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THE ENTHUSIASTS ARCHIVE

Banner stills L to R: Encounters, courtesy Croatian Film Association;
Anthony's Broken Mirror
and Vowels, courtesy Alternative Film Archive, Academic Film Center, Belgrade

The Seal (Pečat)
Dušan Makavejev, Serbia, 1955, 16 mm transfer to Beta SP, 17 minutes 40 seconds

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Still from The Seal, courtesy Alternative Film Archive
Academic Film Center, Belgrade

The Seal was the second short that Dušan Makavejev (b. 1932) made as an amateur filmmaker and member of the Belgrade Cinema Club (Kino Klub Belgrade), which in the early 1950s brought together Serbian avant-gardist amateurs who wanted to abandon both the academic rules of filmmaking and the influence of the Russian and French avant-gardes, especially surrealism.[1] In this early film, a certain amount of surreality remains (as it does in later Makavejev films), but the filmmaker also shows a strong inclination toward satire and political provocation, along with a talent for visually capturing the absurd and the paradoxical.[2]

Influenced by Slavko Vorkapić’s and Robert Foley’s The Life and Death of 9413, a Hollywood Extra (1928), in its 17 minutes, The Seal tells the entire life story of a man who lives in an unnamed repressive society. The story is Kafkaesque: it is narrated by the man after his death, which he seems to welcome, while the intertitles use a language Makavejev himself invented. It also possesses a number of expressive visual motifs, such as the seals that faceless (literally) authority figures use throughout the film to mark the milestones of the protagonist’s life (such as birth, marriage, and death) on his body. Later, Makavejev described the film as his “first film against the invisible power certain people have over others, against bureaucracy,"[3] and because of the way the film avoids specifying a particular dramatic time and place, its message remains as powerful today as ever, giving viewers the ability to project their anxieties about the present state of the world onto the screen.  — Diana Nenadić

With thanks from the series organizers to Aleksandar Erdeljanović, Head of the Archive, as well as Aleksandra Savić and Snežana Dragović at the Yugoslav Film Archive (Jugoslovenska Kinoteka), Belgrade, for making a screening of this film possible in Washington and to Miodrag Milošević, Head of the Academic Film Center at the Student City Cultural Center (Akademski Filmski Centar Dom Kulture Studentski Grad), Belgrade, for his assistance with our research of this film.

Anthony’s Broken Mirror (Antonijevo razbijeno ogledalo)
Dušan Makavejev, Serbia, 1957, 16 mm transfer to Beta SP, 11 minutes 30 seconds

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Still from Anthony's Broken Mirror, courtesy Alternative Film Archive
Academic Film Center, Belgrade

Obsessed, by his own admission, with Italian Neorealism and its antiheroes, Makavejev made his third short a “neorealist tale"[4]  about a charming but lonely and aimless street magician who becomes a victim of his own illusions. Wandering through the city, Anthony falls in love with a mannequin in the window of a tailor’s shop: the doll looks inanimate to everyone around him but comes alive in Anthony’s eyes, the Galatea to his Pygmalion. Longing for the mannequin-woman causes Anthony to kill a rabbit, which he presses too close to the glass in order for her to see it. The longing then drives him to smash the glass, thus destroying not only the barrier between them but, tragically, the object of his desire itself.

In this remarkable short (Makavejev’s first to be shown at the Amateur Film Festival at Cannes),[5] the director was coming into his own as a filmmaker. The nuances of the story can largely be reconstructed on the basis of the film’s cinematography and editing even without the sound, which has been lost. (To remedy this, in 2011, the composer Zoran Simjanović created a new sound track for both Anthony’s Broken Mirror and The Seal, with which the films are now shown). The film’s preoccupation with the reality of psychic desires also betrays Makavejev’s training in psychology, which he studied at the University of Belgrade and which informed his later films.[6] In Anthony’s Broken Mirror, Makavejev already explores both the intense desire one can feel for artifice and the dangers of trusting this desire too much. This dialectic applies to Makavejev’s own relationship to cinema, as seen, for example, in Innocence Unprotected (1968). Indeed, Anthony’s Broken Mirror presages several important stylistic traits of Makavejev’s later professional films: the lyrically inspired plot with just a touch of romanticism; disjointed editing; and the powerful clash between the (neo)realist iconography and surreal plot, as well as between the “objective” point of view of the filmmaker and the “subjective” ones of the characters.  — Diana Nenadić

With thanks from the series organizers to Aleksandar Erdeljanović, Head of the Archive, as well as Aleksandra Savić and Snežana Dragović at the Yugoslav Film Archive (Jugoslovenska Kinoteka), Belgrade, for making a screening of this film possible in Washington and to Miodrag Milošević, Head of the Academic Film Center at the Student City Cultural Center (Akademski Filmski Centar Dom Kulture Studentski Grad), Belgrade, for his assistance with our research of this film.

 

1. As Roger Ebert noted in a 1975 interview with Makavejev [http://www.rogerebert.com/interviews/interview-with-dusan-makavejev], the filmmaker had had a “meteoric career as a student film critic in Belgrade” in the early 1950s, which would explain some of the knowingness with which he approached filmmaking even as an amateur. (back to top)

2. For more on the influence of surrealism on Makavejevs early films, see Jonathan Owen, From Buñuel to the Barbarogenius: Surrealist and Avant-Garde Traditions in the Films of Dušan Makavejev, [http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2040350X.2014.878589#tabModule] Studies in Eastern European Cinema 5, no. 1, Special Issue: Dušan Makavejev (2014): 3–15. (back to top)

3. Lorraine Mortimer, Terror and Joy: The Films of Dušan Makavejev (Minneapolis, 2009), 8. (back to top)

4. This description comes from an untitled article written by Marko Babac and quoted in Ranko Munitić, Kino klub Beograd ili trojanski konj jugoslovenskog modernog filma [The Belgrade Film Club or the Trojan horse of modern Yugoslav cinema] (Belgrade, 2003), 43. (back to top)

5. Lorraine Mortimer, Terror and Joy: The Films of Dušan Makavejev (Minneapolis, 2009), 8. (back to top)

6. As Richard Byrne notes, [http://www.thenation.com/article/last-yugoslav-dusan-makavejev#] “Makavejev's sense of cinema's libidinal and political potential won both the attention of Yugoslav audiences and the wary eye of its leaders from the very start.” Makavejev’s last amateur short, made in 1958, was called Don’t Believe in Monuments, and it addressed a similar theme as Anthony’s Broken Mirror—how desire can be projected onto inanimate objects. However, “Censors found a seduction scene between a woman and a statue in [the film] too erotic and withheld the film from immediate circulation.” According to Lorraine Mortimer, the film was held back for five years. Mortimer, Terror and Joy: The Films of Dušan Makavejev (Minneapolis, 2009), 8. (back to top)