21st Century Historical Films and Small Nations’ Collective Memory: Examples from Hungary and Romania
Andrea Virginás (Sapientia Hungarian University of Transylvania, Cluj-Napoca, Romania)
Tuesday, 13 April 2021 17.00 (EEST)
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In the talk I will present the first results of an individual research that aims to describe, analyze and theorize the role of 21st century historical films in an Eastern European/Hungarian, Polish and Romanian context, films that have often been met with resounding success within their domestic markets. The interpretative framework derives from cultural trauma theory and memory studies combined with the analysis of fictional feature films, and Thomas Elsaesser’s argument according to which European cinema may be conceived of “as a dispositif that constitutes, through an appeal to memory and identification, a special form of address, at once highly individual and capable of fostering a sense of belonging” (Elsaesser 2005, 21). A short introduction will sketch the phenomenon within the context of the only major national cinema in the former Eastern Bloc, the Polish one, with reference to the 2007 Katyn or the 2015 Ida, suggesting that the robustness of the industry and the size of the domestic market have been important factors in succeeding to activate “3rd generation” memory work (Assmann 2012) referring chiefly to the Second World War. Then, based on the model of Aleida Assmann who connects three generations to communicative memory – the victims who lived through collective traumas, the next generation of those who forgot, and the third generation who “meant to give a voice to historical memory” (Assmann 2012, 13) – I will continue with the analysis of two small national cinemas and their pertinent examples from the 21st century, trying to understand those features that lead to the popularity of such titles as Son of Saul (L. Nemes, 2015), Aferim! (R. Jude, 2015), Bet On Revenge (G. Herendi, 2017), Morometii 2 (S. Gulea, 2018), and Eternal Winter (A Szasz, 2018). I will examine the distribution routes and awards of the films, as possibly intertwined with the high domestic audience numbers, and will pay attention to the films’ Facebook pages and the fan-based conversations developed on social media – also influenced by film critical pieces. In the stylistic and narrative analysis of the films I rely on well known concepts that connect fictional historical films and communicative memory-work: Janet Walker’s “trauma cinema,” Alison Landsberg’s prosthetic memory, Susannah Radstone’s “cinema/memory,” Marianne Hirsch’s postmemory (2008), or Astrid Erll and Stephanie Wodianka’s “Erinnerungsfilm/memory film”. However, as suggested by the high audience numbers, the cryptic, innovative and creative ways of conveying collective traumatization through audiovisual storytelling have been complemented with further elements beloved by Hungarian and Romanian domestic audiences. In my conclusion I will suggest that the addition of humor, the mixing of genres and a prescience of the television aesthetics popularized by 2020s streaming platforms have been also influential in the domestic success of the mentioned films. I will end by reflecting on the issue of whether these and more recent titles – I Don’t Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians (R. Jude, 2018), Tall Tales (A. Szasz, 2019), Those Who Remained (B. Toth, 2019), Queen Marie of Romania (Alexis Cahill, 2019) or Malmkrog (C. Puiu, 2020) – may be considered as creating small national collectives of remembrance around the third generation “meant to give a voice to historical memory” (Assmann 2012, 13).
Andrea Virginás – MA in Gender Studies, PhD in Literary and Cultural Studies – is Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies at Sapientia The Hungarian University of Transylvania, Cluj, Romania. Her research interests include film genres, European cinema, cultural theory, intermediality, narratology. She is the author of Post/Modern Crime: From Agatha Christie to Palahniuk, from Film Noir to Memento (VDM Verlag, 2011), the editor of The Use of Cultural Studies Approaches in the Study of Eastern European Cinema: Spaces, Bodies, Memories (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2016), and has published in Studies in Eastern European Cinema, European Journal of English Studies, European Journal of Women’s Studies, Journal of European Studies, Communicazioni Sociali and in the volumes Popular Cinemas in East Central Europe: Film Cultures and Histories (I. B. Tauris, 2017), New Romanian Cinema (Edinburgh University Press, 2019), European Cinema in the Twenty-First Century: Discourses, Directions, and Genres (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020) and Beyond Media Borders: Intermedial Relations among Multimodal Media (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).