Virginás, Andrea (ed.): Cultural Studies Approaches in the Study of Eastern European Cinema: Spaces, Bodies, Memories.

Virginás, Andrea (ed.): Cultural Studies Approaches in the Study of Eastern European Cinema: Spaces, Bodies, Memories.

Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2016, ISBN-10: 1-4438-0059-7, ISBN-13: 978-1-4438-0059-4, 291 p.

Author
Andrea Pócsik

Keywords: Eastern European Cinema; cultural studies; postcolonial; postsocialist; publications in native languages.

Is there such a thing as Eastern European Cinema? This question targets the changing geopolitical and geocultural relations of our so-called postsocialist region and new constructions of our cultural identity as members of the European Union. The book reviewed here undoubtedly answers this question in its title. It also stresses the importance and relevance of new approaches in film studies. The subtitle (Spaces, Bodies, Memories) further clarifies its approach and points to three thematic axes – “the ‘spatial’, the ‘bodily’, and the ‘memory turn’, the well-canonized developments in humanities” (Virginás 2016: ix) – that arch over the structure of the volume. This approach does not only refer to thematic focal points but also defines two important theoretical-interpretational frameworks: the well-established postcolonial and the relatively new postsocialist.

The editor of the volume, Andrea Virginás, associate professor at the Department of Film, Photography and Media at Sapientia University in Cluj-Napoca gives a clearly defined position in the preface:

[t]he present book is a snapshot of the eager and inclusive editorial practice active in European humanities and cultural studies, but also of the rich interpersonal, intercultural, and scientific experiences that we, as authors of the volume, have offered each other in the past five years as members of that early-to-mid-career generation of Eastern European film scholars who were formed in the postcommunist period. […] Besides the effort to understand the cohesive forces that mark the postsocialist Eastern European region as a coherent cultural entity in its cinematic representations, the structure of the volume also stands as a witness to the importance of the transnational approach – even if the category of the national cannot be sidestepped. (ibid.: viii)

I would call attention to the shift in Virginás’s argument from representatives of “European humanities” to “Eastern European film scholars” because this geopolitical self-identification is a crucial symptom of our geocultural in-betweenness, something I will return to later.

The book starts with an introductory chapter written by Anikó Imre (Professor and Chair of the Division of Cinema & Media Studies at USC School of Cinematic Arts): a republication of an article published in the journal Boundary1 two years before the volume reviewed here came out (Imre 2014). As its title The Case for Postcolonial, Postsocialist Media Studies suggests it gives an overview of the recently formulated terrain of research. This exhaustive description of new research agendas and academic groups that represent them is undoubtedly essential in such a volume, and yet, as a republication, it does not fulfil all expectations. First of all, it describes a situation dating from two years earlier, secondly its mapping of the development of postcolonial, postsocialist academic intersections reflects what the author (although with correct argumentation) found in that certain context and moment relevant. It offers a solid theoretical basis of regional film cultures and summarises the rapidly changing social, political, cultural factors underlying them. It also highlights the relevance of both applying postcolonial theories and creating intersections between them and postsocialist assumptions:

Research into the economic and political contexts of cultural production across the high–popular divide also offers an opportunity for a much-needed postcolonial intervention into the history of cinema in a socialist Europe ostensibly divided by an impenetrable Iron Curtain. Only such a multi-layered, interdisciplinary context can reveal the moral entanglements in which the position of economic marginality and a compensatory drive for cultural assimilation implicate writers, filmmakers, and politicians.

Tracing the Eurocentric assimilationist drive of socialist cinemas highlights a network of cultural, economic, and political circulations and collaborations within Europe as a whole, interlacing the two Europes more intricately than Cold War accounts would have us believe. It also calls into question the image of a region entirely determined and dominated by Soviet socialism, cut off from the bloodstream of European culture and economy. Conversely, socialist ideas had a wide influence, which regularly crossed the East-West divide (Imre in Virginás 2016: 14).

Looking at the authors listed in the footnotes of Imre’s chapter, we find exclusively publications written in English. One cannot expect to have all the relevant local publications cited, yet I have to note, there are several contributions that could have benefited Imre’s argumentation. Within my own national academic environment, let me point to László Strausz’s Hungarian essay about the Eastern European applicability of postcolonial theories, and also to his recent book about Romanian cinema in which he convincingly proved their relevance (Strausz 2014; Strausz 2017). My own research since 2007 on Roma images in Hungarian film history – published in Hungarian in a 2017 book – also relies heavily on postcolonial theories (Pócsik 2017). With these two examples I just wanted to emphasise that this geocultural map is determined also by language use: usefulness and productivity depend highly on them.

The contributors of the volume are not just proficient in English but contribute well-argued film analyses with the help of a cultural studies theoretical framework. The relevance of the postcolonial approach and its rich intersections with postsocialist layers are justified not explicitly but embedded in their selection of films and topics (in many cases related to power). Since there is no room for a comprehensive overview of the whole volume, let me highlight only a few chapters.

The first essay in the “Spaces” section by Zsolt Győri gives a well-structured analysis of the representation of modernist architecture in state socialist society: starting from the extremely interesting example of the Chilean pavilion of the 2014 Venice Biennale, the author maps the most important spatial theories of cultural studies and later applies them in formal analyses. Thus, he interweaves social and cultural history only to arrive at a fascinating interpretation about the symbolic meaning of space in cinematic representations of communal living, deviant and bohemian marginality.

György Kalmár focuses on only one Hungarian film Kontroll / Control (Nimród Antal, 2003, Hungary) but reveals in great depth the identity politics determined by the new experience of joining the European Union underlying it and many similar representations.2 These two scholars play a crucial role in shaping postsocialist cultural studies inspired by film studies in Hungary, as they organise (since 2012) the so called ZOOM conferences at the University of Debrecen, an important biannual event for film scholars3. Many of the contributors of the volume are regular participants, last year Andrea Virginás was one of the keynote speakers, together with Emese Bíró analyzing the role of women in the Eastern European film industry.

An interesting feature of the volume is the dominance of Romanian academics (out of 13 authors 5 are based in Cluj-Napoca either at Sapientia or at Babes-Bolyai University). It acknowledges the strong academic networking and cooperation between them but maybe we could – although quite speculatively – draw a parallel with the role and popularity of Romanian New Wave in European cinema. Due to their minority position, these authors are experts in both Hungarian and Romanian film culture: they analyze films of both film industries. Editor Andrea Virginás contributed to the volume with a “classical” cultural interpretation leaning on social scientific definitions of class and the melodrama theory of Thomas Elsaesser. She explores how the formal device of creating “fragile diegetic spaces” by many filmmakers is related to “mobile women”, that is “female characters on the move, with a wish for upward social mobility”, who have to cope with some past traumas (Virginás 2016: 66-85 ).

The chapters of the last section are centred around memory. I would point out here the text of Elżbieta Durys (from the University of Łódź) analyzing a Polish film – Poklosie / Aftermath (Władysław Pasikowski, 2012, Poland) – while paying special attention to the film’s reception. Mapping the key assumptions of memory studies about remembering and forgetting, she gives an excellent example how Second World War memories still determine Polish social relations, especially at the local level.

To conclude, I would like to return to my initial point about the understanding of Eastern European Cinema. If we are true to the roots and rich scholarly legacy of postcolonial studies, furthermore, if we take seriously the efforts and struggles its key representatives had to face in a Eurocentric and/or colonial environment, we have to be careful with the labels. They no longer describe our geographical but rather geopolitical position. At the 2018 NECS Conference in Amsterdam I was involved in a workshop organised by Polish colleagues about the usage of Ethical criticism in teaching film and media. I quoted Frantz Fanon to enlighten our own situation: “It is not the Colonialist Self or the Colonized Other, but the disturbing distance in-between that constitutes the figure of colonial otherness” (Fanon 1986: xxviii).

We are not Others any more, not Eastern European Scholars but European scholars who happen to live and work mainly in Eastern Europe and should be recognised as such. (Fanon wrote the quoted Black Skin, White Masks in 1952, was rejected by the doctoral committee at the University of Lyon and then became one of the most influential scholars in postcolonial studies). It is a long way to go but this excellent book (published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing) is a big step forward.

Andrea Pócsik

Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest

pocsik66@gmail.com

Notes

1 Anikó Imre was also the editor of two collections of essays on Eastern European Cinema published in 2005 and in 2012. The first with contributors of the film scholar generation who are since then in their “late career” and have been playing an important role in shaping the institutional basis for film studies in several countries. It is remarkable, that the editor Imre did not find important to name the approach a decade earlier (Imre 2005). The second, written by “established and emerging film scholars” was mapping the same region but with somewhat different emphasis: focusing on “new theoretical and critical frameworks, historical and spatial redefinitions, aesthetic (re)visions), industries and institutions” (Imre 2012).

2 György Kalmár in his recently published book analyses the masculinity tropes of postsocialist cinema (Kalmár 2017).

3 Zsolt Győri and György Kalmár are the editors of the series on Hungarian postsocialist cinema published by Debrecen University Press. Their most recent addition to the series is devoted to gender and ethnicity issues (Győri, Kalmár 2018). 

Bio

Andrea Pócsik (PhD in Film, Media and Cultural Studies) is a senior lecturer at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Budapest.

Field of interest: cultural research, documentary film, Romani studies, film festival research, higher education methodology

Publication:

Pócsik, Andrea. 2017. Átkelések. A romaképkészítés (an)archeológiája. Budapest.

Address: pocsik66@gmail.com

Filmography

Antal, Nimród. 2003. Kontroll / Control. Cafe Film

Pasikowski, Władysław. 2012. Poklosie / Aftermath. Apple Film Productions, Metra Films, Topkapi Films.

Bibliography

Fanon, Frantz. 1986 [1952]. Black Skin, White Masks. London.

Győri, Zsolt, Kalmár, György (ed.). 2018. Nemek és etnikumok terei a magyar filmben. Debrecen.

Imre, Anikó (ed.). 2005. East European Cinemas. New York, London.

Imre, Anikó (ed.). 2012. A Companion to Eastern European Cinemas. Malden, Oxford, Chichester.

Imre, Anikó. 2014. “Postcolonial Media Studies in Postsocialist Europe.” Boundary 2 41, no. 1: 113–34.

Kalmár, György. 2017. Formations of Masculinity in Post-Communist Hungarian Cinema. The Labyrinthian Man. London.

Pócsik, Andrea. 2017. Átkelések. A romaképkészítés (an)archeológiája. Budapest.

Strausz, László. 2014. “Visszabeszélés és önegzotizálás. (A posztkolonialista elméletek kelet-európai alkalmazhatóságáról)”. Pannonhalmi Szemle XXII (1): 104-119.

Strausz, László. 2017. Hesitant Histories on the Romanian Screen. London.

Suggested Citation

Pócsik, Andrea. 2018. Review: “Virginás, Andrea (ed.): Cultural Studies Approaches in the Study of Eastern European Cinema: Spaces, Bodies, Memories.” Apparatus. Film, Media and Digital Cultures in Central and Eastern Europe 7. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.17892/app.2018.0007.133

URL: http://www.apparatusjournal.net/

Copyright: The text of this article has been published under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ This license does not apply to the media referenced in the article, which are subject to the individual rights owner's terms.





Apparatus. ISSN 2365-7758