Monday, July 24, 2017

Dušan Makavejev | Nevinost bez zaštite (Innocence Unprotected)

mother’s babe of steel
by Douglas Messerli

Dušan Makavejev and Branko Vucicevic (writers), Dušan Makavejev (director) Nevinost bez zaštite(Innocence Unprotected) / 1968
Even the generally confident reviewer Roger Ebert had difficulty in describing Serbian director Dušan Makavejev’s 1968 film, Innocence Unprotected.  Makavejev’s film tells the story of a 1941 film Nevinost bez zaštite, in English, “Innocence Unprotected,” made by and starring Dragoljub Aleksić, a Yugoslav gymnast/stuntman who, during the Nazi occupation, attempted to film the first Serbian talkie, supported by the anti-Nazi underground.

Needless to say, the film was never released, although some of the film’s figures, which include members of the original cast, claim that for a short while it was very popular; and its director proclaims: "Gentlemen, I assure you the entire Yugoslavian cinema came out of  my navel. In fact, I have made certain inquiries, and I am in a position to state positively that the entire Bulgarian cinema came out of my navel as well."

      In reality, the film was rediscovered by Markavejev, who interweaves its absurdly melodramatic story with footage of Aleksić’s Houdini-like stunts, German Nazi parades and maneuvers, and a documentary-like discussion with the earlier film’s actors, part of which is recorded at a picnic lunch beside Aleksić’s grave.

      The story of the original film is itself a kind of unintentionally comic drama about a young girl who has fallen in love with the remarkable performer Aleksić  over the objections of her cruel stepmother who prefers that she should marry a wealthy bureaucrat. She even punishes her daughter for going out and attempts to arrange for her daughter’s rape by the businessman, actions which bring Aleksić flying through the sky on a rope to save her.

     Markavejev presents the 1941 film rather comically, often tinting its frames and coloring the lips of characters in red. Yet, oddly, his love for the somewhat ridiculous film, made in opposition to the occupiers, becomes obvious as he includes scenes of various Serb, Croat, and other Yugoslav based dances with costumed actors.

      Strangely, some viewers of the 1968 film saw it as pro-Nazi, which is difficult to comprehend given Markavejev’s mocking of the censorship the original received, just as his own films were often unofficially banned from Yugoslav screens.

      And in the end, the “mother’s babe of steel” at the center of his tale is represented, despite his often corny self-aggrandizements and endless body posings, as a kind of innocent hero who, like the innocent heroine he tries to rescue, is  “unprotected,” a victim of a society that seems to prefer the mean and vicious divisions of its underlying cultures.

      By recontextualizing the original movie with its stars’ real lives, Markavejev gives the original film that might have been a new life, and gently puts its hero into the folklore of Serbo-Croatian culture. The film won Silver Bear Extraordinary Prize of the Jury at the 1968 Berlin International Film Festival.

Los Angeles, July 24, 2017

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