Dušan Makavejev (1932-2019) is a prominent name in the history of film. Enfant terrible, provocateur, psychologist, Eros, subversive poet, surrealist, anti-ideologist can all be attributed to this giant of the Yugoslav film. His filmography is wide and versatile, intertwined with a unique authorial style of humour that can be seen in the attitude towards the body and soul inside any kind of ideology, in the humanistic and individualistic note of emphasising the freedom of an individual in relation to the system: be it artistic or political. Although Makavejev is considered to be a representative of the Yugoslav Black Wave film movement that flourished in the 1960s as an antipode of the Yugoslav socialistic realism, the director in his provocativness and attachment to man’s freedom defies conclusive categorisation. 

In the 1950s, after his psychology studies at the Belgrade University, Makavejev joined the Belgrade Cinema Club. Together with those in Zagreb and Split, the clubs represented one of the key points/bases of the film culture. In the post-war Yugoslavia (as well as in Europe) cinematic art was one of the main disciplines of the newly forming cultural arena. The country supported not only the professional film production – in the spirit of Lenin understood as one of the leading forces of propaganda – but also the amateur. Because it was second to professional film, amateur production was a relatively unrestricted territory that raised the great names of Yugoslav films. 

In contrast with the socialist realism, the Black Wave portrays its character in his/her individuality, uniqueness of his/her universe, which mostly has marginalised attitude towards the universalistically simplified comprehension of the subject inside the ideological building of a socialist society. One in which an individual is merely a link in the chain of mechanisms aimed at the ‘bright future’. It simultaneously moves away from highly stylised tropes and motifs of socialist realism. In Makavejev’s works, naturalistic and documentary style often break on the surreal poetics of black humour and the absurd, for which he leans onto the poetics of local writers and other artists gathered around the surrealist Marko Ristić, who is considered to be (along with Miroslav Krleža) one of the two main forts of ‘alternative’ art in relation to national ideology. Surrealism and naturalism in the emphasised subversive, tragic, and humorous manner characterise both Makavejev’s early work – amateur and later professional short films – as well as later contributions, which focus on a man crying for the liberation of the body and soul in the most literally sensual intimacy.

The selected shorts by Makavejev presented at this year’s FeKK focus mostly on his early work, on the period of amateur film created under the wing of the Belgrade Cinema Club. The films, mostly shot in B&W (in contrast to his later creations in which colours carry an important symbolic and poetic meaning) follow two basic styles, which also become the roots of Makavejev’s later films: on one hand, this is the documentary style (for example, Damned Holiday [Prokleti praznik, 1958], What Is a Workers Council? [Što je to radnički savjet, 1959], Parade [Parada, 1962], Miss Beauty 62 [Ljepotica, 1962], and New Domestic Animal [Nova domaća životinja, 1964]), and on the other, the surrealistic poetics (The Seal [Pečat, 1955] and Anthony’s Broken Mirror [Antonijevo razbijeno ogledalo, 1957]). Despite seemingly having a different theme and idea as discernible from the stylistic approach, the author’s emphasis in all the titles mentioned weaves a uniformed main theme. It portrays the individual in one way or another in his/her individuality and uniqueness inside the system and ideology that come across as totalitarian and anti-humanistic. If Makavejev in his ‘surrealistic’ films weaves a story through symbolism and reverie from inside the individual in his/her drive for freedom, love, uniqueness in relation to the system, his documentaries at first sight touch upon the ‘great story’ of different social realities (Labour Day Parade, an annual beauty pageant, etc.) at which point he manages to subvert the mythologized all-encompassing system mostly through the use of a detail that shifts the viewer’s attention into the overlooked and invisible – into the boiling point of the subjective. He often makes use of Eisenstein’s editing techniques. By emphasising the schizophrenic gap between the individual and the system, he uses them as the point of commentary and a diversion of the viewers’ attention from the uniformed masks directly into the human, the intimate, the individual. And this is the gap that all of Makavejev’s filmography rises from.

Anja Banko