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Concrete Analysis of Concrete Situations: Marxist Education According to Želimir Žilnik

Želimir Žilnik, Rani radovi (Early Works), 1969, black-and-white 35mm film, 87min. Courtesy the artist
Branislav Dimitrijevic looks at Želimir Žilnik’s reinvigoration of socialist discourse and his fidelity to his ‘lumpen-subjects’. There is a widespread impression that cultural production of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) followed a simple formula. On one side was the official, opportunistic culture which served ideological purposes, and on the other was the rebellious opposition, which took the form of ‘dissident’ political and artistic counter-action. Both positions are routinely presented as seamless and almost without any internal contradictions, and it is usually taken for granted that the ‘dissident artist’ was primarily an anti-communist critic of the Titoist regime. This is best borne out perhaps by the most prolific phase in Serbian cinema (from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s), when the ruling political structures grouped the films made during that period under the title ‘Black Wave’, and alleged that they distorted the image of the ‘socialist reality’. However, when we look into the examples of the work of leading film-makers who began their production in that time (Dušan Makavejev, Živojin Pavlović and Želimir Žilnik), it is clear their political orientation did have Marxist foundations and, moreover, that their sceptical approach was motivated by a belief in the potential for critical thinking in the development of a socialist society.