East European Film phenomenon

Members of the Prague school, who were educated at one of the most esteemed European film academies, had very little in common

In the first half of the 1970s the term Prague school emerged in Yugoslav cinematography. It was used to describe a group of students who attended the film academy FAMU in Prague and were searching for their own specific space in Yugoslav cinematography. Lordan Zafranovic, with his two films Nedjelja (1969) and Passion according to Matthew (1975), and the Golden Medal at the Festival of documentary, animated and short films in Belgrade (The first Waltz and Ave Maria) is the most active member of the group of Prague authors. Other members, such as Srđan Karanović and Rajko Grlić, also made prominent films such as Društvena igra (1972) and Whichever Way the Ball Bounces (1974). Nevertheless, the aforementioned films were primarily supported by critics who were more inclined to appreciate modernism than general audiences. For this reason, the Prague school was a phenomenon on the fringe.

However, the situation changed toward the end of the decade. In 1976, Goran Paskaljević, also a Prague student, won the Golden Arena in Pula for his film Beach Guard in Winter. In 1977, his colleague Goran Marković made a name for himself in international film festivals with his film Special education, and in 1978, all the main awards in Pula were given to the members of the Prague school - Zafranović (Occupation in 26 Pictures), Grlić (Bravo maestro), Paskaljević (The Dog Who Loved Trains) and Karanović (Fragrance of Wild Flowers). That is how the myth about the Prague school was created. The Golden Lion in Venice (for Emir Kusturica’s debut Do You Remember Dolly Bell?) further strengthened it, later. Other members considered as part of the Prague clique include the cinematographer Živko Zalar (worked with Grlić, Karanović and Marković) and Vilko Filac (worked only with Kusturica).

The domestic audience enjoyed the fact that the new generation of directors had arrived - a generation educated at one of the most esteemed European film academies and proved that the time of film dilettantes has passed. But the members of the Prague school had very little in common: Grlić and Karanović were closest to each other because of their play with narration and impersonation of the melancholy Czech humor, Marković soon switched to genre structures, Paskaljević was traditional and sentimental, while, on the whole, Kusturica was visually the most vehement. Still, the campaign strategy of domestic film did them all a favor: first, the auteur film of the early 1960s swept away classical filmmakers who were making their most mature works at that time, and then the ideological purge in the beginning of the 1970s put the screws on the most prominent authors who just then became an international sensation. The lack of historical conscience helped to further the glorification of the Prague school: the blade of Grlić’s films Bravo maestro and You Love Only Once seemed dull in comparison with The Ambush by Živojin Pavlović, Occupation in 26 Pictures was a less subtle analysis of how the Ustasha movement was born than Kaya, I\'ll Kill You by Vatroslav Mimica, and Dušan Makavejev is still a superior modernist than Kusturica and Karanović, while Marković’s directing skills are less impressive than Branko Bauer’s. Still, the Prague authors succeeded in filling a gap in Yugoslav cinematography at a moment when it was overburdened by ideology, and represent an interesting Eastern film phenomenon on the international scene.

At least that should be valued! (Nenad Polimac)