2005-05-08

NYT observes that controversial director is controversial

Dan Halpern has a piece in the Sunday NYT Magazine profiling Emir Kusturica. A lot of it is dedicated to rehashing the "which side is he on?" controversies that have followed the director since 1992, for which Mr Kusturica has a ready answer: "Nobody's perfect." Mr Halpern also interviewed Nele Karajlić (Nenad Janković), who has a simpler explanation: "Emir likes to make a mess." That really is about the extent of it, but it might be worth reading for some colorful descriptions of the films.

10 comments:

cicciosax said...

what do you think Eric? I ve just seen Life is a miricle, his last movie and read a lot about many accuses about his supposed politic positions, close to the milosevic regime.
Well, I must say that it's very confusing. I guess an artist should be judged by and through his artistic work. If you watch then, Life is a miricle, well, you will get a big "pacifist" message, whatever Kusturica should/could/would have said in his interviews, don't you think?

Eric Gordy said...

I would agree -- although Kusturica has made some catastrophic public statements, he is not a politician and does not have to be judged by the standards of a politician. But I am also sympathetic to the critique of his films that he markets an exoticised version of Balkan "wildness" to European audiences, which tends to displace any kind of explanation for the situations he considers to some kind of diffuse and romantic environment. There I think the effect is to promote a kind of fatalism and avoidance. But among the filmmakers of the region, he definitely has a fantastic talent for setting up a scene. My favorite film of his is still "Dolly Bell," which seems more modest and honest than the recent ones.

Yakima_Gulag said...

They haven't let any of Kusturica's films into the Gulag, even on a rental basis. There isn't a large population of Balkans people here. I think recent immigrants are like around 30 of them tops. There's more people from India here than from any part of the Balkans. There's more Iraqis than people from the Balkans region!
The end result is few films from directors in that part of the world end up here. I was lucky to get a copy of Danis Tanovic's film 'No Man's Land' I still haven't had the chance to watch it. I don't own a DVD player. It's the next toy to purchase, one I can use with my computer.
Then I suppose I'll have a chance to see lots of films I've missed out on liveing here.
Anyway Kusturica has made an awful lot of statements which have predjudiced people against his films.
I'm not sure a 'pacefist' message is really an improvement over the 'The Balkans are irretrievably wild and exotic' message. Both are excuses not to do something!

T K Vogel said...

The politics is right there, in his movies, especially "Underground." I don't think you need a degree in film to decipher the metaphors swirling around -- e.g. the implicit claim that the wars of the 1990s were just a continuation of the 1940s, in other words that those who didn't want to live in Milosevic's Yugoserbia any longer were just a bunch of Fascists who destroyed something nice and beautiful. Don't get me wrong -- it's a fantastic movie, I watched it many times and it's a pleasure at the visual and aural level every time. But the politics make me sick, and they're in your face -- you don't need to read his interviews. (And frankly, "nobody's perfect" doesn't quite cut it, does it?)

cicciosax said...

I want to begin with a clear answer to ur question: I totally disagree with Milosevic regime and I guess that Kusturica could have found better explanation than "nobody is perfect" on that question.

I was just thinking that his movies contributed to "promote" (Eric would say "market" .-) ) the Balkans as a fascinating and enchanted land. I guess that it can be good as a geo-marketing operation :-P Being serious, I know many italians who went to Sarajevo after seeing his movies and I sincerely think that it's a good thing for tourism and development in the area.

But a more general question, on my point of view, kusturica movies suggest. And it's not "partitic", it's not depending on which side you are standing. Can an identity of "yugoslavian", Slavian of the South, survive to the tragedies of the 90ies?

In Italy something similar I guess happened after the fall of fascism. Many analysts assumed that we experienced the "death of our country (patria)" together with the fall of Mussolini. Now everybody in Italy is working to give a sense back to this word (outside of any fascism), even though with alternate results. Do you think something like this can even be possible in the Balkans? Ciao and thanks for your answer :-)

Eric Gordy said...

The Times article was astoundingly uninformative and vague, and there are lots of active debates about Kusturica and what his work means in other places too. But I think this business of "Yugoslav" identity has a lot to do with the disagreement. Kusturica is one of the many urban types who saw himself as "Yugoslav," and there are a lot more of these than the popular version of the country in the press accounts for. This is an identity that always had several different possible meanings, not all of which are consistent with one another. A "Yugoslav" could be: 1) an antinationalist, 2) a person with family in lots of places, 3) an ideological Communist, 4) someone who likes a strong central authority.

You could say that Milosevic's trick was to make a lot of people who thought of themselves as 1) and 2) feel as though they had no choice but to go along with 3) and 4). This was especially true in the early nineties when there were a lot of reasons aside from liking the Milosevic regime to be worried about independence movements. I think that is the moment that a lot of people felt the need to rethink some questions of identity, and Kusturica in some way stands for that moment of decision. I would generally agree with people who argue that he made the wrong choice, but then it is also true that not a lot of right choices are available.

cicciosax said...

Yes Eric, I agree :-)

Mat Savelli said...

Regardless of whatever public pronouncements Kusturica has made on Milosevic, I still find it difficult to find any approval of him or his government in Underground. For me at least, the most obvious message is that a system built on lies is liable to produce horrors upon its collapse. Crni was certainly not painted in heroic colours, despite the obvious condemnation of Marko. I find a lot of the arguments against this film reflect the debates about Der Untergang...is it wrong to portray someone committing evil acts in a way in which shows how they might believe themselves to be justified? I don't feel that Kusturica (in the film) was at all throwing his support behind Milosevic, but rather explaining how/why people might feel or act a certain way. A lot of people come out against the film for its Jugo-nostalgia, but it seems to me that those who take such offence to the nostalgic elements of formerly Yugo society tend to be nationalists of the worst sort. Compared to the mess most people there are currently living through, I can certainly see the desire to revisit better times past.

I agree that it's unfair to hold him to the standards of a politician but I would go further and question the criticisms of his portrayal of the Balkans. The man is an artist, not a diplomat. We rarely question the bizarre depictions of North America in film, and I'm not so sure that Kusturica needs to be condemned for a surrealist portrayal of the region. If anything, the fault lies in those people too ignorant or lazy to learn something about the Balkans.

In other words, this is different than Robert Kaplan writing a "non-fiction historical" work on the supposed thousand year hatreds in the Yugoslavia. Artists can help create popular images of their homelands, but they certainly are not responsible for doing so.

Yakima_Gulag said...

Yeah even though I liked many parts of Robert Kaplan's book the myth of the 1,000 year hatreds in the Balkans serves no useful purpose.The truth is much more complex.
I would like to also point out that Yugoslavia existed as a nation prior to Communism. It's not really fair to associate it solely with Communism therefore. There was a period of constitutional monarchy and that gets forgotten a lot. So a Yugoslav identity doesn't have to be a Communist identity.
I thnk a certain level of common identity may come back some day, but the politicians that led the Balkans into the slaughterhouse will all have to die first, and there will need to be an interveneing period of prosperity.
I think separate nations may actually foster this. The need to co:operate to get things may cause agressive nationalism to become less of a factor. It depends a lot on people on an individual basis refuseing to buy into agressive nationalisms, refuseing to follow anyone who promotes such ideas.

cicciosax said...

Yaklima why don't u post something about the yugoslavian constitutional monarchy :-) I'd really love to know more about that :)