Orphans of the East: Postwar Eastern European Cinema and the Revolutionary Subject

Orphans of the East: Postwar Eastern European Cinema and the Revolutionary Subject

Orphans of the East: Postwar Eastern European Cinema and the Revolutionary Subject

Orphans of the East: Postwar Eastern European Cinema and the Revolutionary Subject

Synopsis

Unlike the benevolent orphan found in Charlie Chaplin's The Kid or the sentimentalized figure of Little Orphan Annie, the orphan in postwar Eastern European cinema takes on a more politically fraught role, embodying the tensions of individuals struggling to recover from war and grappling with an unknown future under Soviet rule. By exploring films produced in postwar Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Poland, Parvulescu traces the way in which cinema envisioned and debated the condition of the post-World War II subject and the "new man" of Soviet-style communism. In these films, the orphan becomes a cinematic trope that interrogates socialist visions of ideological institutionalization and re-education and stands as a silent critic of the system's shortcomings or as a resilient spirit who has resisted capture by the political apparatus of the new state.

Excerpt

Thus will orphan children have a second birth. After their first birth we spoke
of their nurture and education, and after their second birth, when they have
lost their parents, we ought to take measures that the misfortune of orphan
hood may be as little sad to them as possible. In the first place, we say that the
guardians of the law are lawgivers and fathers to them, not inferior to their
natural fathers. Moreover, they shall take charge of them year by year as of
their own kindred.

—Plato, The Laws

Our new man, in our new society, is to be molded by socialist organizations …
where intelligent educators will make him a communist …

—Alexandra Kollontai, Communism and the Family

SINCE THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION of 1917, communism became more than an oppositional discourse against capitalism. It developed into a political order that started to spread globally. One such expansion took place in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. With the aid of the Soviet occupation administration, Marxist-Leninist governments seized power in the region. One by one, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia began putting into practice socialist aspirations and started Eastern Europe on its path to communism. On a national level, paths to communism did not unfold similarly. They engaged with different economic and social contexts, were articulated more or less in dependence on Moscow, and even ended—were denounced and memorialized, up to the present day—differently. Yet this book claims there was a certain unity in this diversity, which can be called the “Eastern European experience of socialism.” This unity is defined by more than just the shared (communist) ideological basis, the imposition of a Soviet model of governance, and the . . .

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