Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience 1945-2001

By Beck, Kay | Journal of Film and Video, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience 1945-2001


Beck, Kay, Journal of Film and Video


LIBERATED CINEMA: THE YUGOSLAV EXPERIENCE 1945-2001 Daniel J. Goulding. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002, 285 pp.

Daniel J. Goulding's Liberated Cinema is an expanded edition of an earlier book that covered the cinema of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1985. Since 1985 much has happened in the region, including the breakup of Yugoslavia as a nation and, ironically, the establishment of a new national cinema. It is a complicated and tragic story of artistic determination to create in the midst of internecine warfare and social disruption. Although Yugoslavia has a rich tradition in the production of animated and short documentary films, Goulding chooses to concentrate on feature films. And unlike many texts that insist upon covering all of Eastern European cinema, this book focuses only on the Yugoslavian productions.

Covering the historical background and the films of several regions (eventually separate nations), Goulding's book is an ambitious undertaking. To help the reader through this "Balkan labyrinth," Goulding discusses films and trends in relation to three facets-industry, aesthetic movements, and politics and ideologyand these are followed across five broad historical periods: post-World War Il (1945-50); decentralization (1951-60); republicanism (1961-73); regionalism (1973-90); and breakup (1991-2001). The postwar period was dominated by politics and ideology, as Yugoslavia struggled to define its relation to the Soviet Union, a struggle that led eventually to Tito's break with Stalin in 1948. The following period was characterized by establishment of a film industry distinctly reflective of Yugoslavia's artistic heritage. The 19605 and 19705 witnessed a number of film movements, and these culminated during the next period in the New Yugoslavia Cinema. The final period covers the breakup of Yugoslavia into five separate countries, each with its own filmic approach to the brutal conflicts surrounding the redrawing of national boundaries.

Against this historical backdrop, Goulding discusses the film texts and the film industry, remaining cognizant of the fact that textual analyses of Yugoslav films, as for many national cinemas, are necessarily contextual. Beginning immediately in the postwar period, Yugoslav films reflected a unique national experience among the European communist countries. Displaying a fierce independence in the face of communist domination, Yugoslavia founded a market socialist government ("Titoism") which led to the establishment and growth of a strong film production industry; this, in turn, resulted in a national cinema that refused to adhere to Stalin's socialist-realist dogma.

These efforts resulted in the establishment of a new cinema, which partook of the worldwide youth movement that culminated in the events of 1968. Like other new national cinemas, Yugoslav new film was characterized by a provocative confrontation with the past and a critique of the present. And like artistic movements worldwide, it was followed by a conservative backlash and was affected by the introduction of television. This fertile period ended with the release of WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), a controversial film that was denied distribution in Yugoslavia by state authorities.

Amidst the deteriorating economic conditions of the 19805, Yugoslav filmmakers labored on, eventually creating an internationally recognized body of work known as the New Yugoslavia Cinema. The high point of this period was 1985, when the film When Father Was Away on Business (1985), directed Emir Kusturica, won the Palme d'Or at Cannes. The last feature film to come out of a united Yugoslavia was Virginia (1991), a film in which the cast, the artistic, and the technical crew were all multiethnic and multinational. That film, says Goulding, "is strengthened by the creative collaboration across ethnic and national lines . .. firmly anchored in the specificities of time and place, it transcends Balkan stereotypes to express . …

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