– Autumn/Winter 2010

Events, Works, Exhibitions

Concrete Analysis of Concrete Situations: Marxist Education According to Želimir Žilnik

Branislav Dimitrijević

Želimir Žilnik, Rani radovi (Early Works), 1969, black-and-white 35mm film, 87min. Courtesy the artist

There is a widespread impression that cultural production of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) followed a simple formula. On one side was the official, opportunistic culture which served ideological purposes, and on the other was the rebellious opposition, which took the form of 'dissident' political and artistic counter-action. Both positions are routinely presented as seamless and almost without any internal contradictions, and it is usually taken for granted that the 'dissident artist' was primarily an anti-communist critic of the Titoist regime. This is best borne out perhaps by the most prolific phase in Serbian cinema (from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s), when the ruling political structures grouped the films made during that period under the title 'Black Wave', and alleged that they distorted the image of the 'socialist reality'. However, when we look into the examples of the work of leading film-makers who began their production in that time (Dušan Makavejev, Živojin Pavlović and Želimir Žilnik), it is clear their political orientation did have Marxist foundations and, moreover, that their sceptical approach was motivated by a belief in the potential for critical thinking in the development of a socialist society.

With more than fifty films produced since the mid-1960s, Želimir Žilnik (born in 1942) might be the most prolific film-maker in the history of Serbian and Yugoslav cinema. His films, usually categorised as documentary fictions ('docu-dramas'), share a remarkable consistency in their cinematographic 'anti-style', their specific mode of production and their direct political engagement. Žilnik's films can be put in the ranks of leading cinematographic authors of the 1960s and 70s. His fictional documentarism (or his participatory docu-fiction) is characterised by his method of working with non-professional

  1. Daniel J. Goulding, Liberated Cinema: The Yugoslav Experience 1945-2001, Bloomington, IL: Indiana University Press, 2002, p.74. Interestingly, in this, the most thorough survey of Yugoslav cinematography ever published in the English language, Žilnik's name is barely mentioned and only one of his films is (very briefly) discussed.

  2. Karl Marx, 'Afterword to the Second German Edition', Capital, vol.1, 1873. Available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p3.htm (last accessed on 15 June 2010).

  3. Žilnik quoted in Bogdan Tirnanić, Crni talas, Belgrade: FCS, 2008, p.73.

  4. Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852. Available at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch05.htm (last accessed on 15 June 2010).

  5. Leon Trotsky, Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It, 1944. Available at www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/1944/1944-fas.htm (last accessed on 15 June 2010).

  6. See Petar Jončić, Filmski jezik Želimira Žilnika, Belgrade: SKC, 2002, p.72.