Academic journal article CineAction

Cinema of the Dispersed Yugoslavs: Diaspora in the Making

Academic journal article CineAction

Cinema of the Dispersed Yugoslavs: Diaspora in the Making

Article excerpt

Director Srdjan Dragojevic, of the acclaimed Pretty Village, Pretty Flame (1996) and Wounds (1998), was expected to leave Yugoslavia for America half a year before the Kosovo crisis. In the fall of 1998 he had announced a three-picture deal with Miramax, and everyone knew he was bound to the West. It so happened, however, that he left Belgrade just days before the bombing started. By the time he reached New York, America had launched a war on his native country.

At a press conference, Dragojevic refused to condemn the Serbian government, choosing instead to appeal to journalists to see the multiple dimensions of the tragedy that was to unravel, and to point out that things were not as simple and straightforward as many would prefer them to be.

While Dragojevic was talking to the press in New York, his film colleagues back in Belgrade firmly believed that he had never reached the US and was, in fact, stuck in Budapest with his family, his chances to ever be granted an American entry visa steadily decreasing. It seems that the obscurity about Dragojevic's whereabouts was being maintained with his consent.

It is not so difficult to see why: While going to the US was the right career move for Dragojevic, there was no need to manifest it publicly to those who stayed back in Belgrade to take "the punishment" of bombing. It was an awkward situation: He was certainly one disapproving of the regime, but so were many others who stayed behind and who were now charged with collective guilt.

Not only Dragojevic's political allegiances are split in such a way. To various degrees, this attitude is characteristic of many of the film people who left Yugoslavia around the time of this country's break-up. Many of them lead an existence, which can be described as "sitting on the fence," neither here nor there, expected to take sides but unwilling to do so.

In her book about life after emigration, Croatian author Dubravka Ugresic speaks of getting together with other displaced Yugoslav intellectuals in a New York flat--here they are, together, the same people once again, only in a different locale. One of them, the film director, says: "I don't want to stay, I don't want to go back, what can I do?"(1)

These people are not typical exiles. Only a handful of them are in an outspoken opposition to the regime. They can move back and forth freely between their home country and the West. Unlike exiles, they are often celebrated at home rather then perceived as subversive dissidents. It is the topic of their troubled homeland that concerns them all, as well as the themes of migrations and dispersal. They are all part of a new diaspora-in-the making.

DIRECTORS AS INTERPRETERS

Most of the Yugoslav directors who enjoy an international profile have been commuting between America and Europe during the past decade. With a few exceptions, they prefer to move either in the world of US independents or within the European realm rather than plunge into mainstream Hollywood. Even though their films are marked by differences in language and location, they all subscribe, to a greater or lesser extent, to the same project of a critical rethinking of the Balkan space. They have all undergone the necessary experiences of displacement and detachment from their own country, have overcome an ingrained complex of Balkan inferiority, and have launched a sound critical examination of the crisis back home.

The directors of international stature--Goran Paskaljevic, Emir Kusturica, and Milcho Manchevski--have all expressed a desire to work on projects that would not confine them to the peculiar Balkan universe. At the same time, however, they seem to feel compelled to continue making films that present their vision of what the Balkan conflict is all about. In making such films, they accept functioning as cross-cultural interpreters of their troubled home to worldwide audiences.

Serbian Goran Paskaljevic lives in Paris. …

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