshaven, obese, untidy, grotesquely evil, anti-Semitic, they call themselves “the people of heaven”. Their colonel plays chess with a prisoner and shoots him when the prisoner checkmates him. Sopi uses an extremely grotesque style to show the ethnic Other, with admixtures of surrealism, so that in some scenes we feel an embryonic influence of Alejandro Jodorowski, Pasolini or Lordan Zafranović. In one scene the Serbian officer bathes in a bath filled with flower petals in a deserted thermo-electric power plant, holding a crucifix, with an Orthodox priest beside him, but also a succession of semi-nude women and champagne. Surrounded by this bizarre scene, the colonel interrogates the foreign journalists and the Albanian interpreter.

Anatema, too, is overloaded with excessive explanations. The colonel does not refrain from explaining, in English, that this is a “dirty war…in the Serbian tradition”, the motif of the editorial board that pulls its crew out of Kosovo is shown as Western cynicism, and the dialogues between Ema and the American journalists serve to express moralistic horror: “this can't happen here… not here… not again” despairs Ema. Anathema includes a motif frequent in post-Yugoslav, but not in Croatian films:[6] the figure of the foreign observer/arbiter through whose perspective the viewer from third cultures should look on the world in the narrative.[7] However, in Sopi’s film Westerners are shown in a light that is far from complimentary – what is more, as the film progresses KFOR and foreigners are increasingly shown as a factor of disruption that suspends justice and Kosovo statehood.

In the illustration of horror Anathema is very similar to the Croatian examples, but it draws more and with less inhibition from the stylistic repertoire of the war epic. This especially comes to expression in the middle part of the film, which shows the massacre in Ema’s home town. It begins with a scene of mass confusion and swarms of terrified people. Then follows the Serbian onslaught – again dramaturgically completely unprepared, like a bolt from the sky – and the grotesque scene of mass rape. After that follows a half long shot under the bluish dawn, the heroine is shown leaving the town in rags, weeping, everything is in a mist, crying can be heard and a sorrowful folk song. Self-victimisation is again – exactly as in Croatian examples – underlined by a religious ceremony. After the colonel shoots Ema’s mother, the old Catholic priest, who had only hours earlier married Ema on a burnt-out site, preaches about eternal life, and the victims pray. 

The final and most interesting correlation between Croatian films of self-victimisation and Anathema is the stand taken to showing armed resistance, i.e. to the defenders of the nation. In Sopi’s film the Kosovo army keeps appearing, as does the officer Shpati, the man who has the role of the patriarchal protector, the “knight in shining armour”, and finally the lover. However, although the first part of the film takes place in the midst of the war, Sopi conspicuously and consistently refrains from showing war activities of the Kosovo forces. Shpati and the UCK army disappear from the film, then reappear, and they patently disappear just at the moment when the civilians and the heroine are in danger. Mysteriously, they are never there when they are needed, and although we keep seeing them during the film, the Kosovo civilians, women and nation are delivered helpless to the diabolical enemy. In the first half of the film all the main characters (Ema, Schwarz, Ema’s fiancé and her mother) are conspicuously passive, and their (in)activity is reduced to suffering and impotent despair. Like in Croatian films of self-victimisation, in the Kosovo example the self-image of our nation as the unconditional victim is expressed in the specific dramaturgy: the heroes are condemned to non-action, only the Other/criminal has an active role in the plot, and the male protector/hero exists as an indicated force but never comes to expression in an active role. In this sense, the first part of Anathema is strikingly similar to A Time to and My Dear Angel. In the Kosovo film, like in the Croatian ones, the political community is formed through the status of the passive victim.

Things change completely in the second part of the film, when Anathema becomes a film of social criticism of the young social order and Ema turns from a passive sufferer to an action-thriller heroine and committed woman who enterprisingly faces adversity in the patriarchal society. Because of this the second part of Anathema has completely different stylistic characteristics, the epic of self-victimisation is replaced by a mixture of melodrama, crime story and political film, and gets the attributes of a completely different poetical model, much more characteristic of the post-Yugoslav two thousands.  


5.6. Go West

Made in 2005, at the time when the renaissance of Bosnian and Herzegovinian film was well under way, Go West by director Ahmed Imamović is in many ways a kind of exception from the current norm. It was made at a time when post-Yugoslav cinemas had already moved beyond the poetics and ideology of self-victimisation to more sober war reminiscences. The film was a marked exception in a cinema in which the poetical model of self-victimisation – for reasons I will write about later – was not characteristic. Furthermore, Go West is interesting because here the stylistic model was brought to the highest level of receptive self-awareness and stylistic self-reflection.

Go West begins in the first days of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, in occupied Sarajevo. The heroes are two homosexual lovers: Milan Ranković (Tarik Filipović), a Serb and judoist, and Kenan Dizdar (Mario Drmač), a Bosniak and violoncello student. Right at the beginning the film introduces the leading motif of films of self-victimisation – that of Serb duplicity – in the scene when the Milan’s Serb judo partner offers him a gun and encourages him to join the war: Milan, however, refuses. When the war in Sarajevo intensifies, Milan persuades Kenan to flee with him to the West but the Serb army takes them off the train not far from Milan’s home village. To save the life of his Bosniak lover, Milan disguises him as a woman and introduces him to the soldiers as his girl-friend. As they cannot continue on their journey, Milan and the disguised Kenan go to Milan’s house, to his father Ljubo (Rade Šerbedžija), a returnee from the USA who keeps the village inn. Milan and Kenan – who is known as Milena in the village – try to obtain exit papers from the Serb part of B&H. In the meantime Milan is drafted to the Serb army, so the false fiancée – in fact a man and a Muslim – remains alone in the Serb village, under the same roof with his “father-in-law” from whom he must hide his identity. The neighbour Ranka (Mirjana Karanović), a single mother and the village witch, discovers his identity. Wanting a man, Ranka seduces Kenan, and when he refuses to go away with her, she casts a spell on Milan. Milan really is killed in the war, and in a rage his father Ljubo attacks the war-mongering priest. Kenan, crushed by his loss, refuses Ranka, who in jealous fury smashes his ‘cello using the graveyard cross. At the end Kenan tells the whole story on French television, where his studio hostess is the actress Jeanne Moreau.

The main characteristic of films of self-victimisation – a strong impulse to explain – is visible literally from the first scene in Go West. The film brings a textual explanation of the chronology of and reasons for the B&H war already in the title sequence, in letters on a dark background. This is followed by a video tape of Kenan in the French TV studio, explaining the gender situation in B&H: “The Serbs, who are Orthodox, hate the Muslims, the Muslims do not like the Serbs, there are also Croats who are not friends with the Muslims right now, but all this will stop … but they will all equally continue to hate homosexuals. It is easier to stand having a killer in your family than a gay.”

Explicit explanation continues to remain a dominant feature of Go West. The scene at the judo training – where his partner tries to persuade Milan to take up arms – is edited parallel with a scene from the theatre where the master of ceremonies is talking about the need for living together, and Kenan is waiting to start playing. Throughout the film Imamović finds it necessary to openly underline what is politically obvious: Milan brings Kenan the news that his family have been killed, commenting “they had enough time and enough hatred”, the Orthodox priest blesses the wounded with the cry, “Serbia from New York to Tokyo”, at the end of the film Milan’s friend Lunjo (Haris Burina) sees Kenan off on the train with an almost “columnist-like” monologue whose point is, “We are slaughtering one another like in the Middle Ages, and people are making silicon chips.” The framework scene in the French TV studio, besides fitting a Western observer into the film, also functions as an explanation of this view. Asked by Jeanne Moreau to play something, Kenan plays without his instrument which Ranka had smashed (which is in itself a bombastic and shallow metaphor), and when the hostess says, “je suis désolée… j'ai ne rien entendu” (I’m sorry… I didn’t hear anything), Kenan/the narrator/the author answers “you should have told me to play louder”, by which he polemically and ironically comments the fact that – using a metaphor from the nineties – the West was deaf to the entreaties from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In Go West, just like in the kindred Croatian and Kosovo examples, a firm iconographic difference is made between us and them. However, in keeping with the political myth about urban coexistence in Sarajevo and about the ’92 war as one between city dwellers and non-urban country dwellers, this difference does not run strictly along ethnic lines but is a distinction between town/high culture/tolerance – village/primitivism/nationalism. The place and culture of our side is made to look beautiful, like in the Croatian and Kosovo examples, only this time it is not a rural and folklore arcadia but urban Sarajevo: Belle Époque Austro-Hungarian architecture along the river Miljacka, evening lights reflected from washed asphalt, dinner jackets, ‘cello music, political speeches about centuries-old tolerance. When circumstances bring Kenan to Milan’s home region, the ‘cello becomes the synegdoche of lost urbanity. So Kenan – like Władysław Szpilman, the hero of Roman Polanski’s Pianist – fulfils his supressed need for music by sitting alone in his room and imagining music, with his instrument dumb, while the meta-diegetic sound of his introspective “playing” can be heard off through images that show the primitive wasteland: forest and barren rocks, mist and the large wickerwork dummies/scarecrows which the villagers arrange around the village as some kind of pagan idols. An even more direct use of the same procedure is the scene in which the peasants mourn the death of their soldiers: lamentation, wailing and the playing of gusle can be heard outside, and in the room Kenan imagines himself playing the ‘cello. In Go West the ‘cello functions similarly as the wooden statue in The Madonna: as a direct and rather two-dimensional mark of spiritual elevation and belonging to civilisation. And just as in the Croatian film the statue is violated, so here the furious and possessive Ranka shatters the ‘cello (with a grave cross!). In both cases the act of barbaric destruction of civilisation is connected to unrestrained passion, accompanied by jealousy, eroticism and unbridled sexuality. From A Time to to Go West, films of self-victimisation always treat eroticism in the same way: extremely conservatively, showing the corporal as a component of the barbaric, violent and destructive. In Go West this is all the stranger as the film declaratively supports gender emancipation and an anti-religious, secular stand.    

Go West is one of the few, if not the only film made in Bosnia and Herzegovina in which there is an obvious demonization of the ethnic/political Other. Analysing Imamović’s film, the Croatian critic Mima Simić rightly notes that in Go West “the honourable Serb exceptions (Ljubo, Milan’s friend Lunjo) confirm the rule of the Serbs collectively as evil, toothless, dirty and brutal, and Orthodox churches as grotesque war-mongering institutions”, and she connects Go West with Croatian state-building films,  noticing that the “narrator is extremely inclined to ethnic stereotype, calling to mind the masterpieces of ideological-political kitsch from the cameras of Jakov Sedlar and/or Oja Kodar” (Simić, 2006). In Go West, however, demonising the Other is not unwitting, haphazard and iconographically primitive, as in the Croatian and Kosovo examples. Imamović is fully aware of how the West looks on the Balkans, which he internalises through the character of the TV journalist. In the same way he raises vilifying the Other to a level of consciousness that goes beyond the film itself, operating with imagery from films about World War II, spaghetti westerns (which he himself gives as a key influence) and the Balkan film, including the films of Emir Kusturica. As Mima Simić rightly notes, in his desire to make a politically rhetoric point Imamović “speaks the language that everyone understands, the language of stereotype” (Simić, 2006).

This deeper level is expressed as soon as the area under Serb control is entered. The scene takes place at night, on a railway station, and begins with a detail of the Serb officer’s sleeve: the officer is dressed in a dark-coloured leather overcoat similar to those worn by the SS, and on his sleeve he has a red band which blatantly alludes to those worn by the SS, except that instead of a swastika the white circle holds the Serb arms with firesteels. The entire iconography – night, steam from the engine, bursts of gunfire in the distance – transparently alludes to films about the holocaust, or to Yugoslav films about Nazi deportations (for example, the introduction of Ne okreći se sine/Don’t Look Back, Son by Branko Bauer from 1956).

The Serb village is shown through a combination of visual codes used in spaghetti westerns and what Daković (2008) and Iordanova (2006) call the “Balkan genre”. Ljubo’s and Milan’s village belongs to a backward civilisation, arid stones surrounded by more stones, gravel screes and deserted surface mines, and besides this landscape, the “western” visualisation is underlined by wooden huts, cattle pens and an inn (which, considering that Ljubo had returned from Texas, looks like a saloon). In showing the Serb rural culture and warmongering atmosphere, Imamović does not refrain from using the most grotesque iconographic combinations: children wear fur hats and brandish Kalashnikovs, the usual imagery of Serb parties (plum brandy, trumpets, roast pork), and there is even a bear (!). In a grotesque wedding scene, we see peasants riding on a gigantic tipper lorry used for surface mining, there are gusle and banners, and the unshaved, plump male singer in a white suit sings about “ten fingers to beat the Turk”. The village priest is a legless invalid who commutes from village to church raised and lowered in a grotesque wooden elevator. On his chair is a carved Serb coat-of-arms, and in the church he sings to gusle about the Vatican, Mecca and Washington who have ganged up against the Serbs. In what is certainly the most bizarre scene in the film, Bosniak prisoners – in an absurd inversion – pull a trailer in which there is a horse, and this grotesque procession is followed by a jeep pulling a speedboat through the dry wasteland, carrying soldiers and boisterous girls![8]

Criticising Go West as a seemingly gender-engaged but in fact a latently homophobic and basically conservative film, Mima Simić wrote:

The erotic component of the homosexual relationship is reduced to a shy minimum – the only kiss we see takes place in the dark and in an almost panoramic shot, while, on the other hand, the film does not hold back from showing female nakedness (masturbation!) and explicit scenes of heterosex. Rather sad, one would say, for a film whose main promotion strategy was homosexuality. (Simić, 2006)

Not only this critic but many others, as well, objected to the lack of warmth and convincing show of devotion between the two homosexual heroes in Imamović’s film: what is more, the three longest and most elaborately filmed scenes between Kenan and Milan are scenes of quarrelling, precisely distributed as in acts of a play at the beginning, middle and end. The relationship between the two heroes does not for a moment seem one of true affection. Furthermore, Kenan’s only sign of real emotion is for the fate of his own political collective, i.e. for the razed ruins of the neighbouring, slaughtered Bosniak village. Kenan visits it, meditates over the left-over sneakers and the devastated homes, and these scenes – visually and structurally similar to the journey through ruins in A Time to – are the only scenes when Kenan opens up emotionally. Like Kodar’s and Radić’s heroes, Kenan is completely passive, compliantly resigned and dependent on the help of other people, and just like in the Croatian and Kosovo cases, the personification of this help is a man/lover/patriarchal figure of authority (Milan) whose effective help is in fact put off, or even completely prevented. Thus Kenan is no more than a helpless, passive observer of brutality and primitivism. Unlike in the more direct and cruder Croatian cases, here the evil and primitivism of the Other are not shown through explicit atrocities (because in Go West they happened before Kenan’s arrival) but through the cultural “superstructure” of evil: militarism, harnessing the Church and chauvinistic propaganda, turbo-folk music, hate speech and so on. Furthermore, Imamović’s film no longer shows this through the naïve use of direct propaganda, but gives an intertextual and meta-genre approach and uses the imagery of films of self-Balkanisation, a stylistic model that had already been imprinted on Western reception as a regional brand. In doing so, Imamović was not in the least troubled by the fact that this stylisation, based on a kind of self-exoticising attitude, is founded on ideological connotations that are the complete opposite of those demonstrated in his film.  

Comparing Go West with Croatian examples from the nineties, Mima Simić noted that in his film Imamović took over the “burden of responsibility for the people he represents”, because of which “the story can scarcely be complex and stratified”, and “Kenan and Ahmed decide to sacrifice art on the altar of the homeland” (Simić, 2006). All these are reasons why Imamović’s film is closely related to the poetical paradigm of Croatian state-building films from the nineties. However, Go West differs from them by the context in which it was made. In Croatia, films of self-victimisation were the dominant kind of production in one period, relatively frequent[9] and ideologically and institutionally desired. In Bosnia and Herzegovina this was not so, notwithstanding that the Bosniaks/Muslims were both absolutely and relatively by far the greatest victims of the Yugoslav wars of the nineties.

This can probably be explained by the content of the national ideology of Croats and the Kosovo Albanians on one hand, and Bosniaks on the other. Both the Croatian and the Kosovo/Albanian ideology hinge on the motif of perpetuated national martyrdom, there is a tacit understanding that “they have always oppressed us”, that “they are impossible to live with” and that is why we must part ways (even if this means using force). In the context of the various national ideologies in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the motif of eternal hatred rife in Bosnia, of the impossibility of the different nations living together and of Bosnia as a country of perpetual contradictions was, and has remained, not at the core of the Bosniak or the Unitary-Bosnia national programme, but on the contrary, it belongs to the secessionist Croat and Serb political programmes. As proof and an example of the “impossibility of Bosnia” they often (fabricating the essence of the text) mention Letter from 1920 by Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić, in which the narrator, in the first person, calls Bosnia “a land of hatred and fear” and continues: “…while everyone is sleeping, division keeps vigil in the counting of the late, small hours, and separates these sleeping people who, awake, rejoice and mourn, feast and fast by four different and antagonistic calendars, and send all their prayers and wishes to one heaven in four different ecclesiastical languages. And this difference, sometimes visible and open, sometimes invisible and hidden, is always similar to hatred, and often completely identical with it”(see Kazaz, 1999, Lovrenović, 2008).[10]

On the other hand, the Bosniaks as a nation have the greatest existential interest in the survival of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and when they conjure up the history and identity of B&H they always emphasise components of inter-confessional harmony, a balanced life of togetherness and the deep links among the Bosnian and Herzegovinian peoples. Idealisation of the Ottoman period of tolerance and multiculturalism is an essential component of Bosniak ideologies, both secular and less secular. Because of this, films of self-victimisation contradicted the cultural self-image and the dominant ideology of Sarajevo as the city of the Bosniak nation. Cultural products that accentuated the “eternal” and “irreconcilable” conflict and that collectively demonised the ethnic Other undermined the dominant and ideologically desirable self-image of Bosnia as seen in Sarajevo. A characteristic example of this is Namik Kabil’s documentary film Informativni razgovori/Interviews (2007), in which even after the interviewer’s repeated attempts the interviewed citizens (most of them Bosniak) uneasily avoid naming the attackers on Sarajevo or Mostar, indirectly calling them “they”, “the men from the mountains”, “everyone knows who”.   

This everyone-knows-who position is characteristic of most of B&H cinema, where the ethnic/ideological/political Other is either completely bypassed or is shown in a post-war and non-ideological context. For Sarajevo-made films this rule holds regardless of the author’s ethnicity or world view. Imamović’s Go West is a major and inglorious exception to the above rule. 


5.7. Films of self-victimisation: conclusion

Films of self-victimisation were the dominant stylistic model in Croatian cinema until Tuđman’s death. In Kosovo cinema, because too few films were made, it is difficult to speak about a dominant model, but on the basis of several films (Kosovska žeđ/Kosovo Thirst, Anathema) the impression is that this cinema, had it been more developed, would have to a great extent been the same. In B&H cinema, for reasons I have already written about, films of self-victimisation were never the dominant model, but this model did sporadically appear, both through entire films and through stylistic and thematic components in films that cannot otherwise be incorporated in the model.

It is possible to critically challenge the claim that films of self-victimisation were the dominant model in Croatian cinema in the nineties: films belonging to this paradigm were not the most numerous, nor were they the best or most popular in that period. 

This is true, but nevertheless this stylistic model dominated cinema in the nineties. Although the most popular and most successful Croatian films of the period did not belong to the above paradigm, they all in some way related to the film of self-victimisation as the dominant, institutionally favoured and ideologically desirable model.

The important and good Croatian films of the nineties did this in two ways. The first was to completely ignore the existence of the dominant model, and their “rootless” and “unpatriotic” attitude made them a positive scandal, like Mondo Bobo (1997) by Goran Rušinović. 

The second way was to undermine the dominant model using irony, satire or deconstruction and by doing so provide the viewer who belonged to the local culture with subversive ideological pleasure. In Croatia this was the case with Brešan’s comedies Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku/How the War Started on my Island (1996) and Maršal/Marshal Tito (1999), Hrvoje Hribar’s Puška za uspavljivanje/Stun Gun (1996) or Snježana Tribuson’s Tri muškarca Melite Žganjer/The Three Men of Melita Žganjer (1998), and in Kosovo with the film Kukumi (2005) by Isa Qosja.

There is a reason why films belonging to the self-victimisation model appeared most of all in Croatia, and also sporadically in B&H and Kosovo. In the post-Yugoslav cinemas they can be recognised wherever there were specific political, ideological and social preconditions. These preconditions were war, external aggression, heightened nationalism and the dominant feeling that the community we belong to is an innocent and/or helpless victim. During the wars of the nineties this feeling prevailed in Croatia, among the Kosovo Albanians and among the Bosniaks and the Bosnia-oriented citizens of B&H.  

This self-image of victimhood was all the stronger because it was often challenged, more rarely locally and much more often from abroad. The political entities that felt themselves to be victims reacted to being challenged by insisting on their initial stand to caricatural proportions, by rigidly emphasising the irreconcilable difference between “black” and “white”, and by insistently denying that there could be any shades of grey. In Croatia this need to oppose any qualifying of blame for the war was verbally expressed through the demand to name the aggressor, which was a ritual obligation imposed on public figures, politicians, cultural workers and publicists. Turković (1999) showed that this discourse was not necessarily derived from the dictates of ideology (top-down), but that it was much more often an uncontrolled reaction of the general public (down-top), the psychological need of an endangered collectivity. 

Under such circumstances cinema, too, created narrative worlds incorporating naming the aggressor. In these narrative worlds the differences between the “goodies” and the “baddies” were clear and irreconcilable, most characters were fixed in one of these two opposites, and the opposites were often, although not always, delimited according to ethnicity. Films of self-victimisation used this black-and-white approach and moralising on the border of caricature to oppose any actual and potential attempts to “mist up” and qualify what was seen as a permanent political truth and the community’s existential experience.

Reality constructed in this way was coupled with a specific style. All films of self-victimisation, regardless of the differentiating nuances shown above, are basically similar. They are directed using pronounced rhetoric, a declamatory and explanatory discourse. In some components of style they adopt the tradition of the war epic, showing the fate of the masses and the collective, depicting history in broad gestures and including outstanding and elevated feats of distinguished and faultless heroes.  But unlike standard war epics, films of self-victimisation do not have an active hero, their heroes are either passive victims or act heroically to decrease/erase the effects of Evil on the symbolic level. In the need to emphasise the one-sided victimisation of Our Side and the total guilt of the Other, films of self-victimisation generate a specific dramaturgy, the dramaturgy of the collective victim. Spontaneously borrowing from the conventions of films created to make a profit and from the classic narrative style, films of self-victimisation usually include the character of a hero/saviour/avenger/patron (the son Darko in A Time to, the soldier in My Dear Angel, Kuzma in The Madonna), but since any act by an active hero who solves the problem is counter indicated by the ideology of self-victimisation, the producers of these films make the most unusual efforts to postpone, relocate, avoid, place after the time of the film or in a final frozen scene, the climactic reckoning with Evil. In this way the dramaturgy of self-victimisation brings alive the situation in which the victimised societies were actually living in the nineties: the situation in which those who were in trouble sought help from the West/World/Europe, but this help was only announced as a possibility but postponed to an undefined tomorrow.     

In content, but also in style, films of self-victimisation were performative utterances. They showed that there can be no relativistic approach to the Yugoslav war but that the side that is right deserves and is seeking for support, and at the same time they themselves were a plea for help. Internally they served as self-confirmation of the ruling ideology, and outwardly they asserted it.

Translated by Nikolina Jovanović. The translation is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre.

[1] An example is the episode of It's a Prot Pictures of 30 December 1991, with grotesque caricatures of JNA officers wearing fur hats and Serbian national hats.

[2] It should be noted that the existence of urban snipers who shot civilians from high-rises in behind-the-front towns was one of the most widespread urban legends of the Croatian war. However, in actual fact not one case of this sniper activity in the back lines was noted, and the existence of snipers and the KOS (Yugoslav intelligence service) back-lines network served as an excuse for arresting, and then killing Serbs in Zagreb, Split and Osijek, later uncovered in cases such as Pavilion 22, Lora and the “garage case”.  

[3] National suffering is similarly consecrated in the short feature film Olovna pričest/Leaden Communion by Eduard Galić from 1995, in which the suffering of a Croat political and war martyr (Božidar Alić) is dramaturgically intertwined with the rite and Stations of the Cross in a destroyed church.  

[4] This is so even in cases where there was no historical basis for a happy ending, as in the case of Sutjeska (1974) by Stipe Delić.

[5] This narrative identity can convincingly be documented from literally dozens of volumes of memoir and autobiographical prose published by Croatian war veterans. More about this in Cvitan (2002).

[6] On the contrary, in Croatian films the Western observer and peace forces are often shown in a mocking or sarcastic vein, for example in Srce nije u modi /The Heart is not In (Branko Schmidt, 2000) and in the example already mentioned, in Radić’s My Dear Angel.

[7] There is a foreign woman journalist in the films Lepa sela lepo gore/Pretty Village Pretty Flame by Srđan Dragojević, Pred doždot/Before the Rain by Milče Mančevski and Ničija zemlja/No Man’s Land by Danis Tanović. In Nafaka (Jasmin Duraković, 2006) the foreign arbiter is an Afro-American woman who moved to Sarajevo, and in Go West (Ahmed Imamović, 2005) this role is taken by a woman TV journalist in the framework scene (Jeanne Moreau). It is important to note that characters of foreign observers was also often introduced because of coproduction arrangements, in which foreign co-financers often insisted on actors and/or characters from their own countries.    

[8] Describing the debate after the public screening of the film in the presence of the author, Simić wrote: “To a comment about the rather one-sided presentation of the Serbs, the director immediately asked the young man who had asked the question to tell him his year of birth. ‘Because had you been there,’ said Ahmed, ‘you would have known that the Serbs really were like that. And I’m sorry I didn’t have more money’, Imamović added sadly, ‘I would have shown them in an even worse light.’” (Simić, 2006). Imamović himself denied saying this, but he also shocked the public by using insulting and homophobic vocabulary in the debate.

[9] This frequency should be taken with a grain of salt: about ten of the 42 films made between 1993 and 2000 belong to this genre.

[10] Enver Kazaz and Ivan Lovrenović explained that interpreting Andrić’s text by identifying the narrator’s voice in the first person with an expression of the author’s political stance is a banal approach.


Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

6. The Film of Self-balkanisation 1

The sixth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

5. The Film of Self-victimisation

The fifth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Imre Szíjártó

Cinemas in Central-Eastern-Europe at the End of the 1980s

The historical framework

In this chapter we attempt to delineate the socio-historical background of the Central-Eastern- European cinemas of the 1990s. We treat the period directly preceding the change of regime, namely the "end of the 1980s" as a relatively neutral period reference and describe events of the  period relevant to film history. Since state socialism collapsed in a different rhythm and logic in each country, we will discuss each country separately. As in previous chapters the descriptive approach will be complemented by a comparative one, since we also try to formulate the regional message of the transformation that took place in each country.

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

4. The Eastern European and the Post-Yugoslav Situation: Similarities and Differences

The fourth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Iván Forgács

The Concept

Could there be a full gap between a state's political function and its ideology and recordable values with a humane trend? If not, in what kind of elements can be revealed the link? Is the opportunity of the violence game for this humanism inside? Could that state oppressor machineries work in the context of the humanism? How much was the film art of the East European state socialism specific? How much can be the intellectual-artistic peculiarities of the region's film production derived from the ideological values represented officially in these countries? May we talk about socialist cinema art in any kind of sense?

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

3. The Context of Eastern European Cinema after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The third part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Imre Szíjártó

Theoretical Framework: Canon, Canonisation, School 

The political transformation in the East-Central-European region, which began in the second half of the 1980s and ended in the early 1990s, connected in two countries with the establishment of souvereignty, seems to be a perfect period – or to be more precisely, a perfect milestone in history – to analyse the constructedness of the canon. Although it is clear that changes in values systems do not occur from one day to the next, neither can they be understood as effects of historical milestone events, unless we pause the ever changing reality of culture. 

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

2. The Development of Cinema in the Post-Yugoslav Countries

The second part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Krasimir Kastelov

Postmodernist Film Interpretations of the Communist Past

(The Bulgarian contribution in the context of the Central and East European cinema)

The proposed analysis of key films from the Bulgarian and the East European cinema shows, that their postmodernist specifics is not accidental, but it reflects the overall feeling of crisis, lack of meaning and absurdity which has engaged the minds of many filmmakers from our region – something typical for the transition between two eras, when one cultural paradigm is put aside, but a new one is still not widely adopted. On the other hand, the appearance of those films, in my opinion, refutes the premature conclusions of some Western theorists that the postmodernism is already dead. 
Thirty years after the first swallows of the postmodernist cinema in the West, the film art in the post-totalitarian East European countries takes advantage of its lessons in order to make sense of some of the unpleasant episodes of the communist past, “with irony, not innocently” by Umberto Eco’s definition. The wide international reaction to most of the titles, analyzed in the current overview, suggests perhaps the right path for overcoming the nostalgia of that era.