Cinema Komunisto is a documentary film about the use of the cinematic image in the creation of the political narrative of socialist Yugoslavia, taking as its starting point an abandoned film studio that had once been the crown-jewel of the Yugoslav film industry. An intensive five-year research process resulted in a story told through a montage of clips from fiction films and exclusive documentary archive, interspersed
with interviews with key filmmakers, actors and studio bosses, as well as President Tito’s personal projectionist.
In the introduction, a brief historical overview establishes the central position of cinema in socialist Yugoslavia, its contribution to the ‘imagined community’ in it’s articulation of political myths and the narration of the common past. Transitioning over
to the present-day, the commemorative function of cinema is discussed in the context of post-war and post-socialist public discourse.
A theoretical analysis of the relationship between cinema and history follows.Beginning with the concerns over the use of cinema as historical document, it extends to challenges faced by filmmakers seeking to ‘revision’ the past (Rosenstone, 2006)through the making of historical films. Starting with the Annales historians, such as Marc Ferro, and their contribution to the liberation of film from the requirements of
written historiography, the argument is made for separating visual historical discourse from historical evidence (Ernest, 1983) and the challenge of making films with cinematic language (de Baecque, 2008)) is taken on. The final theoretical section discusses the impact of the ‘memory turn’ on the meeting between cinema and history, and argues for adopting the key concepts of cultural memory, such as it’s present-day
operation, instrumentality and mediality as useful tools for this inquiry. Pierre Nora’s concept of lieux de mémoire proves fundamental as an analytical tool of the analysis of films as ‘memory sites’. The memory turn is then situated within the context of postsocialist societies, such as Yugoslavia, where films become a useful means ofrepresenting the ‘transition of meanings’ taking place.
Adopting the concepts of Robert Rosenstone, the next section responds to the challenge of developing ‘rules of engagement’ that would allow for a particular ‘historical understanding.’ By situating Cinema Komunisto within the tradition of refractive
cinema (Corrigan, 2011), particularly the use of cinema as an expression of history (Godard’s Histoire(s) du cinéma) or of history written by decree (Marker’s The Last Bolshevik), I set out to assess and build on aesthetic and philosophical concepts developed by Marker and Godard. Closer to home, inspiration is drawn from filmmaker Dušan Makavejev and his approach of developing ‘theory in practice’ in Innocence
The elaboration of rules of engagement involves re-working the visual material, including the free mixing of documentary archive and clips from feature films, decontextualising and interrogation of images. Use of concepts such as that of intentional disparity (Baron, 20014) allows the subversion of the intended use of images. Thesection on narrative voice questions the establishing of the right critical distance and
subjective positioning of the author as narrator. Following the decisions to eschew an all-knowing voice-over, and to rely on character-narration, the editing approach becomes vital. Montage allows the elaboration of a philosophical approach, invoking Benjamin’s concept of the dialectic image land the rapprochement of historical fragments to provoke critical reflection. Finally, temporal disunity and spatial articulation are discussed as narrative strategies. Temporal non-linearity and parallels in the dramaturgy add the ability to chart transitioning historical meanings into the present-day, tying back to concepts of social memory as the traces of the past in the present. Spatial narration is discussed in light of situated testimonies in geographical lieux de memoire, and the narrative and symbolic meaning of ruins, as markers of social forgetting. Both strategies prove to be valuable as ‘rules of engagement’, in particular because of the political dimension of constructing memory texts.
In conclusion it is argued that the historical understanding achieved by the adoption of the discussed ‘rules of engagement’ achieves a reconciliation of subjective truth and intimate lyricism, with the philosophical and pedagogical aim of a critical reflection on conventional historical narration. As a memory text, Cinema Komunisto positions memory before historical truth, and ultimately managing to find meaning in ruins.