Who is he?
Yugoslavia-born Serbian director and writer who made over 10 feature and 20 short films between the fifties and the nineties. Makavejev, who now lives in France, was exiled from the country for his provocative, explicit filmmaking until the late eighties. His first feature-length documentary, the eclectic, fascinating Innocence Unprotected, won the Special Jury Prize at Berlin Film Festival in 1968. He has not made any film since 1996.
What are his films about?
Makavejev was trained in psychology and psychoanalysis and the influence of Freud and Reich is apparent in his films. Given they were under the moderate Tito regime, his early films criticise the hypocritical attitude of the communist state towards the working class, in the way it lionises the worker figure while making no effort to improve his quality of life. This indictment of Stalinism evolves in his later works, into a critique of all dehumanising authority and effectively espouses radical individualism.
Makavejev moved from the cinematic convention of social realism, involving location shooting, naturalist acting and psychological realism, towards an experimental style that drew from montage-driven avant-garde works, exploitation movies and the genre-bending films of the French New Wave. These films mix documentary and fictional forms in a singular fashion, employing contrapuntal voiceovers, ironic musical cues and archival newsreels. His later fictional films adopt a more conventional narrative approach.
Why is he of interest?
Makavejev belonged to the Yugoslav Black Wave, which produced films that countered the influence of socialist-realist cinema of Stalinist Russia, but that only scratches the surface of his original, heady and uncompromising cinema. Unlike many ideologically-driven films, his works do not subordinate formal rigour to political agenda. On the contrary, the political charge is in their very form — their disruptive aesthetic — which runs counter to the simplistic narratives of propaganda cinema and prevents the films from becoming one-note political manifestos.
Where to discover him?
WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971), the highly controversial work for which the director was banished, is an extremely variegated, subversive, shape-shifting work that brings together influences from underground cinema, the half-accurate, half-crazy theories of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and Makavejev’s own brand of anti-authoritarianism to paint a portrait of Stalinism as a manifestation of repressed sexuality. Makavejev’s unwieldy film is an aesthetically daring film with a sharp critical edge.