Bulgarian Cinema after 1989

Krasimir Kastelov

Postmodernist Film Interpretations of the Communist Past

(The Bulgarian contribution in the context of the Central and East European cinema)

The proposed analysis of key films from the Bulgarian and the East European cinema shows, that their postmodernist specifics is not accidental, but it reflects the overall feeling of crisis, lack of meaning and absurdity which has engaged the minds of many filmmakers from our region – something typical for the transition between two eras, when one cultural paradigm is put aside, but a new one is still not widely adopted. On the other hand, the appearance of those films, in my opinion, refutes the premature conclusions of some Western theorists that the postmodernism is already dead. 
Thirty years after the first swallows of the postmodernist cinema in the West, the film art in the post-totalitarian East European countries takes advantage of its lessons in order to make sense of some of the unpleasant episodes of the communist past, “with irony, not innocently” by Umberto Eco’s definition. The wide international reaction to most of the titles, analyzed in the current overview, suggests perhaps the right path for overcoming the nostalgia of that era. 

Introduction

After the collapse of the communist regimes at the end of 1989 and the subsequent democratization of the social-political life virtually all post-totalitarian Central and East European countries renounced the state monopoly on their film industry. However, the newly acquired freedom not only didn’t automatically bring in better quality films but the first decade after the change proved to be extremely difficult and even catastrophic not only for the Bulgarian, but also for the Central and East European cinema. The attempts to closely look at the communist past in that period were still too far away from making films which succeed in uniting provincialism with universalism and analysing the local problems in ways resonating even among the viewers which are not familiar with them or are not interested in them.[1] But the certainty of the film critics in the inevitable appearance of such a cinema was inspired by the many examples of films, artists and schools, reflecting on national issues and at the same time reaping international success like the Italian neorealism, the Czech ‘New Wave’, the works of Dreyer, Ozu and Rohmer, the Danish ‘Dogme 95’. [2]
And indeed, during the process of renewal of the East European cinematography, sometime in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century the interest in recent history was revived. The fundamentally changed cultural situation, however, contributed to the formation of new, essentially postmodernist attitude and perception of the world which found its expression in completely different approaches towards the communist past compared with the early 90s, when films like the Bulgarian “Izpepelyavane”(Изпепеляване) or the Polish “Ucieczka z kina ‘Wolnosc’” stabbed like a dagger into modernity with its tendency to face in an ideologized and radical way good and evil. [3] In the first years after the change, everywhere in Central and Eastern Europe, new films appeared, attempting to expose the former communist regimes on the basis of the newly emerged memoir or documentary evidence of their crimes. Most of them, similar to the former “socialist” cinema, were serving an ideological function, but with opposite sign, using the same methods which it used to apply in order to condemn “the enemies of the people”. Gradually this settling accounts with the past was replaced by the increased distrust in free market, democracy and the other liberties which turned out inadequate to secure the prosperity dreamt by millions of people. That led to disregarding the modernist interpretations of the past as not less utopian than those based on social realism, so far as they are also based on the belief in progress and the gradual shift towards a more perfect state of society. [4]
This research is meant to examine namely the new film interpretations of the communist past which appeared in the last decade. Its realization is connected with clarifying the reasons for their appearance as well as with revealing the specifics of the postmodernist approaches in film art based on problematization of the philosophical definitions of postmodernism. Last but not least, naturally, I will try to rationalize the contributory importance of the Bulgarian input in the context of the Central and East European cinema. My hypothesis regarding the postmodernist film interpretations of the communist past boils down to the following three assertions:
First, that they have resulted from the common disillusionment in the great stories and generally in the possibility to provide a universal description (explanation) of the world;  Second, that by disregarding the ideological approaches to history they more closely meet the expectations of the viewers for shorter plots about ordinary people;
Third, that when reflecting the crisis sensitivity, related to the feeling of growing absurdity in the globalizing world, they resort to popular genres like comedy, melodrama, film noir and even horror films.
Some of the best known, internationally recognized and awarded postmodernist films, made in Bulgaria and in some other Central and East European countries in the last decade, have been used for empirical basis. The research interest doesn’t focus on a number of films on the communist past in which mere imitation of the postmodernist poetics is seen behind the pretence of originality thus turning them into low-level kitsch. An example of such a film is „Operation Shmenti Capelli” released in 2011.
Specialized scientific research dedicated to the Bulgarian film postmodernism has not been published in Bulgaria yet. And before the Ph.D. dissertation of Ekaterina Limoncheva (defended in 2006 at NATFA “Kr. Sarafov”) dedicated to the formation, development and the types of postmodernist cinema (in the west, but not in Bulgaria!) even its world masterpieces had been discussed in only few reviews, but there is a lack of more comprehensive research except for the works of Ingeborg Bratoeva and Vera Naydenova which are cited by Limoncheva in her research. [5]. 

1. General philosophical and methodological aspects

The present analytical survey is based methodologically on the idea of paradigm development according to Thomas Kuhn’s conceptual research “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” [6], as well as the postmodernist interpretations of the French philosophers of the ‘Parisian school of thought’– Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard and others. [7] 
The paradigm approach allows to conclude about the cyclical variability of the dominant views of art and culture. Such a change, for instance, took place as a consequence of the colossal cataclysms during the 20th century (the two World Wars, Auschwitz, Hiroshima, GULAG, Chernobyl etc.) when humanity started to doubt in the ideas of the Enlightenment dominant by that time. That period, which lasted more than two centuries, often called ‘modern’, was built upon the rationalist view that the world could be explained and even changed on the basis of certain common ideologemes. The failure of national socialism and communism, however, showed the unreality of those notions.  The new, postmodern situation, as expressed by François Lyotard [8], led to the point that by the end of the 20th century a Nobel laureate (physicist Ilya Prigogine) promoted the unthinkable yet understanding of history as a chaotic movement in an unpredictable direction.

According to the philosophers of the Parisian school of thought, postmodernity becomes possible thanks to the changes which take place in the very worldview and inevitably push the mind towards almost insuperable scepticism, evaluating the uncertainty of universal meta-narration. It is not accidental that Lyotard defines postmodernism as “incredulity toward meta-narratives” [9]. Agreeing with Umberto Eco [10], that the emergence of postmodernism is inevitable during a cultural era change when a paradigm ends and on its debris gradually a new one arises, I acknowledge the validity of the views of the postmodern art theorists, according to whom it most adequately conveys the feeling of crisis of the human cognitive abilities and of perceiving the world as chaos governed by incomprehensible laws or simply by the game of blind choice. Moreover, there is no place for any conscious choice, because as the British historiographer Keith Jenkins says our living in a postmodern situation doesn’t depend on our free will, “For postmodernity is not an ideology or a position we can choose to subscribe to or not; postmodernity is precisely our condition: it is our fate.[11]
The postmodernity and the postmodernism aren’t an invention of the art historians, the artists and the philosophers either as it is sometimes thought, but rather a consequence of our reality and life-world becoming “postmodern”. [12]

The postmodernist interpretations of the past, which everywhere distinguish themselves with their interpretative diversity, in Central and Eastern Europe are united by their oppositional attitude towards the communist ideo-artistic system, which found expression in the deconstruction of the soc-realistic discourses.
From this perspective while also taking into account that postmodernism generally emerges as criticism or negation of modernism, it is not surprising that the cinema from this region more actively takes advantage of the postmodern experience of the West, namely when intentionally turns its sight to the recent past connected with the fall of the communist regimes. The communist collapse marked the real end of the modern era as Vaclav Havel stated in his speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1992.  In it, he also pointed out that the problems which the modern era created to humanity stem from „rational, cognitive thinking”, “depersonalized objectivity” and “the cult of objectivity”, and the current task is to find out “the new, postmodern face” of politics.  According to Havel, the fall of communism can be considered a sign that the modern thought, built on the premise that the world is objectively knowable, has come to a final crisis.
In the process of looking also for the new, postmodern face of cinema, quite naturally a change in the approaches of representing the recent past on screen occurs, which is dictated by the formation of another “postmodern” sensitivity (and accordingly another cultural paradigm) among the new generations of filmmakers who are very hesitant about the potential of film art to show some final “truths” about the past. 

2.The delay of the East European and the Bulgarian postmodernism

The postmodernism enters the culture and the art of the Central and East European countries with a considerable delay, triggered by the abrupt changes in their political and social structure.
In Bulgaria its widespread „discovery” happens very soon after the overthrow of the communist party, and that thanks to literature. Except that the debate on the topic runs somewhat imperceptibly while on the surface the attention is focused on other, easily reversible in the daily life concepts like “young and old”, “generation”, “groups” and others. It is not the analytical articles and papers, but the short notes, reviews, poll answers, and interview annotations that are the preferred genres for making sense of literary postmodernism, according to Bulgarian poet, playwright and literary critic Plamen Doynov. [13]

Zoya Kartseva ( a professor at Lomonosov Moscow State University) writes, not without a sense of irony about our traditional lag, in her research dedicated to „the waves” of postmodernism in the Bulgarian literature. „At the end of the 20th century postmodernism turned into a sort of business card, the name of the era and marked those sentiments symbolizing the confusion of a whole generation which couldn’t find a strong support in the wavering, chaotic, so alien and inhospitable world. The literary “waves” of that destructive “tsunami” flooded the other countries long ago. Bulgaria drew the “winning ticket”. As it is known its culture has a rather resistant tradition: world-known philosophical and literary movements (modernism, symbolism, expressionism) to get discovered only after a long delay, when Europe already begins to forget about them. [14]

She specifies that the Bulgarian postmodernism (as a purely theoretical reflection on the new phenomena in literature) emerges surreptitiously – at the Sofia university cafes and in the attics of the student accommodations. Alongside the “fathers” of the Bulgarian postmodernism, members of the circle “Synthesis” („Синтез“) [15] (among which also is the future screenwriter of the postmodern films “Zift” and “The color of the chameleon”, Vladislav Todorov) gather students, future philologists, philosophers, political scientists. The enthusiasm about the new mesmerizing ideas had been for many “the forbidden fruit”, a form of protest against the ideological and esthetic chains of totalitarianism and a result of the process of deconstruction of the soc-realistic literature”. [16]

About that interesting period of the intellectual life before the fall of communism in Bulgaria, commonly known as “The Seminar” („Семинара“), Miglena Nikolchina writes in more detail in her book “Lost Unicorns of the Velvet Revolutions”, dedicated to the Bulgarian intellectuals of the 1980s and 1990s.[17] In her opinion, even if we cannot claim that “The Seminar” overthrows the regime, we can positively say that it appears as a conspicuous symptom of its approaching demise in Bulgaria. [18] In the course of the animated at that time discussions three wings were formed and one of them was that of the “postmodernists” who “represented more or less critical continuation of structuralism, which had its contested place in Bulgarian academia”. [19] 

3. Fassbinder and the new interpretation of the post-war history in Western European cinema

One of the most famous pioneers of the postmodernist interpretation of the post-war history in Western European cinema is Rainer Werner Fassbinder. His famed film “The marriage of Maria Braun” (Die Ehe der Maria Braun), which was released in West Germany in 1979 is particularly significant. The avant-garde German director mixes various genres in it, attempting to decipher Germany’s recent past through metaphorically sounding screen characters personifying not only different classes and generations, but also the myths about them. Fassbinder’s work is close to the postmodernism as it debunks the cult towards grandiose, but as it turns out, completely illusional goals. For in the process of their realization they turn into their opposite and instead of satisfaction they generate deep disappointment. Indication of postmodern thinking is also the apparent eclectic of the film, mixing of different types of narratives – from the crime chronicle to the classic story, the matching of extremely divergent things like sophisticated taste and kitsch, the unexpected transitions from the tangible reality to its simulated ephemerality, the presence of contrasting quotes and references, the superimposition of Beethoven’s music on the whistling and screaming of the football fans. [20]. In the 1980s the postmodernism enters more widely in most Western cinematographies, finding its expression in film language which combines bright spectacularity with author cinema and manipulates freely the film means of expression in the range from classics to kitsch. [21]

4. Postmodernist interpretations of the past in the East European cinema

It is interesting that after more than two decades the German cinema made one of the first attempts for postmodernist interpretation of the past – this time of the period before and a little after the fall of the Berlin wall.

4.1. Good Bye, Lenin!

Director Wolfgang Becker’s film turned into a blockbuster in Europe and won many film festival awards. However, it also received a few critical attacks accusing it of being a representation of the so-called “nostalgia cinema” which by analogy with nostalgia as such is perceived and described negatively as a “regressive phenomenon”, as a rejection of reality and glorification of the past. [22]
But in this case it is perhaps more correct to accuse its critics of nostalgia of the old thinking, demanding more complete, “realistic” images of the past. The careful analysis of such movies compared to other types of film reflections on the past could lead to a different understanding of the very nostalgic emotion. Especially when it is mixed with irony, and the film, without losing its nostalgic hints, turns into deep reflection on the paradoxes of the perceptions of the past or it turns into a symptom of those paradoxes itself. [23]
We could define “Good Bye, Lenin!” as a tragicomic story about the painful transformation of the marginal consciousness in the last days of the existence of GDR, when literally in a few months East Germany completed a status transition from a Soviet satellite to an integral part of “true” Germany.
That very transition is shown on the screen through the eyes of an awaken from coma communist idealist, whose son in order to save her from a mental breakdown tries to suggest to her that the fall of the Berlin Wall is a result of GDR government’s decision to provide brotherly assistance to the West Germans who are rushing to live in the country of the victorious socialism. Thus namely the ironic comedy proves to be that art genre, which completely fully represents the social changes along the periphery of the collapsing Soviet Empire.[24]
Wolfgang Becker’s film shows quite ingeniously how easily one can be deceived about the reality if they trust what they see on the TV screen. Unlike most of the film’s interpreters, the well-known Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek thinks that “Good Bye, Lenin!” only appears to be a nostalgic comedy while actually it reveals a sinister reality (which is signalled by the brutal intrusion of Stasi in the family after the character’s husband escapes to the West). That film, according to Slavoj Žižek, teaches an even grimmer lesson than “The Lives of Others” (a film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, which was awarded Oscar in 2007, about the interference of the Secret Service in the lives of the East Germans). And that lesson reads that no heroic resistance against the communist regime was possible, and the only way to find refuge from it was the escape in insanity, the disruption of the connections with reality.[25]
Kristina Yordanova also writes about the specificity of the postmodern thinking in “Good Bye, Lenin!” in her publication titled “Nihilism instead of nostalgia? Variant readings of “Good Bye, Lenin!” („Нихилизъм наместо носталгия? Разночетения на „Сбогом, Ленин!“). In her opinion that specificity stands out particularly clearly in that “the symbols of the consumer society and of the socialist society are put in the mirror of one and the same ironic tone”. The author insists that it is good to see that parallelism present in many of the image details – for instance, in the transferring of the new “western” products in old socialist packages, which shows some indifference, a comic interconvertibility between old and new. The mother, who is deceived about the fall of the Berlin Wall, doesn’t notice the change in the content of the products. Everything remains the same to the ordinary person only the labels are changed. At first glance that old content with new package serves the ideas of the film’s main storyline – maintaining the historical coma of the mother by her son, but Kristina Yordanova particularly stresses that the change is symptomatic of the whole film. Along with many of the other images, through the story’s irony and the lines of the characters, it works towards the mocking indifference to the History and the Ideology.[26]
And last but not least, of course, we need to take notice of the quotes from famous films which were used in “Good Bye, Lenin!”. Some of them even hold a key place in its overall symbol system. For instance, the scene in which the mother sees how the helicopter-flown bust of Lenin hides the sun (there is a similar scene, but with the statue of Christ, in Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita”), is regarded by many as a wonderful postmodernist discovery.
The French writer Michel Butor, one the most famous representatives of the the so-called nouveau roman in the 1960s, has spoken in support of the frequent quoting, which is among the distinguishing features of the postmodernist art: “There simply is no truly individual work. The immense cultural weaving exists at our birth and nourishes us. We become part of it, others follow us. All works are collective!”. [27]
That life feeling of our own intertextuality is determining for the stylistic of postmodernism, which through the chaos of quotations tries to express its feeling, as Ihab Hassan writes, of  “cosmic chaos”, in which reigns “a process of disintegration”. [28] Despite the wide criticism addressed to “Good Bye, Lenin!”, for Kristina Yordanova there is no doubt that it succeeds in being a provocation even to the superficial viewer and prompts a reaction which goes far beyond the uncritical consumption of the story told. [29] It is doubtful, however, that the film would have managed to attract the attention of the wide audience (10,6 million viewers within the EU!) [30] without the postmodernist mixing of the purely comedic and melodramatic with the parodical and the tragical, of the nostalgic with the ironic and of the subjective with the histocical-ideological. Its international success is the most convincing proof that its creators managed to present the local problems of the East Germans in such a way that they resonated even among viewers which are not familiar with those problems or are not interested in them.

4.2. Taxidermia (2006)

Three years after “Good Bye, Lenin!” this Hungarian film couldn’t repeat the phenomenal success of the German hit. Although it was distributed not only in Hungary, but also in the Czech republic, Slovakia and Finland, it was seen by just 90,425 viewers, which suggests that the postmodernist approaches towards the past cannot easily be comprehended by the wide audience when they reach extremes in the grotesque description of reality.

The young director Gyorgy Palfi structures his film storyline in three ‘novels’, placing the action in three different periods: the World War I, the time of the totalitarian communism of the 1950s, and nowadays. The introductory part is shot in the stylistic of “the good soldier” Schweik, the second part is like an acrid parody of the collective communist utopia, and the third part tells about the loss of identity and the complete death of human feelings in modern times.
Regarding that film the distinguished film critic and festival programmer Dimitri Eipides shared the following: “We can say without exaggeration that there is nothing under the sun like “Taxidermia”. The new film of the Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi is a true goulash of bodily fluids and depravity – genre-undefinable rampant feast for the senses”.
At the end of the film, fully within the spirit of postmodernism, one of the film’s characters says that there are things in our world which are difficult to understand...undoubtedly some of the shocking stories shown in “Taxidermia” are hard to rationalize by the common viewers, but which one of the things that happened in the absurd and gruesome 20th century is easy to digest...

4.3. Cargo 200 (Груз 200, 2007)

Unlike “Good Bye, Lenin!”, presenting in a nostalgic package its unpleasant interpretation of the communist past, the film by the Russian director Aleksei Balabanov “Cargo 200” (Груз 200, 2007) doesn’t spare any of the horror of the dystopia named communism. It is expressly indicated in it that the action takes place in 1984. According to the Russian film critic Andrei Plakhov, the reference to the allegorical Orwell’s novel about the communist future is hardly a coincidence. Balabanov focuses on the equally powerful metaphor of the so-called cargo 200, reminiscent of the unbearable burden of the unresolved communist past. This film, similarly to “Taxidermia”, makes a shocking dissection of the carcase tissue of communism, which hasn’t stopped to poison us with its intolerable stench.
Despite the low cinema attendance (only 20,400 viewers!), due to its limited distribution, the audience of “Cargo 200” in Russia exceeded 25 million during its TV premiere on April 11, 2008 in Alexander Gordon’s program “Private Screening” on Channel One. Although it was shown late in the evening and there were special warnings to people with weak nerves, in Moscow the audience share that watched the film is 27,8% (rating 4,3%), and in Russia as a whole – 31,2% (rating 3,2%). However, the most amazing thing happened even later that notable evening when the film discussion began. The percentage of the Muscovites who watched it reached 36%, and the viewers in the other cities – 34%! And that means that a third of the TV audience of the enormous country was awake at that late hour, so that they could see and hear what some of the most intelligent and famous people of Russia had to say about “Cargo 200”, as well as the film director and the producer.  That is unprecedented and it proves that nowadays cinema can stir up millions of people too, provoking not only extremely positive, but also extremely negative reactions.
Some explain the phenomenon with that “Cargo 200” is a postmodernist film, abundant in many meaning layers, giving an opportunity to everyone to discover in it very different things – kitsch, horror, a parable of the demise of USSR, an attempt for reviving the so-called “chernukha” in the Russian cinema, and even esoteric social drama. The mythological symbols, the references and the quotations are so numerous, that they could serve as a basis for a special film scholar research. It is not a coincidence that in her book, dedicated to the absurd in Russian cinema, the film critic Genoveva Dimitrova emphasizes on “Cargo 200”. Noting that it is a film in which “the utopia is replaced with dystopia, love with necrophilia, and living is nonsense”, she underlines that targeted is not so much the time before the “perestroika”, but the present. [31] And the quoted by her Daniil Dondurei, editor in chief of “Iskusstvo Kino”(“Film Art”) magazine, says that he has an ambivalent attitude towards “Cargo 200”: “on the one hand, I am delighted, on the other – huge inner devastation and alarm for our future”. [32]
There is seemingly a return to realism even to naturalism in Aleksei Balabanov’s film, but as Rozalia Likova points out “the return to the category mimesis doesn’t mean a return to the traditional likelihood”, because in postmodernism the mimesis isn’t an imitation of reality anymore, but a “representation”. This representation is  permeated with ironic distancing, with a feeling of absurdity...[33]
The column, dedicated to it, in the influential British newspaper “The Guardian” is another evidence for the wide range of the critical interpretations of this film, quoted by Genoveva Dimitrova: “Believe it or not, though, this is almost a comedy, albeit of the darkest shade. The dialogue is occasionally hilarious, the incongruous music adds a sardonic tone, and the gruesomeness ultimately tips over into absurdity. Perhaps with events this grim, you just have to laugh.[34]

4.4. “12:08 East of Bucharest”  (A fost sau n-a fost?, 2006)

It is not so easy to smile after a film like “Cargo 200”, but it is just inevitable to do so after seeing the Romanian film “12:08 East of Bucharest” (A fost sau n-a fost?, 2006). Even though it also looks into the end of a difficult communist regime – that of Nicolae Ceauşescu. Indeed, among the greatest achievements of the stacked with international awards contemporary Romanian cinema are its untraditional, ironic approaches to depicting and making sense of that key period of the recent history of the former totalitarian country. It is astonishing how a handful of relatively young and virtually unknown Romanian directors managed, resurrecting the demons of the communist past, to provoke so much international interest in their country’s cinema. Perhaps a part of the explanation is that unlike the serious and the harshly critical approach of the Romanian classicist Lucian Pintilie in his film “Too late” (Prea târziu, 1996), the young Romanian filmmakers saturate their “historical” films with comic and farcical situations. The dedramatization (and the deheroization!), distinguishing the approach of the Romanian “new wave” directors towards the events of their recent past is to a large degree caused by their reaction of repulsion by the pathos (and the hypocrisy) of the previous generations.
Corneliu Porumboiu’s accomplishment in “12:08 East of Bucharest” is especially impressive, which original title “Was it or Was it not?” (A fost sau n-a fost?) speaks eloquently about the uncertainty and the doubts of the Romanians in the authenticity of their resistance against the dictatorship.  The film shows how a New Year’s Eve TV show host of a provincial channel speaks on air with two supposed participants in the revolution of December 1989. His goal is to clarify whether they had come out on the city square before the announcement of the news of Ceauşescu’s getaway attempt (which would mean that there was a revolution in the city) or they went out later. 
In the course of the action the concentration of absurdity becomes so big, that from a particular moment onward everything causes uncontrollable laughter attacks. But at the end (a short lyrical epilogue on behalf of one of the program’s guests – a school teacher who never manages to prove that he went out on the square before noon) a sudden shift in tonality occurs, a total deconstruction of the comical. One single editing transition turns the film into a complete opposite of itself, the satire – in lyrics, the ridicule – in real experience, the defeat – in victory. That is an absolutely unique composition, almost like a carousel park, unexpectedly taking the viewer where he least expected to end up. [35]
“12:08 East of Bucharest” is the epitome of the universal relativism of the postmodernism, which unlike modernism does not have the will for “heroization of the present” in the words of Michel Foucault. The film is also a proof of Jean-François Lyotard’s thesis, that the decline of “the narratives with legitimating function” does not stop “the billions of little or very tiny stories to continue to weave the thread of daily life”.[36] Based on this very principle the downfall of the “Great narrative” leads to the appearance on the screen of other similar attempts to “retell” the history, bent through an individual perspective, and of a multitude of “little” plots for ordinary people. [37]

5. Noir, neo-noir…socialist noir

More original and even more conceptually precise is the postmodernist interpretation of the communist past, that started in the Bulgarian cinema in 2008 with “Zift” and continued by “The Color of the Chameleon” released in the spring of 2013. It is mainly Vladislav Todorov’s merit as he brought into the scripts of both films the ideas and the stylistic of his novels “Zift” and “Zincograph”. The recent recognition made by the Romanian film critic and historian Marian Țuțui, during the 31st Bulgarian feature film festival in Varna, that in Romania such a kind of novel or such a film (like “The Color of the Chameleon”) hasn’t appeared yet is significant. [38]
Much earlier than him most of the media in Russia admired “Zift” of director Javor Gardev, who won the “Silver St.George” award for directing at the 30th Moscow international film festival in 2008, for skillfully parodying the monumental soc-realism as well as the fascist esthetics in re-creating the squalid reality in Bulgaria in the early 1960s following the genre ‘laws’ of the film noir. And one of the most famous Russian film critics (Andrei Plakhov) even proclaimed the film to be the progenitor of a new genre in cinema – socialist noir. [39]
The general astonishment with “Zift” was caused in the first place by the unprecedented experiment of Javor Gardev to combine (or to collide) the uncombinable – the traditional esthetics of the socialist realism with the stylistics and the plot construction of the classic film noir. “At times it appears absurd, at other times – amusing or crude, but invariably it is ingenious and original. No one yet has farewelled so gracefully with their country’s socialist past”.[40]

Immediately after the WWII, people start talking and writing about the films noir. When re-discovering the American cinema after the years of the Hitlerian occupation, the French film critics become strongly impressed by the dark atmosphere not only of the ordinary thrillers from overseas, but also of the costly melodramas. That is why they call them “film noir” i.e. “black film”. As Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton remind us in their “A Panorama of American film noir”, [41] as late as the summer of 1946 the French get a chance to see “The Maltese Falcon”, 1941, of John Huston, “Laura”, 1944, of Otto Preminger, “Murder, My Sweet”,1944, of Edward Dmytryk, “Double Indemnity”, 1944 of Billy Wilder, “The Woman in the Window”, 1944, of Fritz Lang and many others, subsequently recognized as classic films noir. The authors of the above-mentioned research define the “black” film as “oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel".
According to Noël Simsolo, the author of a comprehensive, fundamental scientific research,[42] published 50 years after Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton’s book, the “black” film is not so much a film genre as it is a trend or a specific attitude towards reality. In his opinion its literary beginnings are rooted in the English Gothic novel, the newspaper literary series, the naturalist novel (Émile Zola), the melodrama, but also in the hard-boiled crime novels (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, David Goodis, Georges Simenon). It is most strongly represented in the American cinema during the period 1944-1959, although the forerunners of the “black” film appear back in the days of silent cinema (Erich von Stroheim, Fritz Lang, Louis Feuillade) and of the 1930s sound films (Hitchcock’s English reels, the French poetic realism, Jean Renoir). It also leaves its print on the neorealism and the French “New Wave”. It is characterized mainly by that it dips the characters in a world of latent oneiric experiences, reveals the city life through stark contrasts, shows pessimism, as it conceives poignant stories, in which fall characters who have lost their memory, chased by both the police and the criminals, not feeling themselves, subordinate to fatal women. Rebelling the established order, killers by necessity, twisted monsters or innocent people, whose desire to revenge leads them to hysteria, the film noir characters constantly live with ghosts. Noël Simsolo notes also something else which is very essential. Not every film noir is necessarily a crime film, and often represents a depiction of the state of schizophrenia in a certain social or political context.
In the 1970s the Hollywood films noir once again attract the attention of the film critics and the cinephiles. According to the famous American screenwriter and director Paul Schrader, the resumed interest in noir reflects the new trend in the American cinema characterized by a marked interest in the ugly, dark side of the national character and the American reality. During that period dozens of remarkable films are released(“Chinatown”, “The Conversation”, “The Parallax view” etc) shot in the typical noir esthetics, therefore quite rightly defined as neo-noir. They definitively shatter the myth of the private detective as a lone fighter for justice, graphically showing his complete lack of power against the dominant evil. [43]
In his extensive essay [44] titled “Notes on film noir”, Schrader predicts that in the process of aggravation of the contemporary socio-political problems the cinemagoers and the film makers would find the films noir of the late 1940s increasingly interesting, and they could even play a similar role to the 70's generation as the 30's to the 60's generation.
At the end of the 1980s and in the 1990s the neo-noir tradition in the American cinema was continued by films like “Angel Heart”, “The Usual Suspects”, “Se7en”, “L.A. Confidential”, “Memento” etc. It is typical for them to increase the subjectivity – many incidents turn out to be caused by the disturbed mind of the character who is rather an antihero. And the source of evil often is within him, that is why it is so difficult for him to wrestle with the temptation to use criminal methods to fight crime.[45]

5.1. “Zift” – a genre encounter and something more

The author of the script of this truly postmodernist film, which stands out not only among the Bulgarian, but also among the East European cinema in the last 23 years, is Vladislav Todorov – one of the initiators of the circle “Synthesis”, which has already been mentioned. According to Miglena Nikolchina, the graduate of NATFA “Krastyo Sarafov” (who received a degree in cinema dramaturgy in 1982) was among the most active participants in the methodological and disciplinary movement in Bulgaria in the 1980s. She defines his publications as “representative of a Bulgarian phenomenon, as much minor in its reception as it is glamorous and absolute in its accomplishments: the phenomenon of theoretical avant-gardism, the most extreme, I think, which has ever occurred anywhere. It could be also said that: the only true avant-garde that occurred in the Bulgarian history is theoretical.” Nikolchina is convinced, that as a theorist, Vladislav Todorov didn’t receive the recognition he deserves in Bulgaria, not least because of “the deficit of comprehensive erudition, artistry and freedom from clichés”. She assumes that perhaps his orientation to literary fiction was dictated namely by the hope of a greater effect of his research work on conspiracy, terror and police order.
His first novel “Zift” from this perspective, according to Nikolchina, is a “populist” attempt, which to a certain degree succeeds. This is even more true for director Javor Gardev’s film. On the one hand, because it became a true hit, seen by the biggest audience in Bulgaria (36,000!) before the release of “Mission London” in 2010, and on the other hand, because of its undisputed festival success both in Bulgaria and abroad.
The appearance of that Bulgarian film in 2008 suggested that noir may serve wonderfully to the attempts for postmodernist understanding of the Stalin period of the communist past and of its relapses in the present. In “Zift” we find all the components of the film noir and neo-noir, but at the same time it also deals with references to the socialist art. In general – an unprecedented case in our cinema, according to film critic Genoveva Dimitrova’s opinion, expressed in an interesting discussion about the film on the pages of newspaper “Culture”.[46] 
Javor Gardev’s example turned out to be contagious to other East European directors as well. Special attention in the context of the current research deserves the Polish film “Rewers” released only a year after “Zift”. First, because it also is a feature film debut of a relatively young director (Borys Lankosz), who is about the same age as Gardev and repeats the festival success of “Zift” – wins the “Silver St.George” award at the Moscow International Film Festival and the grand award of the 34th Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, and second, because it also applies very ingeniously the noir esthetics in the interpretation of an episode of the totalitarian regime in Poland. And similarly to “Zift” both the critics and the audience there received him very well, valuing highly its unconventional view on the early 1950s. “Instead of talking about the era of Stalinism in the familiar “martyrological” approach: Borys Lankosz creates a visually powerful “black” comedy not without the assistance of Marcin Koszałka  - one of the most talented Polish operators”.[47] And the famous director Andrzej Wajda even declares that “Rewers” is the best film made in Poland after the times of the “Polish cinema school”.
It is not difficult at all to notice its unquestionable similarities to “Zift” both in the stylistics (dark humor, grotesque, irony) and at the level of the plot. These similarities have been repeatedly pointed out in various Russian publications, dedicated to the 32nd Moscow International Film Festival [48], where “Rewers” was presented two years after Gardev’s film. In some of them it was explicitly stated, that namely the Bulgarian director invented the socialist noir, and Borys Lankosz in “Rewers” further develops it. [49]
It is strange that in the numerous responses and reviews of “Rewers”, published in the Polish media, that connection was not noted. But the noir appearance of the film, determining the specific of its postmodernist approach to the period of Stalinism in Poland, was commented at length.[50] And that is enough, so that the conclusion can be made, that the discovery of the creators of “Zift” is not an isolated case in the East European cinema, but finds worthy followers.
It is unlikely that the attempts of the creators of “Zift” and of its East European followers to use the genre framework of the film noir are dictated only by their desire to attract wider audience (which they practically achieve). It is more important why exactly the noir spirit and the esthetics, typical for the American cinema of the late 1940s, have appeared to them to be most appropriate in interpreting the communist past from today’s perspective.
In my view, in the discussion provoked by “Zift”, a satisfactory answer is given by Koprinka Chervenkova(chief editor of newspaper “Culture”). She says that the film became clear to her when she saw “the iron scheme of existentialism in which every “lost generation” feels most comfortably”...This transfer of state of mind, this parabola from the time of the WWII, I expected to happen a long time ago” - she declares. “Theoretically, there is no way, after such a severe cataclysm which we euphemistically call “transition”, another génération perdue to not appear. And there is no way, even in Bulgaria, that there is no one to be found to show it. In this case, it is our chance that the crew of “Zift”shows it not trivially, but spectacularly yet misleadingly – supposedly neo-noir, but it actually is something else...”[51]
Media expert Georgi Lozanov (another participant in the discussion of newspaper “Culture”) also gives what is due to the noir for helping the film reach the audience in the West, based on genre pre-understandings derived from their own cultural environment. He doesn’t dispute that “Zift” pretends to be “pure genre”, so that it could be digested more easily, while dealing with something else – not with earnestly following a mass culture narrative scheme. And that something else can be situated in a common existentialist framework of the existence without essence...[52]
Lozanov, however, leaves the field of parallelism between the pure philosophical scheme of the existentialism and the pure genre scheme of the noir and goes towards the social interpretation of “Zift” connecting it with the communism. And the film, with all the conditionality of its characters and situations, in his opinion, puts itself within that historical period: “Thus it turns into one of the few, and why not the only categorical esthetic response to the main question: how the violence of the repressive communist system transformed into its post-communist forms. How from ideological – on the essence, it became physical – on the existence, and it kept itself as a mechanism for distributing the social goods.” [53]
Koprinka Chervenkova’s thesis also sounds convincingly, that it is a film generally about the man in the so-called “transitory eras” – when it all breaks down; and when shapeless debris fall upon you from everywhere... At moments like these, you can’t help but read your life as a total absurdity; and you can’t help but try again, through a series of choices to produce yourself...As for the violence, it is hardly a product of the communism only, - she declares.[54]
But still I am more inclined to agree with Lozanov’s position, who recalls that it was precisely the communism which made violence a government policy and in the 20th century Europe. It socializes it, so to say, at all levels, including with particular cruelty at the level of thinking. According to him, this is the topic of the film, which, beyond all of its artistic qualities, is presented with theoretical precision through Michel Foucault’s ideas about the disciplinary spaces. [55]. These are spaces in which you don’t have free will, you’re not a subject. There you’re an object “bare” body which someone else owns. Like in prison, in the army, and even in the monastery. The film shows the entire communist socium, in which the character falls, as a cascade of disciplinary spaces. [55] The clarification made by the media expert is also important, that the references in “Zift” are to all the repressive regimes, which one way or another destroy the individual’s autonomy.
It is interesting that to another discussion participant (Hristo Butsev) that Bulgarian film is somehow too thought-out. “All is interpretations, interpretations, interpretations which accumulate, and I can see what they read, and I see what I can read, but – for the first time from a Bulgarian film! – I want a construction of the universe in a big work of art” – he says, perhaps not being aware that actually he expects from its creators a modernist interpretation with its corresponding meta-narrative and “moral benchmarks” which are strongly insisted upon by Koprinka Chervenkova. Even though she partly explains the reason for their absence inviting us to check who, after all, likes “Zift” the most: “I guess it is mostly the young generation; that is, the movie provokes some sort of a more particular identification – more like a game, through the dynamic of the action and through the absence of any tearful psychologism whatsoever...”[56] And also through its comic imagery and the constant, unsparing humor, as rightly noted by the 22-year-old student Mariana Sabeva in her interesting review of “Zift” in “Culture”. [57]  “The humor lurks around the corner – from the ironic references to socialism, through the ludicrous stories of the hospital patients, to the framing fecal theme” - she writes.
Georgi Lozanov is convinced that the charisma of the film experience called “Zift” comes precisely from the specifics of that laughter, and reminds that the title itself contains a metaphor of the overall abomination. In his opinion, the fact that the “zift” is also used as chewing gum is a metaphor of pleasure, of the failed consumer culture during the communism. [58]
The ‘dark’ humor in the Bulgarian cinema had been looked upon with disapproval for a long time. But with the attempts to form a postmodernist cultural paradigm the understanding began to arise that the paradoxicality of our time is expressed in the integral connection between the progress of reason and the deepening of absurdity, which causes individuals to use ‘dark’ humor and irony to adapt less painfully to the surrounding world.
“Zift” rises above the glued with black pitch yellow cobbles of the past and looks at socialism from a postmodernist perspective, laughing at it, laughing at itself and at us. From that all-seeing position, this film makes a “herbarium” of the past and offers it in an esthetically exemplary cinema wrapping”.[59]

5. 3. “The Color of the Chameleon” as a pastiche

The director’s debut film of the renowned Bulgarian operator Emil Hristov was released in April 2013, although it was filmed in 2012. He brings to the screen Vladislav Todorov’s novel “Zincograph” as the script is written by Todorov himself. And in my opinion he manages to successfully visualize his postmodernist interpretation of that crucial to most Bulgarians period after the end of the 1980s. Perhaps he doesn’t convey so convincingly,  as it is in the book, the idea of inauthenticity of the change carried out after November 10, 1989 in Bulgaria. Yet Vladislav Todorov’s thesis about the guilt and the failure of the intellectuals united around “Speculation” (this is how the circle “Synthesis” from the time of the Seminar is called in the film) is suggested strongly enough. They are presented in their entire insignificance – they are ready to become informants in the name of a possible change of their social status.
The very title of the film is a hint of the absurdity which we are about to see, because it is essentially an oxymoron, a figure of speech that combines incongruous or seemingly contradictory terms. It is common knowledge that the chameleons don’t have a permanent color of their own, and that is why the creators of “The Color of the Chameleon” show us the ridiculous (and miserable) spurts of ambitiously sick characters to acquire at once a more prestigious identity, taking advantage of the transformation wave surging in a turning point period. They draw us in a par excellence postmodernist conspiracy game, revealing the tragicomedy in the lack of identity.
The film, however, deals not only with conspirology but also with love or more precisely with that yearning for the world in which “the devil has the people by the throat” as Irena Miliankova’s character puts it. The action takes place at the end of the communist regime in Bulgaria and in the years of the so-called Transition, and the main character Batko Stamenov (excellent role of Rushi Vidinliev!) is neither a hero nor an antihero, because he is one of those people who are imitations of other people – a person without qualities of his own and without clear standards of good and evil, who even adopted the idea of subversive zincography of the secret services from a Soviet dissident novel titled “Zincograph”.
According to the author of the script Vladislav Todorov, “The Color of the Chameleon” doesn’t take the victim’s perspective, whether that of the “followed citizen” or that of the “reluctant informant” whose drama is that of the person “without choice”, it also doesn’t present romantically the moral rebirth of the secret agent and his dramatic self-awareness. Conversely, the film deals with the proactive conformist for whom the absurd system of surveillance and snitching becomes a source of thrill, power, material benefits before and after the changes. [60]
When viewed this way the story of this homo bulgaricus created by the secret services under “a sky with chameleon color” can hardly be told in a modernist discourse, similar to films like the German “The Lives of Others” or “Voice Over” of director Svetoslav Ovtcharov released in 2010, but the postmodernist esthetics suits it excellently.
“The Color of the Chameleon”, however, is not precisely a dark comedy, as it is usually presented, it is more of a pastiche of films noir like “Plein soleil”,1960, “Chinatown”, 1974, “The Talented Mr. Ripley”,1999, nostalgic melodramas like “Casablanca”,1942, and “Titanic”,1997, and conspiratorial psychological thrillers like “Parallax View”,1974, and “The Conversation”,1974. According to the American theorist Fredric Jameson pastiche is the main module of the postmodernist art, and its appearance is determined by what is usually called “death of the subject” or the end of the individual as such, which is most often a topic of research in the modernist art. [61]
Communism and what it was replaced with after the so-called democratic changes in Bulgaria are presented in Emil Hristov’s film as a period in which the very reality is subjected to a process of zincography, that is, pattern replication, and the widespread corrosion of the individual beginning accompanying this process inevitably forms homunculi – artificial creatures which are exact copies of themselves who don’t know any other way of existence but the conspiratorial, nor any other way of achieving success except lying and snitching.
It turns out that in the age of total simulation (in the words of Jean Baudrillard) the means of communication(the medium), that is manipulation, is the message, if I may use the famous aphorism of Marshall McLuhan. Therefore it is not coincidental that in Emil Hristov’s film the messages are coded in the stylistics, which according to the logic of pastiche is not only imitated or parodied, but in some cases is even honored.  By the way, for the adequacy of pastiche, as a tool for representing that chameleon era, speak both of the main definitions of the term – mixture of different components and imitation. It is also indicative that the director himself speaks about the film as a cake made of different layers. At one level it is an imitation of certain cinema examples (film noir), at the next level others are being parodied (e.g. melodrama), and at another the admiration of favorite directing and operator styles (the German expressionism) is expressed.
That is perhaps the only (for now) Bulgarian film in which we discover used just in the right place and with deep meaning the main postmodernist techniques – parody, playfulness, stylization, intertextuality, eclectic, fragmentation etc. Their presence in almost every scene is determined by the desire of its creators – screenwriter Vladislav Todorov and director Emil Hristov – to reveal through the form of the postmodernist pastiche the depersonalization and the decay of the society, turned into a hostage of hypocrisy and degradation. 
In the first frames, showing literally the split reflection of little Batko’s face while he is playing with a burning fire truck, it is already suggested that the film narrative will be marked by ambivalence and absurdity. Later in the film, all the perversity (and misery), of the time in which the communist ideology was dominant and of what came after 1989, is revealed with almost killing irony. Furthermore, by imitating very successfully mainly film noir, “The Color of the Chameleon” approaches Noël Simsolo’s understanding who says that the ‘black’ film is not necessarily a crime film and it may reflect some form of schizophrenia in a certain social or political context. [62]
“The Color of the Chameleon” was recently presented in New York at the New Directors/New Films festival. The festival organizers of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) presented it as “a black comedy with implacably deadpan humor” and the authoritative “New York Times” wrote that Emil Hristov “imagines the end of Communism as the dramatic replacement of one reality with another. Or maybe the collapse of one form of absurdity and the triumph of another.” [63]
Literary critic Borislav Gurdev has defined Vladislav Todorov’s novel “Zincograph” on which the film script is based, as follows: “This is simultaneously a novel-retrospection of the fate of a lost generation, which lived in a divided period and a cruel, bitter, black grotesque, through the curved mirror of which is revealed at a breathless pace the murderous absurdity in which we have been living for three decades. I don’t know any other book written by a Bulgarian author, so critical and fiercely-satirical to the mistakes in our past and present.”[64]
In this spirit, I would add in turn, that I don’t know any other Bulgarian film which so gracefully and with such an inimitable cinematographic subtlety and unprecedented dark humor reveals the tragicomedy of our social placement and the enthronement of the lie. It is possible that those who prefer the “chewed food” will not like it at all, but “The Color of the Chameleon” doesn’t try to adjust to the mass taste like “Mission London” or “Operation Shmenti Capelli”, for example. The least satisfied perhaps are the fans of melodramatic outcomes, expecting happy end or at least some kind of justification of romantic love. Although it wonderfully combines the espionage parody with the fim buff romantics, weaving in the plot motifs from the classic “Casablanca”, Emil Hristov doesn’t allow even the slightest hint of a Hollywood-type ending. Moreover, he films the closing scene as an ironic reference to “Titanic” in order to capsize the candied message of the famous blockbuster, emphasizing once again on the lack of identity which is worse than death.

Conclusion

I have tried to show through the proposed analysis of key films from the Bulgarian and the East European cinema, that their postmodernist specifics is not accidental, but it reflects the overall feeling of crisis, lack of meaning and absurdity which has engaged the minds of many filmmakers from our region – something typical for the transition between two eras, when one cultural paradigm is put aside, but a new one is still not widely adopted. On the other hand, the appearance of those films, in my opinion, refutes the premature conclusions of some Western theorists that the postmodernism is already dead. [65]
Thirty years after the first swallows of the postmodernist cinema in the West, the film art in the post-totalitarian East European countries takes advantage of its lessons in order to make sense of some of the unpleasant episodes of the communist past, “with irony, not innocently” by Umberto Eco’s definition. The wide international reaction to most of the titles, analyzed in the current overview, suggests perhaps the right path for overcoming the nostalgia of that era.


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[63] Dargis, M. and and Scott, A. O. Early Favorites in a Showcase for New Filmmakers, NY Times. http://nyti.ms/Yq63dK
[64] Gyrdev, Borislav. "Batko Stamenov-autsajderyt – geroj na nasheto vreme" -  http://bit.ly/14K0IFw
[65] Docx, Edward. Postmodernism is dead. Prospect, 20.07.2011. http://bit.ly/12eqcGe

Moveast

Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

6. The Film of Self-balkanisation 1

The sixth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Jurica Pavičić

Stylistic Models

5. The Film of Self-victimisation

The fifth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Imre Szíjártó

Cinemas in Central-Eastern-Europe at the End of the 1980s

The historical framework

In this chapter we attempt to delineate the socio-historical background of the Central-Eastern- European cinemas of the 1990s. We treat the period directly preceding the change of regime, namely the "end of the 1980s" as a relatively neutral period reference and describe events of the  period relevant to film history. Since state socialism collapsed in a different rhythm and logic in each country, we will discuss each country separately. As in previous chapters the descriptive approach will be complemented by a comparative one, since we also try to formulate the regional message of the transformation that took place in each country.


Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

4. The Eastern European and the Post-Yugoslav Situation: Similarities and Differences

The fourth part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Iván Forgács

The Concept

Could there be a full gap between a state's political function and its ideology and recordable values with a humane trend? If not, in what kind of elements can be revealed the link? Is the opportunity of the violence game for this humanism inside? Could that state oppressor machineries work in the context of the humanism? How much was the film art of the East European state socialism specific? How much can be the intellectual-artistic peculiarities of the region's film production derived from the ideological values represented officially in these countries? May we talk about socialist cinema art in any kind of sense?

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

3. The Context of Eastern European Cinema after the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The third part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Imre Szíjártó

Theoretical Framework: Canon, Canonisation, School 

The political transformation in the East-Central-European region, which began in the second half of the 1980s and ended in the early 1990s, connected in two countries with the establishment of souvereignty, seems to be a perfect period – or to be more precisely, a perfect milestone in history – to analyse the constructedness of the canon. Although it is clear that changes in values systems do not occur from one day to the next, neither can they be understood as effects of historical milestone events, unless we pause the ever changing reality of culture. 

Jurica Pavičić

The Development of Post-Yugoslav Cinemas and the Eastern European Context

2. The Development of Cinema in the Post-Yugoslav Countries

The second part of our translation project on publishing in English the text of Jurica Pavičić's book "Postjugoslovenski film: Stil i ideologija" (Hrvatski filmski savez, Zagreb, 2011.). The work is supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre. The text is translated by Nikolina Jovanović.

Krasimir Kastelov

Postmodernist Film Interpretations of the Communist Past

(The Bulgarian contribution in the context of the Central and East European cinema)

The proposed analysis of key films from the Bulgarian and the East European cinema shows, that their postmodernist specifics is not accidental, but it reflects the overall feeling of crisis, lack of meaning and absurdity which has engaged the minds of many filmmakers from our region – something typical for the transition between two eras, when one cultural paradigm is put aside, but a new one is still not widely adopted. On the other hand, the appearance of those films, in my opinion, refutes the premature conclusions of some Western theorists that the postmodernism is already dead. 
Thirty years after the first swallows of the postmodernist cinema in the West, the film art in the post-totalitarian East European countries takes advantage of its lessons in order to make sense of some of the unpleasant episodes of the communist past, “with irony, not innocently” by Umberto Eco’s definition. The wide international reaction to most of the titles, analyzed in the current overview, suggests perhaps the right path for overcoming the nostalgia of that era.