Perhaps the most emotional moment of this year’s Berlinale happened when the selector of Forum invited 85-year-old Wynn Chamberlain to present to the audience a restored copy of the cult underground film Brand X, in which doped Warhol’s superstar Taylor Mead appears at the peak of his insanity. Referring in the festival announcement of his movie to Jonas Mekas who wrote for The Voice that this movie is “a subversive propaganda of the policy of joy and disorder”, the good-humoured Chamberlain – who currently lives under the Marrakesh sun – told us: “I don’t know why joy and disorder should be subversive.” But, already Amos Vogel wrote in his seminal book Film as a Subversive Art that subversive is all which prompts people to question the existing system of values. In this context Chamberlain’s satire is subversive. But Vogel also asked whether form can subvert content and vice versa, and whether they can subvert audience. According to him, subversion in a film begins when darkness covers the theatre and a projection light is turned on. To be subversive means to, in a certain way, identify, locate, attack and eliminate the visual taboo. But, although we already mourned the numerous European film avant-gardes and movements, in the era of terrorist paranoia, when the USA enters a confused period of unilateral conservatism whereas Europe faces a revival of dangerous racist and nationalist ideologies, Vogel’s insistence on the use of film art as a means of consciousness raising is more relevant than ever.
It is no secret that recently the little filmophile commune has been polarized into two categories. On one side there are those who abandon film on account of television, videogames, internet and mobile phones. The other side involves those who believe that film can still be treated as a sort of exception. They prefer to “annex” film art to some other forms of expression instead of disinterestedly retreating and mourning its death. Its partisans love what we love: proficient framing, rediscovered aliveness of a little home video, and imitation of a silent film. Only some ten years ago, film had to sign a peace treaty with an everyday flow of pictures generated by the media and their overwhelming power. Today film has to lead a dialogue with these pictures. These pictures just need to be taken over because they already exist somewhere. They are in front of us in the form of videoblog and screenshot.
Therefore new tendencies in the European cinema today include guerrilla pieces shot with a symbolic amount of 150 euro, such as Djin Carrenard’s Donoma produced by Donoma Guerilla, which revives the almost forgotten rhetoric of film collective. Carrenard is an ultimate author variation of man-orchestra. On a promo tour of his film, which included around thirty French cities, he set off by bus as if it was an election campaign of some ultraleft party, only politicians were replaced by Carrenard’s complete cheerful film team and a rock band. Their antipode is Zeldovič’s futurist and fairly schizoid film extravagance (Mišen) based on the script of cult writer Vladimir Sorokin, the production of which cost an amount corresponding to better Hollywood productions, because without it obviously it wouldn’t be possible to visualize blasé ideas and fantasies of extremely rich Russians, which the author deals with.
Of course, the strategy of film collective as a political struggle is more and more present in alternative film today. What Carrenard’s collective did in Sarkozy’s France, is what, for example, the Syrian Collective Abounaddara did in video in the fight against Assad’s regime. On the other hand, alternative financing sources of the European films include also regional associations, such as Apulia Film Commission in the case of Valentina D’Amico’s activist film La svolta. Donne contro l’ILVA, or art galleries, such as the New York Anton Kern Gallery which co-produced a disturbing film by the Polish art duo Anka & Wilhelm Sasnal, It Looks Pretty From the Distance, who are currently perhaps the most relevant offspring of the Polish variation of Movida, fostered after the fall of the Kaczinsky twins by a new political climate which welcomes also transgender politicians and does not want to ruin its knees kneeling on church marble floors. To them we can add another cruel chronicler of the European village, Hungarian Attila Till, whose damningly up-to-date Csicska (Beast) functions as a sort of prelude into what Bence Fliegauf made in his new film Just a Wind referring to the bloody orgies of Hungarian ultranationalists in Roma settlements. The orgies almost identical to those committed by “hunters” in Scheffner’s Revision, which juxtaposes two different Roma families in a painful investigation into mysterious deaths of two Romanians at the Polish-German border. Because, while in Film as a Subversive Art Vogel emphasizes that in the Eastern European cinema of communist era the author’s subversive ideas were camouflaged in the form of Aesopian metaphors, and to pose some important questions the author resorted to allegory and indirectness – which was, for example, evident in the milieu of Polish experimental film and animation (let us remember Labyrinth, a paradigmatic piece by Jan Lenica, or Borowczyk’s House) – today the Polish politically engaged artists, such as Sasnals, employ a more direct in-yer-face strategy and kick in the guts.
Because, in institutional series of the European national cinematographies which are often guests in our non-commercial cinemas, their programmers with the stamps of film institutes are very careful to present their country in an affirmative context, so each more serious social discourse and that indestructible Zavattinian “spirit of investigation” are almost impossible – as if the real problems need to be swept under the rug on account of classics or film tourist postcards. Therefore New Tendencies can accomplish their aim only if they enter into a certain dialogue with all our human rights festivals and film “mutations”, to which we come closest with Michael Palm’s ingenious experimental documentary Low Definition Control and Straub’s peculiar short film An Heir.
Moreover, Carrenard is a sequel to what in the French film authors like early Abdellatif Kechiche, Tariq Teguia and Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche present today, ie. authors whom the selector of the European New Tendencies presented to the Croatian audience for the first time in a selection of the Rijeka Mediterranean film games. Authors from the margins, who brought ordinary people, not superhumans, into films. Authors who refuse to reduce the topic of illegal immigration to didactics of a political pamphlet, believing in the power of individual story (let us remember the fate of a young Algerian from Rabah’s Bled Number One, whom her brothers forbade to sing, so paradoxically she could show her singing talent only after being put into an asylum, which culminates in her moving jazzy performance in front of the patients). In the field of activist documentary, their mechanisms are today inherited by cineastes such as Andrea Segre (Il sangue verde, Mare chiuso) whose “home” productions can also be considered a sort of film collective (ZaLab).
On the other hand, New Tendencies could not stay indifferent to all those indignados and occupy movements that have spread throughout Europe, although Philippe Garrel already in Les amants reguliers (Regular Lovers) showed that the revolution dispersed in a smoke of opium while its fancy children are coming back from the barricades as if they were coming home from school. There is only time left to take off the muddy shoes, wash the cinder off the face in the bathtub and eat a can of sardines in a family idyll, as Garrel in a virtuoso dinner scene shoots the son Louis, his (real) grandfather Maurice and Louis’s mother Brigitte Sy, and then exchanges the family with a group (of lovers/friends/dreamers). The group starts to dissolve into a couple, and from the couple we go to loneliness. Turning opium into love and love into opium. And as defiance against religion as “the opium of the people”, only urinating on a statue of Our Lady is left.
I do not know how much the contemporary European indignados and occupiers learnt from Garrel’s 1968 children of the revolution. But therefore we have tried to orchestrate two different approaches to children with sooty faces who during the Genoa G8 summit found themselves in the wrong place (school Diaz) at the wrong time. Both films show how the children grew up, recording their words and nightmares, the memories of which become more important than the picture, ie. what happens with them today. Perhaps the theoretical segment of Subversive Film Festival will tell us something more about that. My Europe today is a mirror of my little city on the main street of which, within a stretch of one kilometre, there are seven banks, two videosurveillance cameras, a joint for gold purchase, a parking lot built on the cleaned remains of a knocked-down former cinema, where a Hall of Arts should be built, and a skeleton of a never-completed garage which makes the vistas of my city resemble the vistas of Casal di Principea in Gomora. Are these the New European Tendencies? My city can anyway be any of our cities. Therefore, since there is no cinema in it that used to be called Beograd, let us at least occupy (cinema) Europe.