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20 Essential Films for an Introduction to Yugoslavian Cinema

Once upon a time there was a country, and that country made films. The films produced in the former Yugoslavia remain fascinating for anyone interested in the country or in films. This list is by no means definitive, for Yugoslav cinema is too rich and varied for that. It is rather, a primer for those unfamiliar with the region, the best bits from each era and each generation.



 

During the 60s, when the country was buoyed by an economic high, they even regular commercial and critical success; the country became a regular location for film scouts all across Hollywood due to its cheaper labour and wide geographic variety.

The country’s socialist dictator, Josip Broz Tito, more genial, liberal and significantly less brutal than his equivalents across the rest of Communist Eastern Europe himself was a great fan of films, and commissioned war films that promoted the actions of his Partisans against the Nazis in World War II.

Able to afford Western stars, these films, at various times, starred such names as Orson Welles, Yul Brynner, and even Richard Burton, and their budgets and scale easily matched and sometimes far surpassed their Hollywood equivalents.

Elsewhere, the roots of cinematic protest began to take charge. Inspired by the rule-breaking and anarchistic methods of the French New Wave, the Yugoslav Black Wave emerged alongside similar movements in Czechoslovakia and Poland. These directors, the most notable of which were Dušan Makavejev, Aleksander Petrović and Zelimir Zilnik, worked with low-budgets and little equipment to produce brave, inventive guerrilla films that even in a comparatively liberal communist country often fell afoul of the censors.

Despite the best efforts of the authorities, their influence lived on and found good ground in the following generation, which also produced Yugoslavia’s most internationally acclaimed and arguably most controversial director, Emir Kusturica. One of the few to win not one but two Palme D’or’s at Cannes, his films remain wildly inventive formally whilst often very tricky to navigate thematically.

The arrival of the wars and the breakup of Yugoslavia severely damaged the country’s filmmaking capabilities. Despite that, the directors, actors, and crews all soldiered on.

After the war in Bosnia finished in 1995, the film industry began its slow recovery. The authoritarian control of supposedly democratic Serbia and Croatia meant that both produced more than their share of horrible nationalist films that promoted ethnic violence, but nevertheless, good, nuanced films slipped through, and a new generation of filmmakers began to find their feet.

In Bosnia, ravaged by war more than any other nation, the recovery took slower, but its post-war films have arguably been the strongest; in 2001, No Man’s Land by Bosnian Danis Tanovic became the first film from the region, both before and post-breakup, to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Film.

Although there are now a multitude of separate film industries across what was once the former Yugoslavia, with the war a very recent, very lived memory for many filmmakers, that has not stopped collaboration. The once multiethnic identity of being a Yugoslav has not subsided onscreen, and it is not uncommon to see actors portraying different identities onscreen: a Bosnian being a Serb, a Croatian being a Bosnian, and so on. The war is an unsurprisingly common theme in modern post-Yugoslav cinema, but it is a very fertile one.

This list, is by no means definitive, for Yugoslav cinema is too rich and varied for that. It is rather, a primer for those unfamiliar with the region, the best bits from each era and each generation. May the next one be every bit as good as those before!

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You Haven't Experienced Zagreb if You Haven't Been to the Dolac Market

Dolac, the main city market, is a Zagreb institution. Selling all the fresh ingredients you need to whip up a fabulous dinner, from fruits and vegetables to fish, meat and homemade cheese and sausages, the sellers come from all over Croatia. Positioned right above the main square, the colorful market is a beacon of a simpler way of life and is just as bustling as it was a century ago.

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How to Spend a Spring Day in Zagreb

Wondering where to start exploring Croatia’s small but vibrant capital city, Zagreb? Check out Time Out’s list of must sees in Zagreb from the most famous market in town to where to sample the best rakija (local brandy).

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Croatian Phrases Translated into English

Do you find phrases and sayings give personality and flair to a language? Have you ever pondered how the culture and history of a place shape the common phrases? Check out some common sayings in Croatian with their literal translations and actual meanings below.

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Discover Croatia's Archaeological Secrets

Discover Croatia’s rich archaeological secrets, from the well known ancient Roman city of Salona near Split or the Neanderthal museum in Krapina to the often overlooked Andautonia Archaeological Park, just outside of Zagreb, which boasts the excavated ruins of a Roman town or the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, Vinkovci.

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Nikola Tesla – Mind from the Future - Multimedia Exhibition in Zagreb

A spectacular multimedia exhibition honouring Nikola Tesla, one of the world’s greatest visionaries, titled ‘Nikola Tesla – Mind from the Future’, will stay open until 20 March 2018.
“Immersed into the magical world of the genius Nikola Tesla, by merging the elements of a ‘live’ film, video set design, computer game, and magical hologram and light adventure into a unique multimedia experience of extended reality, with this exhibition we seek to take you on a contemplative ‘journey’ without beginning or end, through a process of inspiration, creativity and production.” - Helena Bulaja Madunić, exhibition author

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Hollywood and Dubrovnik

The medieval city in Croatia is having a geek-culture moment as the setting for King’s Landing in the HBO series “Game of Thrones”.
Hollywood seems to have discovered Dubrovnik. Parts of The Last Jedi, the eighth episode in the Star Wars saga, also take place in the fortress town. Filming wrapped this year on a new Robin Hood film starring Taron Eagerton, Jamie Foxx, and Jamie Dornan (and produced by Leonard DiCaprio). The 25th James Bond film is reported to begin shooting in the city in January 2018.
But not everyone appreciates all the attention.

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Great films shot in Zagreb

There's a surprising raft of indelible productions shot in and around Croatia's capital, like the world-dominating spy-caper 'James Bond: From Russia with Love' and Orson Welles' interpretation of Kafka's absurd, existentialist novel 'The Trial'...

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LitLink Thoughts. The Publisher's View by Mitch Albert, Periscope Books.

The curation of a festival of literature naturally entails the “curation” of its participants. Lit Link excelled in this regard – the authors invited from the UK represented a very fine, accomplished tranche of contemporary British writing, and the publishers, for the most part, represented a scrappy, independent ethos and pride in advancing thought-provoking fiction and literary fiction in translation.

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LitLink. The Editor's View. By: Anna Kelly

As far as I know, LitLink festival is unique. Each year it takes a group of writers and publishers to three Croatian cities – Pula, Rijeka, and Zagreb – for a series of evening readings. Along the way there are coach journeys on winding roads, stunning vistas of deep green fields and icy mountains, excellent Croatian wine and food, sea swimming, plenty of book chat...

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A very rough guide to LitLink. The Author's View. By: Joanna Kavenna

Each night there is a bilingual Croatian-English event. Translations are projected behind the writers as they read. It becomes apparent that many contemporary Croatian writers are high ironists, forging dark comedy from aspects of life that most disturb them – war, corruption, the riotous hypocrisy of those who claim to govern us.
The tour runs from Zagreb to Pula to Rijeka...

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Olja Savičević Ivančević: Singer in the Night review

Read a review of the much acclaimed contemporary Croatian writer, Olja Savičević Ivančević’s book, Pjevač u noći (2016) (Singer in the Night).

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New wave in Yugoslavia

As its counterparts, the British and the US new wave, from which the main influences came, the Yugoslav scene was also closely related to punk rock, ska, reggae, 2 Tone, power pop and mod revival.
Important artists were: Azra, Šarlo Akrobata, Idoli (famous for their song "Maljčiki" and its respective video in which they ridiculed the soviet soc-realism), Pankrti (first Yugoslav punk band), Prljavo kazalište (started as a punk unit; the title of their second album Crno-bijeli svijet which means "black and white world" holds a reference to the 2 Tone movement), Električni Orgazam (punk at the beginning, they moved towards post-punk and psychedelia later and were described as "The Punk Doors"), Slađana Milošević, Haustor (mostly reggae, ska and similar influences, but with a more poetic and intellectual approach compared to some danceable bands), Buldožer, Laboratorija Zvuka, Film (one of the first new wave groups), Lačni Franz and many others.
New wave was especially advocated by the magazines Polet from Zagreb and Džuboks from Belgrade.

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Croatian Sites on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List

A little know fact is that Croatia, together with Spain, have the most cultural and historical heritage under the protection of UNESCO, and Croatia has the highest number of UNESCO intangible goods of any European country.

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Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb

The National Theater in Zagreb, Croatia’s capital, is one of those things which always finds its way to every visitor’s busy schedule.

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Zagreb Festivals and Cultural Events

Numerous festivals, shows and exhibitions are held annually in Zagreb. Search our what's on guide to arts & entertainment.

Authors' pages

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