Both an homage to the “anarchist” of Yugoslav cinema, the late Dušan Makavejev, and an investigation of a repressive political regime, Goran Radovanović’s The Makavejev Case or Trial in a Movie Theater is a refreshingly multilayered documentary.
We “meet” with the director via Skype ahead of the film’s Greek premiere (5/6 November) during the course of the 60th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (31/10-10/11).
What did Dušan Makavejev mean to you?
When I was young, in the early 70s, I skipped school to watch his films.
When I first watched Innocence Unprotected (1968), it encouraged me to try to make films. In the communist Yugoslavia everything was cold, grey and boring. The partisan and the “Black Wave” films were too realistic.
It was the first time I perceived film as a game, an illusion- not only thematically, but also in terms of form. Makavejev therefore became my favorite Serbian, ex-Yugoslav director.
And a source of inspiration, as I understand.
A kind of inspiration in the sense of deliberation, of the quest for a new language. That’s why I decided to make this documentary, more as an homage to him, but also as an investigation of the 70s, the period of the so-called “soft” Communism.
After the fall of Yugoslavia, many intellectuals and ordinary people experience the illusion that, under Tito, it had been a dreamlike country and that Slobodan Milošević then fell with a parachute and destroyed everything.
Of course this is not true. Everything was prepared during Titoism. Milošević was just a good pupil of Tito. So, the totalitarian consciousness prevailing under his regime was very important for me to analyze.
However, what happens nowadays in the Balkans, Europe and the rest of the world is not exactly dreamlike, either.
This is true, but, frankly speaking, in my childhood we had no idea about the relationship between Serbia and Greece. When I first travelled to Greece in 1976 I was shocked, because the people were so warm to me- because I was Serb.
All these religious and historical ties between the two countries that are so fundamental for Serbia nowadays were banned. Nobody could talk about the genocide of Serbs by Croatian fascists, either.
And do we have today? A Croatian state denying that genocide.
Since you personally knew Makavejev, how come you didn’t choose to interview him on camera for the purpose of this documentary?
Everything had been told, and personally I didn’t feel that I could tell something more. So, I decided to talk objectively through these audio tapes.
I wanted to make a film about disappearance, about the relativity of existence, something more metaphysical. This was my approach.
Which applied to the vast majority of the rest of the documentary’s characters, besides the sound recordist of the (in)famous screening of W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism back then: they are, for the most part, confronted with what they had said during that occasion.
This has been a stylistic choice, that we don’t need their explanation after 50 years. Of course, those that I didn’t know or were unwilling to participate were shadows. Black shadows on a white screen. This is the essence of the film.
This documentary is more about film as a medium. You have the actors, the stage, the scenography, the props, the camera, the lights. This case is only a motivation.
I’m also a person who’s against any political or artistic cult, you know. I’m an Orthodox Christian. On the one hand, I think that art is an illusion and on the other that it’s a divine creation.
I’m not a follower of Makavejev, but I adore him, I adore his work.
Do you think that people like Makavejev, who challenge status quos of every kind, are missing nowadays? And not just in contemporary Serbia.
We are living in a very strange information time, when there is no need to study and learn. Everything is on the Internet. Studying, however, is an experience, not merely a collection of pieces of information.
There are many people who adore Makavejev. This kind of European enfant terrible is much needed nowadays. We need his approach.
Today there is no Iron Curtain.
There may not be an Iron Curtain anymore, but there are “curtains” and walls worldwide- and not just symbolic ones.
Different “curtains”, as you pointed out, but not of the same type. Different stereotypes still exist. Regarding Peter Handke, for example. I’m about to make a film focused on him.
If Makavejev was still alive, what do you think that would bother him the most, what would he most intensely criticize?
He was a Communist in this intellectual, modern, surrealistic way. Like Buñuel. He was dreaming about changing humankind. Deep in his soul, he was looking for justice and human development.
At the same time, he was a critical Marxist. The dissolution of Yugoslavia almost killed him emotionally. That’s why he didn’t like what came after. He was a real Yugoslav citizen.
I remember that he was supporting the people in Sarajevo during the city’s Siege: he was trying to be honest, a truly democratic person. He always was an honest voice from the margin, always taking the side of the marginal people.
He never asked anything from the authorities, and had a hard life. Nobody offered him to be professor in Serbia, although he had been a professor in Harvard and in many other distinguished universities.
He was really marginalized and was always acting from the margin.
More info on Goran Radovanović and his work may be found in his personal website.
Goran Radovanović’s The Makavejev Case or Trial in a Movie Theater will have its Greek premiere within the context of the retrospective of Dušan Makavejev work taking place at the 60th Thessaloniki International Film Festival.
The screenings will be held at Makedonikon cinema, Tuesday 5 November, 19:30, and Wednesday 6 November, 13:00, in the presence of the director.