European Communication Research
and Education Association

Log in

Studies in Eastern European Cinema, Volume 13, Issue 3 (2022)

11.08.2022 21:16 | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Edited by: Ewa Mazierska

The last issue in 2022 is dedicated to Želimir Žilnik: one of two issues of Studies in Eastern European Cinema, dedicated to his work. There are many reasons we decided to honour this director with a series of articles. First, Žilnik (b. 1942) is one of the most important directors coming from Eastern Europe, in his case Yugoslavia, yet also one who attracts a cult following and niche popularity, rather than enjoying mainstream appeal. Consequently, although many articles and book chapters were devoted to his work (including two I have published myself), these publications are dispersed or are not widely available, due to being published in German or one of the ‘post-Yugoslav’ languages. Dedicating to Žilnik two issues of Studies in Eastern European Cinema is meant to allow the readers to learn more about Žilnik’s films, especially less-known facets of his activities and expand his audience. Second, Žilnik’s career demonstrates the complexity of Eastern European cinema and its entanglement in cinemas of other regions, given that during his career, lasting almost 60 years, he worked in Yugoslavia and after its dissolution, Serbia, as well as in Germany and Austria. He is thus a Yugoslav, Serbian and a transnational director. He also worked in different genres and utilised different media, most importantly film and television. Whatever Žilnik does, he also comes across as being able to remain relevant: notice the acute problems facing his compatriots, as well as the European and global community. Nobody can criticise Žilnik for shirking from difficult topics, such inequality in an allegedly egalitarian socialist country, Yugoslavia, unemployment and homelessness, in Yugoslavia and elsewhere, the plight of the Roma community, as well as sex workers and people who do not conform to heterosexual norms. As Gal Kirn, the author of one of articles published in this issue observes, ‘Žilnik’s work has become synonymous with political and engaged film already in the tumultuous time of socialist Yugoslavia in the late 1960s, which was marked by workers’ strikes, student protests and cultural experimentation. The engaged nature of his filmmaking can be traced both in the meticulous work about marginalised subjects, as well as in his methodology that recombines fictive and documentary means in displaying his marginalised protagonists.’ In this respect he reminds us of Jean-Luc Godard, with whom he also shares a resolve to carry on working, as long as the moving image does not reject him.

The vast majority of Žilnik’s films are set in contemporary times, including his debut feature, Rani radovi/Early Works (1969), which was sent to the 19th Berlin International Film Festival, where it received the Golden Bear award. However, all his films reveal an acute sensitivity to history. The past is like a heavy cloud hanging over the heads of his characters. The past usually means their class background – in his films, unlike in Hollywood fairy tales, people at the bottom of the social hierarchy usually stay at the bottom. If anything, their situation worsens rather than improves in the course of the narrative. For this reason, he is regarded as one of the principal representatives of the Yugoslav Black Wave of the 1960s and 1970s, and in many ways he remained faithful to this movement throughout his entire career.

Žilnik’s films often look back, like the characters in Early Works, who discover the signs of German presence on the Yugoslav territories they traverse. Past and present also intermingle in Ustanak u Jazku/Uprising in Jazak (1973), whose characters, villagers in the village Jazak thirty years after the war ended, tell the stories of the antifascist resistance. Another film showing the entanglement of the present with the past is Tito po drugi put medju Srbima/Tito’s Second Time Among the Serbs (1994), in which Tito (or Dragoljub Ljubičić who plays Tito) meets ordinary people who compare the past when he was his leader with the postcommunist reality. In all these films the past is alive – it is a matter of (re)discovery, of comparing different memories, rather than something which fills the pages of historical books. His films also look into the future. In particular, his 1986 science fiction film Lijepe žene prolaze kroz grad/Pretty Women Walking Through the City is regarded as a prediction of the fast approaching disintegration of Yugoslavia.

Much connects Žilnik with his older colleague and collaborator, Dušan Makavejev. Both were creators of the Yugoslav New Wave, both combined in their films fiction and documentary techniques. Both also spent parts of their lives abroad, where they made some of their most interesting films. However, there are also important differences between them. Makavejev has been always most interested in human psychology and sexuality. His films are made ‘under the sign of id’, whom ‘ego’ is unable to tame. For Žilnik, on the other hand, human psychology is chiefly the consequence of objective, mostly economic circumstances. In this sense he can be considered the follower of Marx. He is also a Marxist director because he shares Marx and Engels’ conviction that workers are robbed of the fruits of their labour and he shows us it how this happens, most poignantly, in Stara škola kapitalizma/The Old School of Capitalism (2009).

The articles chosen for this and the second issue dedicated to Žilnik, reveal different facets of his oeuvre, such as dealing with marginalisation and exclusion, using non-professional actors, shooting films in a ‘partisan way’ and engaging with various waves, dominating European cinema in the 1960s and 1970s. They also focus in on a variety of his films from disparate decades, from Early Works (1969) to The Most Beautiful Country in the World (2015).

The first article, authored by Vesi Vuković, is titled ‘Yugoslav(i)a on the margin: sexual taboos, representation, nation and emancipation in Žilnik’s Early Works’. In line with this title, Vuković draws attention to the fact that unlike the majority of Yugoslav New Wave Films, whose leading character is a man, Early Works is exceptional for having a woman as the main heroine. Jugoslava is treated by the author as an allegory of Yugoslavia and its revolutionary spirit, as well as a prototype of an emancipated woman, punished by rape and killing. However, rather than celebrating Žilnik as a champion of women, Vuković claims that Jugoslava is concurrently empowered and disempowered, and the director objectifies his female heroine.

The next film dissected in this issue, by Gal Kirn, is a short production titled Uprising in Jazak, made in 1973. Kirn argues that this film perfectly demonstrates how to make a partisan film in a partisan way in socialist Yugoslavia. In particular, the film’s raw image and cutting is a conscious politico-aesthetical intervention into the dominant genre of that time in socialist Yugoslavia – war partisan spectacles, also known as ‘Red Westerns.’ Žilnik’s method consists of a delicate bottom-up ethnographic reconstruction of partisan and antifascist memory of the Jazak villagers, who 30 years after the war collectively tell and renegotiate the stories of the antifascist resistance to the war.

The third article, by Michael Brady, considers the German chapter in Žilnik’s career, covering the years 1973-6. This period ended with the short feature Paradies: Eine imperialistische Tragikomödie/Paradise: An Imperialist Tragicomedy (1976). Brady observes that this rich and at times uncomfortably visceral and chaotic parody of far-left terrorism (the RAF or Baader-Meinhof group) does not feature in any of the myriad publications on New German Cinema, despite being much more audacious than the work of contemporary German directors. Brady suggests that if there is a German film Žilnik’s compelling mix of riotous anarchy, actionist body art, political satire can be compared with, then it is Fassbinder’s Die dritte Generation/The Third Generation (1979), possibly inspired by Žilnik’s film. While offering a detailed examination of this film, the author of the article points to the problems encountered by transnational directors, who often slip through the cracks of scholarship, conducted largely along national cinema lines.

Finally, Jelena Jelušić in ‘The politics of a rock ‘n’ road docudrama—genre and intertextuality in Žilnik’s Oldtimer (1989)’ examines Žilnik’s foray into television - his telefilm Stara mašina/Oldtimer (1989) as an example of the politically engaged use of genre and intertextuality in televisual representation. As a road movie, Oldtimer highlights how the journey trope imbued visual representations of movement with ideological and political meanings. At the same time, the film exposes the nationalist motivations behind the so-called anti-bureaucratic revolution in Serbia in 1988 and emphasizes television news department staff’s complicity in concealing them. Jelušić argues that Žilnik’s work contributed to the broadening of televisual potential for ideological signification, allowing the medium to function not simply as a propaganda instrument, but as a space of contestation of different ideological positions.

Although all the articles in this issue focus on individual films, their authors use them to tease out characteristics of Žilnik’s artistic method and style, together showing the director’s wide interests, but also consistency in his interests in Yugoslav and wider politics and the spirit of experimentation.

This issue contains three short articles in the review section. Veronika Hermann discusses the book Taking Stock of Shock. Social Consequences of the 1989 Revolutions, which does not address screen media directly but is of great importance for the studying of the culture of the region. Denise J. Youngblood introduces the journal Apparatus, and Ewa Mazierska commemorates the Polish composer Andrzej Korzyński.



Chaussée de Waterloo 1151
1180 Uccle

Who to contact

Support Young Scholars Fund

Help fund travel grants for young scholars who participate at ECC conferences. We accept individual and institutional donations.



Copyright 2017 ECREA | Privacy statement | Refunds policy