Still from Early Works
Guest contributor Dorotea Sotirovska briefly contextualizes the political landscape of filmmaker (and upcoming IU Cinema guest!) Želimir Žilnik’s film Early Works.
Želimir Žilnik’s first feature film, Early Works, is an innovative act of artistic provocation, combining punk ethos, humor, and the youthful spirit of ‘68 with damning social critique and experimental form. Production began in the autumn of 1968, mere months after the Belgrade student protests and the Soviet-led invasion of nearby Czechoslovakia that ended the Prague Spring. Unlike Prague, the success of the uprising in Belgrade remained undetermined, as President Tito publicly proclaimed “the students are right,” raising hopes that democratic reform was imminent.
This is the historical moment at which we meet the protagonists of Early Works, a group of young, revolutionary idealists led by a woman named Yugoslavia. In their often comedic efforts to change the world, they reenact aspects of the partisan struggle of the preceding generation in stunts of pure theater: speaking in slogans, aimlessly throwing Molotov cocktails, playing torture games, and staging shootouts. In these characters, the film shows a revolution that falters in its own confusion, becoming merely symbolic.
Apart from the young rebels, we are briefly introduced to a mosaic of salt-of-the-earth types that generally populate Žilnik’s cinema. Though Early Works is at times reminiscent of Godard in its impish, stylized personification of political theory, it is in this documentary-esque collective portrait that Žilnik’s signature style shines through. Throughout his body of work, the dim reality of the insignificant and marginalized is portrayed alongside a sense of togetherness and warmth, a comradery of a now-bygone era. These depictions remind viewers that true socialism is, above all, human compassion and cooperation.
“Those who do revolution just halfway only dig their own grave.” — Saint-Just
Early Works’s allegorical ending predicts the outcome of the Belgrade student protests, and the eventual fate of the nation itself. The refusal of the ruling “red bourgeois” class to respond to students’ demands to reform the existing socialist system and, likewise, the failure of the students to enact meaningful change marked the end of the dynamism of the revolutionary project known as Yugoslavia and ushered in an ossified, static state whose birth dug its own grave. In a sense, the post-Yugoslav era began at this juncture, and Žilnik presciently anticipated it.
Join IU Cinema and the Dept. of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures for the series Želimir Žilnik: Essential Work, starting on September 26 with the documentary ŽŽŽ: Journal About Želimir Žilnik. Filmmaker Želimir Žilnik will then be present for an onstage conversation on October 3 as part of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Series, followed by a screening of Early Works with a post-film Q&A with Žilnik. On October 4, scholars from around the US will visit Bloomington for a discussion of Žilnik’s films at FAR:Center for Contemporary Arts. The series will conclude with the Želimir Žilnik Shorts Program on October 5, which Žilnik is scheduled to introduce.
This series is supported through IU Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program.
Dorotea Sotirovska studies South Slavic culture with a particular interest in and love for film.