This article is devoted to the theme of women and war in the films of Jānis Streičs, possibly the most influential Latvian film director. In the course of his career, which spanned nearly 50 years, Streičs made films that were popular in Latvia, as well as throughout the Soviet Union. He is one of the few Latvian film directors who managed to continue a comparatively stable career in the newly reindependent Republic of Latvia. Streičs skilfully used the canonised means of expression of classical cinema and superficially fulfilled the demands of socialist realism to provide appealing and life-asserting narratives for the audiences. Being a full-time film director at Riga Film Studio, and gradually becoming a master of the studio system, Jānis Streičs managed to subordinate the system to his own needs, outgrowing it and becoming an auteur with an idiosyncratic style and consistently developed topics.1 The most expressive elements of his visual style can be found in his war films, which are presented as women’s reflections on war.
In this article, Streičs’ oeuvre in its entirety provides the background for an analysis of two of his innovative war films. Meetings on the Milky Way (Tikšanās uz Piena ceļa, Latvia, 1985) rejects the classical narrative structure, instead offering fragmentary war episodes that were united by two elements – the road and women. In Carmen Horrendum (Latvia, 1989) Streičs uses an even more complicated structure that combines reality, visions and dreams. After watching this film, the only conclusion we can come to with certainty is that war does not have a woman’s face and, in general, war has no traces of humanity.
The aim of this article is to demonstrate how World War II, a theme stringently controlled by Soviet ideology, provided the impetus for a search for an innovative film language.
Following the recent death of Andrzej Wajda, a reconsideration of his work is timely, and all the more so because he provides a reference point for many East Central European cinéastes. Thus this article uses his work as a main switching point between meditations on the issues his films raise. It theorises the status accorded History in them, and in Marxism in general, in relation to Walter Benjamin’s work on allegory and ruin, as well as to questions of characterisation. Also considered is the degree and nature of existentialism’s influence on this cinema, with blockages of choice foregrounded as necessarily entailing a thematics of doubling, contradiction and masking, and a reworking of the meaning of accusations of ‘treachery’ that have been a leitmotif of oppressed cultures, particularly when – as in cinema – access to the means of production depends on real or apparent collaboration with state authorities. The particular meaning of certain delays in production will also be considered, as will certain figures from the Polish culture (this writer’s primary specialisation) with an obvious ‘Baltic connection’, i.e. a Lithuanian origin, such as Tadeusz Konwicki and Czesław Miłosz. The thematics of doubling will finally be related to notions of ruination and of a filmic language adequate to it, which it will be argued may be seen prototypically in ‘the Zone’, Chris Marker’s name for a particular method of image-presentation, named in homage to that great Soviet film shot in Estonia, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (Сталкер, Russia, 1979). To revert to the title of Wajda’s final film Afterimage (Powidoki, Poland, 2016), and invoke Miłosz also, the Zone may be called the native realm, not only melancholic but also surprisingly utopian, of the after-image that is the ruin.
Lars Kristensen and Christo Burman
The article deals with the extradition of Baltic soldiers from Sweden in 1946 as represented in Per Olov Enquist’s novel The Legionnaires: A Documentary Novel (Legionärerna. En roman om baltutlämningen, 1968) and Johan Bergenstråhle’s film A Baltic Tragedy (Baltutlämningen. En film om ett politiskt beslut Sverige 1945, Sweden, 1970). The theoretical framework is taken from trauma studies and its equivalent within film studies, where trauma is seen as a repeated occurrence of a past event. In this regard, literature and moving images become the means of reaching the traumatic event, a way to relive it. What separates the extradition of the Baltic soldiers from other traumas, such as the Holocaust, is that it functions as a guilt complex related to the failure to prevent the tragedy, which is connected to Sweden’s position of neutrality during World War II and the appeasement of all the warring nations. It is argued that this is a collective trauma created by Enquist’s novel, which blew it into national proportions. However, Bergenstråhle’s film changes the focus of the trauma by downplaying the bad conscience of the Swedes. In this way, the film aims to create new witnesses to the extradition affair. The analysis looks at the reception of both the novel and film in order to explain the two different approaches to the historical event, as well as the two different time periods in which they were produced. The authors argue that the two years that separate the appearance of the novel and the film explain the swing undergone by the political mood of the late 1960s towards a deflated revolution of the early 1970s, when the film arrived on screens nationwide. However, in terms of creating witnesses to the traumatic event, the book and film manage to stir public opinion to the extent that the trauma changes from being slowly effacing to being collectively ‘experienced’ through remembrance. The paradox is that, while the novel still functions as a vivid reminder of the painful aftermath caused by Swedish neutrality during World War II, the film is almost completely forgotten today. The film’s mode of attacking the viewers with an I-witness account, the juxtaposition and misconduct led to a rejection of the narrative by Swedish audiences.
Madis Järvekülg, Ulrike Rohn and Indrek Ibrus
This article presents the results of a multi-method study carried out by the Tallinn University Centre of Excellence in Media Innovation and Digital Culture (MEDIT). The aim of this study was to investigate how international film professionals perceive the Estonian film industry; what image they have of Estonian film, and how they envision or have experienced Estonia as a destination for production and collaboration. The results of the study indicate that the skills of Estonian filmmakers are increasingly internationally renowned and valued among foreign professionals. At the same time, however, awareness of Estonian film and its nature remains ambiguous to most international film professionals. While seeing Estonia as a Baltic country rather than a Nordic one, the professionals suggested setting up a Baltic film fund and developing a Baltic brand in order to raise international recognition of local film production.
Initially produced in 1968 as a three-part TV miniseries, and restored and re-edited in 2008 as a feature-length film, Dark Windows (Pimedad aknad, Tõnis Kask, Estonia) explores interpersonal relations and everyday life in September 1944, during the last days of Estonia’s occupation by Nazi Germany. The story focuses on two young women and the struggles they face in making moral choices and falling in love with righteous men. The one who slips up and falls in love with a Nazi is condemned and made to feel responsible for the national decay. This article explores how the category of gender becomes a marker in the way the film reconstructs and reconstitutes the images of ‘us’ and ‘them’. The article also discusses the re-appropriation process and analyses how re-editing relates to remembering of not only the filmmaking process and the wartime occupation, but also the Estonian women and how the ones who ‘slipped up’ are later reintegrated into the national narrative. Ultimately, the article seeks to understand how this film from the Soviet era is remembered as it becomes a part of Estonian national filmography.
Drawing on a few concepts of postcolonialism, including Edward Said’s idea of Orientalism and Stuart Hall’s theory on representation, this article explores the representations of Estonian culture and language in two films by Ingmar Bergman, This Can’t Happen Here (Sånt händer inte här, Sweden, 1950; also known as High Tension) and The Silence (Tystnaden, Sweden, 1963). Through a descriptive textual analysis of the Estonian representational elements in these films, the article suggests that Bergman uses Estonian language and culture to establish a certain kind of Otherness, marking a cultural hegemony and exotifying a new foreign element in post-war Sweden. An additional aim of the article is to present and contextualise the exiled Estonian actors that starred in This Can’t Happen Here, as this has not been done in a scholarly context, and since the film ended up being their only cinematic appearance in their new adopted country.
The article argues that Wojtek Smarzowski’s film Rose (Róża, Poland, 2011) undermines the dominant bigendered logic of screen death and suffering in the Polish films depicting the experience of World War II. In these films, there is a significant absence of images of female suffering and death, which is striking when compared to the abundant images of wounded and dying male bodies, usually represented as a lavish visual spectacle. This unrepresented female death serves as a ‘structuring absence’ that governs the systematic signifying practices of Polish cinema. Most importantly, it expels the female experience of World War II from the realm of history to the realm of the mythical. This representational regime has been established in the Polish national cinema during the 1950s, especially in Andrzej Wajda’s films, and is still proving its longevity. As the author argues, Smarzowski’s Rose is perhaps the most significant attempt to undermine this gendered cinematic discourse.
Specifically, the essay explores the ways in which Smarzowski’s Rose departs from previous dominant modes of representation of the World War II experience in Polish cinema, especially its gendered aspect.1 Firstly, it examines how Rose abandons the generic conventions of both war film and historical drama and instead, utilises selected conventions of melodrama to open up the textual space in which to represent the female experience of historical events. Then the author looks more closely at this experience and discusses the film’s representation of the suffering female body to argue that it subverts the national narrative of the war experience that privileges male suffering. A close analysis of the relationship between sound and image in the scenes of bodily violence reveals how the film reclaims the female body from the abstract domain of national allegory and returns it to the realm of individual embodied experience. The article concludes that Rose presents the female body as resisting the singular ideological inscription, and instead, portrays it as simultaneously submitting to and resisting the gendered violence of war.