15 Essential Films For An Introduction To The Yugoslav Black Wave

8. The Feast (1967)


Djordje Kadijevic, a pioneer of Yugoslav horror flicks with his 1973. television film The She-Butterfly, in his cinematic debut introduces the audience with the opposite side of the Peoples Liberation Struggle (a term used by the Communist Party which refers to the fight against the Nazi occupation, but also the civil war against the monarchists).

The story is set in the midst of an unnamed village somewhere in Serbia under the control of the Chetniks, the monarchist forces loyal to the pre-war government. The Chetnik movement had a reputation of occasionally co-operating with the Nazi puppet regime in Serbia during the World War, as their ideological stand opposed to bolshevism and communism managed to find a common language with the Nazis.

It is Christmas, and the villagers are hoping to spend it in peace, but the downing of a British aircraft and capturing of its pilots changes everything. The Chetnik commander, sergeant Katic, invites the pilots to a Christmas dinner and the plot thickens.

Kadijevic invokes a lot of symbolic in his work, like the parody of The Last Supper, by Da Vinci with a frontal shot of the dinner as the commander preaches his primitive life philosophy. The anticipation of the directors further interest in the horror genre comes from a character called Manolo who is the village executor. His terrifying figure is related to the demonic as he is feared by the superstitious people. Represented as a mystic deity larger than life, he doesn’t speak a word during the entire film.


7. Three (1965)


Three is a perfect example of a Black Wave omnibus film. Written and directed by Alexander Petrovic, it is consisted of three episodes from the different stages of the World War II. The main character, Milos Bojanic, shares his war experience at its beginning, where he witnesses a murder of an innocent man as a consequence of mass paranoia, its middle, acting as prey of a dynamic German pursuit, and at its end where he is forced to deal with the faith of a captured bourgeois girl accused of treason.

Though there is a disjunction in space and time, there is no such disjunction in character. Bata Zivojinovic, who is also famous for his other roles in Yugoslav Partisan movies which got him the nickname Bata The Animal, stars in this existentialist, hyper-realistic overview of the war.

It follows the tradition of the first official Black Wave film, omnibus, The City (1963), directed by Zivojin Pavlovic, Kokan Rakonjac and Marko Babac, with its tragic outcome in all three stories. Petrovic raises an important and controversial issue of that time – the actions of the Partisan secret service during the immediate postwar period.


6. Early Works (1969)

Rani radovi (1969)

Early Works has a central position within the Yugoslav Black Wave due to the controversy surrounding the film and it serves as the primary target for the counter-offensive which defined and ultimately dismantled the movement. Zelimir Zilnik started his film career as a documentary filmmaker, producing some rather interesting non-fiction shorts of the period such as The Black Film, and the Newsreel on Village Youth, During Winter .

His debut feature-length film, Early Works (the title refers to the early works of Karl Marx), won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1969. The film narrates the story of a band of Marxist revolutionaries who wish to affect the society they live in and to raise political conciseness of their fellow citizens. The wish to “repair socialism that has got into a crisis can be summed up in one Zilniks statement: ”

“It would be very useful to begin liquidating these things which provoke us to shoot socially critical films.” The film uses a non-traditional form, as it’s characteristic for the director to completely mock and abandon the conventions of cinema. The script is based on the adaptations of early political and philosophical criticism of Karl Marx openly provoking the structures of the regime that allegedly conduct Marxism.


5. When I Am Dead And Gone (1967)

Kad budem mrtav i beo

This picaresque feature, full of dark humor and satire, poses as a debut role of the earlier mentioned actor, Dragan Nikolic. Directed by the Serbian master of cinema, Zivojin Zika Pavlovic, it tells a tale of a yet another marginalized character. Jimmy Barka (Jimmy the Boat) is a small time delinquent who happened to be given an opportunity to become a folk singer. He is rather talentless, which leads to a series of mishaps, ending tragically, in the spirit of the Wave.

Pavlovic’s auteurist distinction from other Black Wave directors comes from his use of mise-en-scene. He is a director who prioritizes space and the conserving of it in a continuous pace rather than the temporal and spatial fractures of editing. In this film, in particular, there is an emphasis towards composition in depth and sequence shots. When I am Dead and Gone is a part of a non-organic trilogy consisted of two other films, one of which, The Ambush, is on this list.


4. Love Affair Or The Case Of The Missing Switchboard Operator (1967)

Love Affair or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (1967)

An insane overlook on a love relationship between Ahmed and Isabel, directed by the most critically acclaimed Yugoslav art-house director, Dusan Makavejev, offers us a cold and neutral standpoint implementing documentary-style cinematography and the use of archival footage which spans from the ever-loving implications on the totalitarian regime to the educational films on human anatomy. The film leads a non-traditional narrative, built on stylistic dialectic which rapidly shuttles from one half to the other with little, or no warning.

“Are you interested in sex?” is a question placed by a certain author on the subject of medicinal sexuality, doctor Aleksandar Kostic, which opens the film. Love Affair is fueled on the love/death dichotomy, as it ends with a murder. The Eros/Thanatos concept is set in the title which uses a conjunction “or” that indicates a struggle between these two element.

Besides the character of doctor Kostic, there is a lecture-like sequence that introduces the viewer with yet another doctor, this time an expert in criminology. Doctor Aleksic deals with the tragic conclusion of the love story with the same scientific punctuality and lack of emotion, as his earlier counterpart.


3. I Even Met Happy Gypsies (1967)

I Even Met Happy Gypsies

The second Alexandar Petrovic film on this list deals with the Romani culture in Yugoslavia. Romani are a marginalized national minority that functions under its own laws and unwritten rules. White Bora, the protagonist, collects feathers as a primary material for the cushion industry. He is also involved in small criminal activities such as his side business in stolen antiques. Bora exists in the gray area between legitimacy and crime. His environment is depicted as hostile and unforgiving, as is the larger society that envelops it.

Petrovic engages in a critique of the silent apartheid that is unofficially adopted and integrated among the common people towards the Romani. He also criticizes the religious institution and the ones who are in the service of it for its hypocrisy. This ultimately becomes a demystification effort. Filmed in the swamp areas around the small town of Sombor with a lot of non-professional actors it portrays the life of the poor with a grin smile.

The film won the Gran Prix in Cannes in 1969. and is considered to have had a great deal of influence on yet another Yugoslav film director – the double Palm D’Or winner, Emir Kusturica.


2. The Ambush (1969)

Zaseda (1969)

The third film in Pavlovics “Death trilogy” (the first one being The Awakening of the Rats, which isn’t on the list, but still definitely worth watching) is yet another post-war film about the re-education and re-construction of the rural parts of Yugoslavia after the Second World War. It presents in detail the disastrous effects of the revolution on the men who must carry it out and the citizens who must bear the burden.

The protagonist is Ivica, a young and optimistic partisan who gets appalled by the behavior of his fellow soldiers superiors after the victory. They all prove to be opportunistic, hypocritical and not at all interested in the well-being and prosperity that has been promised. The contemporary parallels and implications of these revolutionary critiques were strong.

Pavlovic managed to stay in Yugoslavia even though he was one of the boldest film directors of the movement. Nobody could deny his talent and the international prizes made him more untouchable. He was a winner of the Silver Bear for Awakening of the Rats in 1965., Best Film Prize in Karlovy Vary IFF in 1968. for When I am Dead and Gone and a Golden Lion in Venice for The Ambush.


1. W.R. Mysteries Of Organism (1971)

W.R. Mysteries of Organism (1971)

Makavejev continues to tamper with the sex and power problem in the number one feature of the essential Yugoslav Black Wave list. This, shall we say climax, of his exploration deals with the questions of freedom related to the famous Sexual Revolution of the sixties. His flirty main character Milena calls for a sexual revolution in her neighborhood influenced by the teachings of a famous Freudian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Wilhelm Reich.

The main argument for the revolution of this sort is that it is aligned with the communist ideology, fascism being the ideology of the destructive sexual repression, since those who cannot freely achieve an orgasm search for a dangerously powerful substitute – power itself. This film follows two parallel stories. One being Milena and her attempt to change the world, and the other a documentary about Reich.

The W.R. in the title stand for the initials of his name, but they are also an abbreviation for “World Revolution”. After the release of the film Dusan Makavejev left the country due to the ban of his film, and the pressure that was put on him by the public. His ode to Wilhelm Reich disgusted the conservative mainstream media which deemed it pornographic.

Author Bio: Nikola is a comparative literature student in Belgrade, Serbia and an assistant selector for the Free Zone Film Festival (http://www.freezonebelgrade.org/). She hopes to become a filmmaker in the future, but for now just an enthusiast.