A Short Historical Overview of Slovene Film

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Introduction

In the context of a divided 20th-century Europe, Slovene film aesthetics clearly reflected the country's borderline characteristics. Whilst the influence of social realism was present in Slovene film from an early stage, film aesthetics in Slovenia have oscillated over the years between entertainment and politics, art and industry, aesthetics and ideology. This is clearly illustrated by an examination of the historical line of important Slovene films, starting with On Their Own Land (1948) and continuing through Vesna and The Valley of Peace in the 1950s, Dance in the Rain and Castle of Sand in the 1960s and Widowhood of Karolina Žašler in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Karpo Godina’s films The Raft of Medusa, The Red Boogie and Artificial Paradise showed the development of a new generation of bold directors. The ‘Spring of Slovene Film’ in the second half of the 1990s was heralded simultaneously by two films: Ekspress Ekspress by Igor Šterk and Outsider by Andrej Košak. Express Express - which drew its inspiration from (rail)road movies and traditional farce - won awards at several European festivals, while Outsider - a love story between a Slovene girl and a Bosnian 'outsider' framed by social criticism and characterised by the precise real-life rhythm that so characterises ex-Yugoslav film - turned out to be a major box office success.

The Beginnings

The history of Slovene cinema does not begin with the creation of the independent state of the Republic of Slovenia in 1991. Karol Grossmann (1864–1929) created three short non-fiction films (actuality films and home movies) at the beginning of the 20th century, and is seen as a pioneer of Slovene cinema. A few short silent films and some experiments with sound appeared in the 1930s, whilst two touristic films from the early 1930s, V kraljestvu Zlatoroga (In the Kingdom of the Goldenhorn) and Triglavske strmine (The Steep Slopes of Triglav), represented the first attempts at feature-lenght films. These saw the introduction of the aesthetic of the local and the domestic to Slovene film, following its popularity in Central Europe. Between 1926 and 1940, film director, cameraman and scriptwriter Metod Badjura shot around 30 film news items and short films, and after the Second World War he became widely known as a director of superb documentaries. Today the Metod Badjura Award is the lifetime achievement award and the highest film accolade in Slovenia (bestowed at the annual Festival of Slovenian Film). Indeed, the first 50 years of Slovene film is characterised chiefly by the documentary (non-fiction) tradition.

Post WW2 Production

The first post-war feature film Na svoji zemlji (On Their Own Land, 1948) directed by France Štiglic marks the beginning of the so-called 'partisan film'. There was a line of such films which avoided overstated idealisation and demagogic simplification, and instead approached issues from the viewpoint of intimate experience and the existential dimensions of human existence. In 1955 Czech immigrant František Čap created Trenutki odločitve (Deciding Moments), followed by the popular comedies Vesna (1953) and Ne čakaj na maj (Don’t Wait Till May, 1957). A tradition of films for young people also began in the 1950s with Jože Gale’s Kekec (1951), continuing with France Štiglic’s partisan movie Dolina miru (The Valley of Peace, 1956) and later with Jane Kavčič’s Sreča na vrvici (Happiness on a Lead, 1977).

Literature and Film

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, numerous films were created based on Slovene literary classics (taking their sources texts from writers such as Ivan Cankar, Prežihov Voranc, Ivan Tavčar) or contemporary Slovene literature (Dominik Smole, Beno Zupančič, Ivan Potrč). Such films included Jara Gospoda (The Upstarts, 1953), directed by Bojan Stupica, Cvetje v jeseni (Blossoms in the Autumn, 1973) directed by Matjaž Klopčič, and Idealist (1976) by Igor Pretnar. In some films the texts were subjected to strong directorial re-interpretation, for example Boštjan Hladnik’s Ples v dežju (Dancing in the Rain, 1961), Matjaž Klopčič’s Sedmina (The Wake, 1969) and Vojko Duletič’s Na klancu (On the Slope, 1971).

Social and Political Criticism

The 1960s were marked by a wave of socially-critical films which tackled the taboos of Slovene reality, starting with Veselica (The Party, 1960) by Jože Babič and continuing with Grajski Biki (Castle Bulls, 1967) by Jože Pogačnik. This wave partly coincided with movements for the so-called ‘New Yugoslav Film' and the ‘Yugoslav Black Wave’ (represented, for example, by Dušan Makavejev).

After Boštjan Hladnik and Matjaž Klopčič, it was Karpo Aćimović Godina who made a strong impact with his auteur approach to film, frequently stretching the possibilities of film language. Splav Meduze (Raft of the Medusa, 1980) is based on quotations and iconography of the 1920s artistic avant-garde, while his Rdeči Boogie, ali Kaj ti je Deklica (Red Boogie, or What’s Up Girl) is a feature film about a music band touring the countryside playing ideologically controversial jazz music in the post-war communist system. The 1980s introduced some shifts in subject matter, for instance, Živojinov Pavlović’s Nasvidenje v naslednji vojni (See You in the Next War, 1980), for example, related to the Spanish Civil War, whilst Filip Robar Dorin’s Ovni in mamuti (Rams and Mammoths,1985) painted a unique portrait of Bosnians as migrant workers in Slovenia.

The titles and content of two films made in the 1990s, Umetni raj (Artificial Paradise) by Karpo Godina and Do konca in naprej (To the End and Onwards) by Jure Pervanje, indicated that it was again time for change, and once more illustrating the twofold face of Slovene film. Artificial Paradise returned to the earliest period of Slovene film (describing an incidental historical encounter of photographic pioneer Karol Grossmann and an anonymous Austro-Hungarian officer, Fritz Lang, who later became a famous director of European and American films). To the End and Onwards meanwhile portrayed the exploits of thieves in the former Yugoslavia and illustrated the commercial aspirations of Slovene film. Slovene independence followed in 1991.

Production in the 1990's

The first 'independent' Slovene film, Babica gre na jug (Grandma Goes South, 1991) was shot by Vinci Vogue Anžlovar. The above mentioned Ekspress Ekspress and Outsider appeared in 1996. In 1998 the FAMU (Prague) student Janez Burger demonstrated a deft directorial touch with his delicate comedy V leru (Idle Running). The film was an international hit, receiving more than 20 domestic and international awards.

More recently, Slovene film has shown a great deal of creative vitality, with productions such as Sašo Podgoršek’s Sladke sanje (Sweet Dreams, 2001), the nostalgic story of a boy who wants a record player and will do whatever it takes to get one, set in 1970s Yugoslavia. Another light piece of the same year was Oda Prešernu (An Ode to the Poet), the feature film debut by the ‘Slovene Woody Allen’ Martin Srebotnjak, created for the 200th birthday celebrations of Slovene national poet France Prešeren (1800–1849) and taking on the myths and legacy of the Slovene Romantic icon.

2001 also saw the release of Jan Cvitkovič’s debut feature Kruh in mleko (Bread and Milk or Black and White), a stylised black-and-white homage to the Slovene tragic nature and the alienation of small-town society which garnered much praise for its originality and inner poetics. The film with minimal scenery and sparse props was also praised for its innovative use of light, and won the Golden Lion of the Future award at the Cannes Film Festival 2001. Damjan Kozole also gained recognition at the Berlin Film Festival with his Rezervni deli (Spare Parts); in this feature, Kozole tackled the sensitive subject of the illegal trafficking of humans. Kozole was also invited to make the short film Europe as part of the international omnibus Visions of Europe involving 25 well-known directors from 25 countries of the future European Union produced by the Danish production company Zentropa.

Impressum

The first part of the Slovene film historical overview above was largely based on the texts written by Silvan Furlan. It was edited by Tim Doling and Helena Pivec for the Slovenia Cultural Profile, publication 2004 and 2008.

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