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12-1 Bulgarian Cinema - Cosmopolitanism


This article is from the Bulgaria FAQ, by Dragomir R. Radev radev@tune.cs.columbia.edu with numerous contributions by others.

12-1 Bulgarian Cinema - Cosmopolitanism

"She was both a cosmopolitan and a cultural
nationalist," writes Bruce R. S. Litte about Lyudmila Zhivkova in a rather
dubious context, but the phrase is interesting because in some way it
reflects a dominant force in the Bulgarian culture and cinema respectively
-- the tension between ethnicity and cosmopolitanism.

Bulgaria, as a small country, was always exposed to alien cultural
influences. In the first half of the century it was the French and German
poetry, art and philosophy, then the Russian literature, cinema and ideology,
later on the Italian neo-realism, French New Wave and the East European
Schools, and now the American blockbusters. (The American share of the
theatrical market was estimated at 95 per cent last year). "It is ironic that
theater schedules in Sofia offer a third of the repertoire to foreign
dramatists, in order to acquaint home audiences with O'Neill and Albee,"
wrote Ronald Holloway ten years ago, "yet American and English audiences
are quite ignorant of the dramas penned by Nikolai Haitov, Valeri Petrov,
and Yordan Radichkov, for the simple reason that no one has even bothered
to translate them into English."

And the next quotation may well be the most accurate observation in
the whole Ronald Holloway's book: "Bulgaria is often reffered to as 'the
Prussia of the Balkans.' It is a land of culture and traditions. As a
country on the crossroads between Europe and Asia, it tends to absorb and
reflect rather than promote or flaunt its own unique national character."
Cosmopolitanism emerges as a reaction of the frustrated Bulgarian artist
against isolationism and provincialism. At its worst, it introduces more or
less successful replicas of famous foreign film and genre samples. At its
best, it leads to unique works of more or less universal significance. This
cosmopolitan quest for eternal human values and issues also stems from the
deep roots of allegorical expressionism. Not surprisingly, most of the
films listed above as moral, philosophic or political allegories abound
with elements of well-known universal myths. Ironically, after forty years
floating in the ideological space of socialist myths, the Bulgarian film
artist remains a modern mythmaker rather than a postmodern mythoclast.
Self-reflexivity. It was well known that the significant works in East
Europe were produced by auteurs with distinguished personal style and
vision -- Tarkovsky, Jancso, Zanussi, etc. However, it seemed that the age
of perestroika with its disillusionment, apathy, double moral, distrust in
the official ideology and crisis of faith, which marked the beginning of
the economic, ecological, ethnic and ethical collapse of the socialist
system, did trigger a chain process of disintegration in the high-modernity
paradigm of socialist realism and, on the other hand, of semi-dissident
visionary authorship. In Russia, in the past few years, more and more works
of post-modern sensibility started popping up. Not in Bulgaria, though.
The author's persona remains the most significant factor determining
not only the whole production process, but also the thematic content, form
and style of the new Bulgarian cinema. This auteur figure often tends to
expose the subject of film depiction through self-reflexive projections of
his or her own existential obsessions.

A good example may be Krassimir Kroumov, one of the most promising
directors of the third generation, "a young genius of film directing who
unifies his entirely individual style with the achievements of the New
German cinema of the 60's and 70's," according to the critic Hans
Schurman from "Bonner General - Anzeiger". His last film "The Waste"
(Mylchanieto, 1991) is about a psychiatrist who recognizes in a patient's
dead body his own father, who he has thought missing since the communist
atrocities of 1949 and who he himself has confined to an asylum. In the
film there is also a Vergilian figure, the Historian, who serves as
author's alter-ego, a commentator implemented in the text that he is
supposed to comment and a false witness who gives false evidence on what he
has seen. "Wittgenstein asserted that the crisis of philosophy is a crisis
of language, and I think that our very existence up to now has been a
fake. In the beginning the Historian talks too much, and then he utters
ever less words until he reaches the final silence where he hears time. It
is a trip back, to the spring of words, to their nakedness and ultimate
freedom," says the director.


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