15 Essential Films For An Introduction To The Yugoslav Black Wave
“Yugoslav Black Wave” is a term that defines a number of films in former Yugoslavia ranging from the period of the late sixties to the early seventies. Even though there was never an official manifesto of the movement, there are, undeniably, common characteristics in both form and content that bond the films of notable Yugoslav directors of the time, such as Dusan Makavejev, Zivojin Pavlovic, Zelimir Zilnik, Sasha Petrovic and others.
It came as a reaction to the series of Partisan films that glorified the revolutionary struggle during The Second World War. The characters were often just an instrument of propaganda. This caused a wave of darker, grittier and more pessimistic films in which the directors expressed interest in dealing with the psychopathology of the human soul, as well as the repressive political apparatus that tried to deny individual freedom labeling it as “anti-collective”.
This led to a re-interpretation of the past in a more naturalistic style and the analysis of the present with an uncompromising critique of the society. The result was the banning and censorship of some of the most extreme films of the period, and voluntary exile of the leading figures in the movement.
It is important to note that the intention of these films wasn’t a call for a real political revolution, but rather a critique of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the hopes of realizing a more productive society, one that practices an improved and humane form of socialism.
In artistic sense the influence came from the New Wave, Cinema Verite and Auteur cinema that began to flourish in France, and then, epidemically took over the minds of artists all over Europe (with a significant echo in the American film). Also, movements such as Italian neorealism and the so called Czech Dark Wave had a great role in forming the poetic stands of the Black Wave cinema.
Given the certain amount of artistic freedom in a country that had officially adopted the Leninist doctrine that promoted film as the most important of all arts, the filmmakers of the Black Wave managed to produce a number of critically acclaimed movies that used an innovative and experimental approach.
15. Kolt 15 GAP (1971)
A short documentary/fiction hybrid titled under the acronym which states: “Gathering remains, licking plates, for fifteen years, actively and passively”, directed by Jovan Jovanovic and Miodrag Milosevic .
The film exhibits the anarchic style and absurdist humor through a semi-documentary portrait of a self-proclaimed Marxist fanatic and his comedic views on society, though there are moments when the film adheres to a strong representation of reality that attempts to probe various nuances of life in Belgrade, the capital city of today’s Serbia, and the former capital of Yugoslavia.
14. Young And Healthy As A Rose (1971)
The first feature-length film by the already mentioned Jovan Jovanovic. The director further utilizes his use of anarchy and chaos, creating one of the most notorious protagonist in Yugoslav film history.
Steve (played by Dragan Nikolic, who became a sex-symbol in Yugoslavia, thanks to his sometimes naive, but always charming portrayals of womanizers, gangsters and thugs) is a petty criminal with no sense of conscious who elevates himself through criminal underground, quickly becoming a revolutionary/gangster and occupying a famous Belgrade hotel named Yugoslavia with his horde of junkies, harlots and other strayed youths.
Here he enacts in a huge orgy which visually is as intense as some of the scenes from Pasolini’s Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, until he is finally gunned down by the police besieging the hotel.
His cult sentence “I am your future” gives a chilling and haunting feel to this already grotesque vision of the raging youth conflicting every form of authority. It was banned after its premiere, and rehabilitated in 2006.
13. Kaya, I Will Kill You (1967)
Directed by Vatroslav Mimica, the film examines an episode from the Second World War in a small idyllic seaside village in Croatia. The beginning of the war brings unrest to the village, and turns former friends into foes. Pierrot joins the fascist collaborators, and starts to pick on the goodhearted store owner Kaya, who is secretly helping the resistance.
The film opens with a ten-minute pre-credit sequence of an experimental montage of abstract images including spiders, crumbling buildings, raging waters, fish and churches. This unconventional opening introduces us to a surrealist and mysterious setting which provokes strong subconscious imagery that reflects war, desecration and madness.
12. Morning (1967)
A former resistance fighter himself, Purisa Djordjevic, made a movie about the first morning after the war. Having defeated the Germans, the Partisans start a cleansing operation, eliminating the alleged enemies of the revolution and traitors. Even though the war is over, the killing doesn’t stop, and the hero of the story becomes disappointed in the goal he thought he was fighting for.
Djordjevic’s “J’ai accuse” of the massive executions of people in the name of the Revolution depicts a bitter taste of victory from the perspective of an idealist whose optimism and belief in change is violently crushed before his eyes as he witnesses a civil war raging in the shadow of the fight he had considered legitimate and true.
11. Tough Guys (1968)
The director of this feature, Mica Popovic, was an acclaimed painter before he entered the world of film. His art was known for its subversive and satirical character, which he successfully transcended into Tough Guys, a story about two brothers, Isidor and Gvozden, who are unemployed war veterans. They prove to be incapable of conforming during peacetime.
The lack of sustainable domestic life or even the prospects of one, further pushes the brothers to the margins of society. Isidor and Gvozden carry army issued machine guns in the trunk of their car, as a constant reminder of the war as their only true profession. Their village is destroyed, so they have no place to call home. At the end they turn against each other in the lack of real enemies.
Isidor and Gvozden fit in the Black Wave character description; they are hopeless, desperate, rebellious and marginalized by the society. They also represent a generation of people lost after the war, uneducated and emotionally damaged. Armed and with combat experience they become potential enemies of the state. The opening scene introduces each of the principal characters with a “mug shot” image and the sound of a cynically humorous off-screen voice that describes their personality traits.
10. The Restless (1967)
The Restless by Kokan Rakonjac is a film about the police search for a missing girl that is suspected of being involved in a series of fatal hit-and-run traffic accidents. The true dramatic conflict of the film is between the youth generation of the sixties and their parents somewhat similar to the Jovanovic’s Young and Healthy as a Rose.
The film is anti-traditional in both form and content, as it utilizes rock music and a shaky camerawork to represent the young and restless. Its depiction of the sixties counterculture garnered it an immediate cult status, partly due to the director’s death under unexplained circumstances two years after the release of the film.
9. Plastic Jesus (1970)
Lazar Stojanovic’s first and only feature-length film, Plastic Jesus, is truly one of a kind, even though it reflects on J. L. Godard’s La Chinoise in its use of meta-film elements and Makavejevs “Serbian cutting” technique which creates a chaotic mixture of archive and actual film footage that creates a series of radical breaks in continuity. In the film it was used to make a social and ideological commentary regarding the regime.
The main storyline in this non-traditional narrative follows an independent filmmaker, Tom Gotovac (who delivers a tour-de-force performance), as he tries to make his film, but also to survive in Belgrade since he has no job nor money. He gets caught up in a love triangle that leads to a tragic outcome. The film earned its bad reputation due to its comparative use of archival footage which features Partisans, Germans and other factions that were involved in the war depicted as the same.
The climax of this ideological heresy at the time, comes through images of the “President for Life”, Josip Broz Tito compared to Adolf Hitler. Plastic Jesus was immediately banned after its premiere, labeled as anti-state and pornographic, and the director was imprisoned for three years. The film was re-released in 1990.
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