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Shaking off the Past — the European Moment

Although film history notes that the period of the auteur New Hollywood ended with the beginning of the 1980s, the same changes in European film passed rather unnoticed.
Since the early 1980s until the mid ’90s the focus of filmic events was moved to the USA and East Asia. In Europe, on the other hand, certain authors (P. Greenaway, D. Jarman, B. Tarr, A. Kaurismaki, K. Kieszlowski) produced brilliant opuses, British and Spanish cinema experienced a boost, nevertheless, European cinema on the whole played a marginal role — they did not generate trends, nor created many new authors.

One of the reasons for this state was the collapse of the philosophy of the auteur film additionally aggravated by the general esthetical affinities of the period. Leading theoreticians of the post-modern rejected the modernist utopian vocabulary and promoted hedonistic culture, irony, and a return to narrativity and communicability so that in the mid ’80s even the established modernists such as Wenders and Tarkovsky made ’lighter’ narrative films. The dominant type of European art film lost the support of critics and normative poetics. In Croatia, representatives of such objections with the theses about the boredom of the auteur film were the magazine Kinoteka and the followers of the self-proclaimed New Croatian film. Lack of understanding of the poetical model incarnated by Godard or Rohmer was evidently connected with the fall in quality of humanistic education of the public and critics alike, but also with the fact that representative directors of the auteur film of the ’80s were nothing but shallow epigones of Resnais and Rohmer. Postmodernist culture exhibited an inclination towards communicability, hedonism, ludic modes and combining, and film lovers turned to the works of Hollywood authors like Burton and Coen brothers. At the end of the ’80s critics’ antiauteur campaign reached its peak.

The second reason for the crisis of European film was the disappearance of traditional productions due to the expansion of capital and political changes. European cinema expanded their capital trying to create a pan-European cinema that produced some sort of additive motion pictures founded on the philosophy: ’a renowned director, plus English language, plus famous European actors, plus a culturally important theme’. In the mid ’90s European film has started to acquire some speed. After many years Europe was getting some new authors with the status of arthouse stars (T. Tykwer, S. Gedeon, L. Moodysson), while a whole series of European cinemas was experiencing the phenomenon of local hits. This gradual ascension could be observed in Croatia too, not only in the cinema repertoire, but also in the programmes of festivals in Pula and Motovun.

This year’s Venetian Mostra was, according to many, first great festival in the last ten years that has not been dominated by films from Asia and/or the USA. A recovered European film is an unusual inversion of films from late ’80s and early ’90s. Creative forces of those films resided on the typically postmodernist stylistic features: visual hedonism, stylisation, irony, the awareness of tradition, genre mixing, fantastic heterocosms and pop culture inspiration observable in different films such as Subway, Nikita, Matador, The Elements of Crime, Shallow Grave, Jamon, Jamon, Delicacy, While Nobody’s Watching.

They are all visually luxuriant and stylised, include generic paraphrases, recycle pop culture, use science fiction and have populist aspirations. New generation is a poetical antipode of the above mentioned. Instead of stylisation, it is characterised by verism and naturalism, photographic roughness and an interest for the material surrounding so that in this manner it proclaims death to the film illusion. Genre is no longer a ludic strategy but methodologically forgrounded and reduced to a comic dimension. Croatian culture too mirrors such poetic controversy. Within the heterogeneous movement called the ’New Croatian film’ we can distinguish two generations. The first generation of authors (V. Brešan, L. Nola, H. Hribar, N. Hitrec) is significantly under the influence of the ’80s films and leans towards stylisation becoming a creative mainstream undergoing poetical changes similar to their European piers. The second one has not yet left any trace in feature films although their short films display familiarities with the new European wave.

The new independent American film also possesses similar poetical characteristics so that the new filmic Europe is particularly fascinating because of a rather large number of new, interesting names. Thus we have M. Kassovitz, E. Zonca, X. Beauvois, F. Ozon, D. Moll, M. Vernoux from France; F. Fonteyne, P. Toye, L. Debrauwer from Belgium, and M. Winterbottom and L. Ramsay from Great Britain. In Denmark, the ideological centre of the new European film, beside the ideologist of the Dogma 95, L. von Trier, we also have L. Scherfig, T. Vinterberg and W. Refn; L. Moodysson from Sweden, and T. Tykwer from Germany, probably the biggest star among the younger European directors.

In Czech we have J. Sverak, P. Zelenka and S. Gedeon; in Austria N. Albert and J. Hausner; in Slovenia J. Burger, in Bosnia and Herzegovina D. Tanović. While Serbian cinema lost its two best younger authors S. Dragojević and G. Stojanović, critics in Italy are beginning to appreciate new films by N. Moretti, G. Piccioni, C. Mazzaruti and F. Archibugi, while P. Virzi seems to be the most interesting among the young authors.

This phenomenon of the young authors producing radical and extremely ripe movies, so characteristic of Europe and the USA, cannot be found in Croatia. Main reasons are the inaccessibility of film information, inertness of the system, and lack of film producers. On the other hand, many authors have displayed talent and sensibility similar to those that reign in the new European film (Z. Matijević, Z. Jurić, R. Orhel, A. Nuić).

Jurica Pavičić

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