The 1960s and 1970s was a turbulent period in Yugoslavia. As the country sought to break free from Soviet influence, a group of filmmakers joined together to create socially conscious films that challenged the politics and culture of the time.

Known as the Yugoslav Black Wave, this movement gave rise to some of the country’s most iconic films — works that questioned authority, explored taboo subjects and depicted everyday life in new ways.

The result was a wave of art house cinema that brought international attention to the region and influenced filmmakers around the world.

 

Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema

What Is Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema?

The Black Wave refers to a movement in Yugoslav cinema that took place during the 1960s and 1970s.

This movement was characterized by its political themes, which were largely centered around the issues of nationalism and the socio-economic problems faced by Yugoslavia at the time.

The Yugoslav Black Wave differed from other movements in that it was not solely inspired by art-house cinema or studio films.

The filmmakers of the Black Wave used their medium to give a voice to those who were powerless and to speak out against injustices.

This movement is widely regarded as one of the most important events in Yugoslav history, particularly because it brought about a national identity that had been lost following World War II.

 

 

What Is Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema?

There is no single definition of Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema, but it is generally seen as the underground art cinema that emerged in Yugoslavia in the 1960s and into the 1970s. 

Although it was not a cohesive movement in the sense that it shared similar characteristics and ideals, Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema was unified by a common opposition to both state-sponsored socialist realism and Western imperialism. 

A number of factors contributed to the emergence of this artistic movement. The postwar Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia produced a generation of filmmakers who had no interest in or respect for the socialist realism that had dominated Yugoslav cinema since its inception. 

The country was also in a period of social and political turmoil, marked by a series of student demonstrations and anti-authoritarian movements. 

Many young filmmakers were drawn to these sociopolitical issues and turned to documentary film as an outlet for their frustration with state censorship. 

These filmmakers began experimenting with techniques such as voice-over narration, free indirect discourse and other literary devices that drew on Western art cinema. 

They also borrowed from Western European art films by Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni and others. 

This experimentation led to the development of an entirely new Yugoslav cinematic aesthetic, which was heavily influenced by French New Wave films and Soviet montage theory.

History Of Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema

Tito’s Yugoslavia was poor, but proud and independent. Tito attempted to keep his country from becoming part of the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence, which would have required him to make Yugoslavia part of the Eastern Bloc. 

Nevertheless, Yugoslavia was a socialist state under Tito and one that supported communism. 

Thus, it was a state that welcomed revolution in theory but feared it in practice. 

Consequently, Tito created an image of Yugoslavia as a “second homeland” for its people and focused on building up the country economically instead of engaging in ideological conflicts with other nations. 

The Yugoslav Black Wave was a film movement that took place in the former Yugoslavia from the 1960s and through the 1970s. It was characterized by its dark and cynical nature, focusing on anti-authoritarian issues and the struggle of individuals in a totalitarian state. 

Many filmmakers were inspired by Italian Neorealism, French New Wave and Polish Film School, but they also criticized them for their optimism and claimed that they lacked authenticity. Some of the most notable examples include:Otac na sluzbenom putu (1967) (Fathers and Sons), this is considered to be the first Yugoslav feature film with no genre elements. 

It was directed by Bosnian director Emir Kusturica and won the Golden Palm at Cannes Film Festival in 1988. It tells the story of two brothers who are separated during World War II and later reunite in Socialist Yugoslavia. 

The plot explores themes of identity, corruption and dysfunctional family relations.The movie received mixed reviews from critics, some of whom thought it was too pessimistic, but it eventually became one of the most popular films ever produced in Yugoslavia. 

It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Essential Filmmakers Of Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema

The Yugoslav Black Wave (Serbo-Croat: Crna ruka) is the common name for a Yugoslav film movement which emerged in the early 1960s and lasted until the beginning of the 1980s.This movement is commonly regarded as a period marked by artistic freedom and experimentation.

The term “Black Wave” was coined by Serbian film critics Dušan Makavejev and Nikola Popović in their book Najbolji svetski filmovi (“The Best World Films”). Makavejev and Popović sought to draw attention to the innovations that occurred in Yugoslav cinema during this period.

A new generation of directors made non-realistic, anti-elitist films (using a very low budget), which were both artistically and politically innovative, thus distinguishing themselves from both mainstream Hollywood cinema and socialist realism.The movement began with Varda’s Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), Mirković’s “I Even Met Happy Gypsies” (1965) and Tatić’s “I Even Met Happy Gypsies” (1965).

Although the movement was crushed by censorship in Yugoslavia at the end of the 1960s, it survived abroad, mostly in France.Including: Dušan Makavejev.

The Yugoslav Black Wave (or the Yugoslav New Wave) was a 1970s cinematic movement in the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This phenomenon is unrelated to the French New Wave, despite some considerations to the contrary.

Essential Films Of Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema

Watching the best of the many Yugoslav New Wave films is like taking a tour of a country you know nothing about. You are taken to places  you have never been, but with a guide who knows them intimately, and in this case,  it is a tour guided by one of the most important filmmakers the world has ever seen.

Yugoslavia was made up of six countries—Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Macedonia. Each had its own film industry until they were all joined together into one country for four years during World War II.

After the war ended, in 1945, each region resumed its pre-war industries as new artists emerged to push against the strictures of Socialist Realism.This was known as Black Wave cinema; much like French New Wave, these filmmakers were pushing back against the norms of cinema created under Communism at that time.

The period from 1961 through 1967 was the height of Black Wave filmmaking in Yugoslavia; over time it morphed into something else entirely different.Though it was eventually banned for being “too Western,” Yugoslav New Wave began as an exciting time for filmgoers and filmmakers alike.

This movement created a new way to talk about politics without censors or party leaders getting involved in any.

Three (Film, 1966)

A story about a man  who has been released from prison and takes a job as a night watchman at an engineering firm. He uses his free time to steal valuable plans, but soon finds himself the target of blackmail and murder attempts.

The film stars David Warner, Oliver Reed and Christopher Lee.  British director Basil Dearden’s (The League of Gentlemen) dark thriller stars David Warner (Time After Time) as a former convict named Joe, who is hired as the night watchman for an engineering firm that is developing some top-secret nuclear weapons technology.

Joe believes that he can use his intimate knowledge of the facility to pull off the perfect crime, but soon learns that there are high stakes involved with his little scheme when he becomes the target of both blackmail and murder.Oliver Reed (The Brood) co-stars in this taut thriller that was featured in both Roger Corman’s Hollywood Hotlist: Top Action Films and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, Vol. III: F-J.

Handcuffs (Film, 1969)

When Handcuffs came out in 1969, it seemed like a strange, if not downright perverse idea. Here was a film about the power struggles that arise when women begin to make their own decisions and develop their own ideas about what is right or wrong.

In short, the film is about free will and independence. Handcuffs is the story of three young women who, while on a driving tour of the western United States, become stranded in a small town in Utah.

The town is populated almost entirely by men, most of them Mormon; the women are from New York City.There is also one man who is not Mormon: an African American jazz musician (played by Clarence Williams III) who has come to Utah to teach music at a local college.

The African American saxophonist runs afoul of the town’s sheriff (Robert Duvall) and his racist deputy (Warren Oates).The women’s decision to leave town after being stopped for speeding results in their arrest for vagrancy and indecent exposure; they are forced to spend one night in jail with only each other for company while they await trial.

They learn that they have been arrested as part of a plan by the sheriff to force them into marrying some of his friends so that they can obtain.

I Even Met Happy Gypsies (Film, 1967)

After his recent death, Roman Polanski is being hailed as a master filmmaker who inspired some of the greatest movies of all time. Alfred Hitchcock once said that to make a great film, it must have three things: “Drama, comedy and the unexpected.”

Well, Polanski’s films had all three. They were often controversial and always intense.

His first film in America was Rosemary’s Baby (1968), starring Mia Farrow as a young mother-to-be who suspects her husband (John Cassavetes) and neighbors are plotting to deliver their baby to Satanists. It remains one of the most chilling horror movies ever made.

The movie received several Oscar nominations, including best director for Polanski. His next film was Chinatown (1974).

It starred Jack Nicholson as private eye Jake Gittes, who uncovers corruption involving Los Angeles water rights. Faye Dunaway played Gittes’ lover and Evelyn Mulwray, a woman whom he later discovers is his real mother.

This one starred Mia Farrow yet again as an aspiring actress  who is terrorized by a malevolent caretaker.The film features the famous actresses of the era, including Romy Schneider and Senta Berger, in a complex plot about two women: one who wants children, and the other who would rather not.

The film was directed by Kurt Hoffmann.

WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971)

If you are into film history and the study of cinema, or just like to learn about the world around us, this book is an absolute gem. The author (Vidojević) has done an amazing job of describing the life and work of this controversial film director (Džuvela).

He has provided a lot of background information on Džuvela’s life and times, as well as biographical details about the cast, crew and other notable figures who played a part in the making of this classic. The back cover reads ‘This book will be enjoyed by film students and buffs alike.’

I could not agree more.The book itself is comprised of two major parts: Part One covers the life and works of Dušan Makavejev, focusing primarily on his early films up through The Coca-Cola Kid; Part Two focuses each chapter on one of Makavejev’s films with some additional discussion being given to related topics such as, censorship.

It is well written, easy to read, very engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Makavejev or seeing how his films fit within their historical context.

Importance Of Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema

The Yugoslav Black Wave (Serbo-Croatian: Crna kuga; Црна куга; Czech: Černá kůga) is the name given to the most important trend in Yugoslav cinema, especially Serbian and Croatian film, between the mid-1960s and the 1980s.The term was coined by critics in the early 1960s to describe a new wave of young directors making realistic films with non-traditional approaches to storytelling.

The films produced during this era have been described as “a social phenomenon” that stirred up audiences not only in Yugoslavia but also abroad.These films are characterized by their aesthetic simplicity, often dealing with social issues in a harsh and direct way, free from the influence of commercial interest.

The films were shot on low budgets; were mostly shot on location; had little or no musical score or soundtrack besides simple music performed on a folk instrument called gusle; and were made by directors who had been influenced by Italian Neorealism and French New Wave.The movement was supported by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s government-run film institute, which provided funds for filmmakers and protected them from censorship.

Still, many of the films’ themes were considered.The wave’s most prominent directors were Dušan Makavejev, Žika Pavlović, Želimir Žilnik, Goran Marković, Srdjan Karanović, Srđan Karanović, Mika Antić and Aleksandar Petrović.

Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema Theory

In the mid-twentieth century, before the breakup of Yugoslavia, filmmakers in this region were creating some of the most interesting and daring films of the time. They were largely ignored by audiences and critics because they did not fit into any of the recognized genres (Western, melodrama, comedy), nor did they conform to the conventional narrative form.

This was because these directors believed that film was an art in its own right and had no need to justify itself with comparisons to other arts. The Black Wave directors used techniques drawn from documentary film, social realism, modernism and avant-garde film to break free from cinema’s conventions of story telling, character development and linear plot.

The term “Black Wave” is applied retroactively to a group of Yugoslav filmmakers whose work appeared after World War II and lasted until about 1960. The term was coined by Yugoslav critics writing in the 1960s and refers to a wave of domestic films made primarily in black-and-white that often explored dark subject matter and depicted characters who were isolated or alienated.

A major influence on this movement was Italian neorealist cinema which enjoyed worldwide popularity at this time. Other influences included the French poetic realism style, as well as German Expressionist cinema and American film noir.

The End Of Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema

 

The term Black Wave refers to a loose collection of Yugoslav films produced in the last decade of Tito’s Yugoslavia, which began to appear in the late 1960s and continued through to the end of the decade.The term was coined by film critic Jurica Pavičić, who published a book on the subject in 1971.

Although he believed that the “wave” had broken, he did not believe that it was over and that new films would continue to appear, although this did not happen.The genre was characterized by a high degree of artistic freedom with every film-maker bringing his or her own style and perspective to the table.

The movement can be seen as an outgrowth of both Dadaism and socialist realism, which were two artistic movements that opposed each other during World War II.The Black Wave has also been described as a continuation of the existentialist themes present in early Sixties Yugoslav cinema.

Tito’s Yugoslavia allowed for greater artistic freedom than previous communist states, but these freedoms were still subject to various restrictions.The authorities expected artists to produce work which would either promote or at least not overtly criticise the regime.

Artists could choose whether or not they wished to comply with these restrictions and indeed some decided not to do.

Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema – Wrapping Up

The term Black Wave (Crna Volja) was coined by critic and filmmaker Mladen Djordjevic in 1964 to describe a group of filmmakers who were working in an experimental, minimalist style. They used the backdrop of postwar Yugoslavia to not only capture the new spirit and energy of the country, but also as a stage for their own personal artistic expression.

The Black Wave directors were given their first international exposure at the 1966 Cannes Film Festival. Their movies were shown again at Cannes in 1967, this time under the name “Yugoslav New Wave.”

After being showcased in Cannes, the Yugoslav Black Wave was rediscovered by American critics and audiences a few years later, when it was dubbed “New European Cinema” by critics like Andrew Sarris.In 1968, Arthur Knight published his influential piece “The New Cinema in Central Europe,” which helped introduce another wave of European cinema to America.

The Yugoslav Black Wave used innovative filmmaking techniques like jump cuts, freeze frames and slow motion, while employing poetic narratives that were largely influenced by French revolutionary cinema (surrealistic narratives with political undertones).The stories depicted everyday life in post-war Yugoslavia – the destruction of cities, struggles with bureaucracy and poverty.

These movies tackled social issues through allegorical storytelling that reflected both optimism.