By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
Balkan filmmakers these days must be acutely sensitive to how their works may be perceived at home and abroad -- someone is always asking, "What side are you on?" Then again, that question has been an issue through 50 years of communism and 10 years of war.
The first Serbian talkie was shot during the Nazi occupation of Belgrade in 1942. To be frank, it's no Open City. Innocence Unprotectedwas directed by Dragoljub Aleksic, a Yugoslavian daredevil who built a naive melodrama about a girl and her strongman sweetheart around footage of his own high-wire and aerial stunts, shot before the war. After Marshal Josip Tito and the Communist Party came to power, Aleksic was brought up on and eventually cleared of charges that he had collaborated with the Nazis.
In his loving but critically savvy documentary, also titled Innocence Unprotected(1968), Dusan Makavejev weaves together scenes from Aleksic's movie, interviews with surviving cast members, and footage from the era's news and propaganda films. The result is a brilliant reminder that the meanings of images are always up for grabs, as Makavejev looks at the ways in which daredevils, fascists and communists all exploit the body beautiful.
Made in the era of openness that came with Tito's death in 1980, Emir Kusturica's When Father Was Away on Business(1985) and Goran Markovic's Tito and Me(1992) are, each in its own way, about love, loyalty and life under the Communist leader. In neither of these films are there signs of the deeply rooted ethnic and political tensions that exploded in the early '90s, although perhaps they left their mark in Markovic's sense of nostalgia. With the release of his epic, absurdist satire Underground(1995), however, Kusturica ran into those tensions head-on. This story of a comic love triangle set against Yugoslavia's ever-darkening postwar history won the director both his second Palme d'Or at Cannes (his first was for Father) and censure for his failure to condemn Serbia's role in civil-war atrocities. Kusturica vowed never to make another film (his latest, Black Cat, White Cat, opens next month).
Similarly, Serbian director Srdan Dragojevic's Pretty Village, Pretty Flame(1996), a searing portrait of two lifelong friends who end up on opposite sides of the conflict, was hailed as a Kubrickian anti-war statement by many international critics, while in Bosnia-Herzegovina it was considered little more than pro-Serb agitprop.
A few days after The Hornetscreened in Sarajevo, Dragojevic's The Wounds was shown amid tight security. But with Dragojevic turning his savage eye toward Belgrade's social meltdown under Slobodan Milosevic's nationalist policies through the story of two Serb teenagers who dream of becoming gangsters, The Woundsproved a hit. Some local viewers even saw it as an apology for Pretty Village, Pretty Flame, a sign that Dragojevic had learned a valuable lesson.
All of these films, with the exception of The Hornetand The Wounds, are available on video.
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