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The canon was hot

kult-top-je-bio-vreokult-top-je-bio-vreoGreg de Cuir, JrGreg de Cuir, JrI cannot fault Serbian cinema for producing one more film dedicated to the Yugoslav Wars. It would be like faulting Hollywood for making (or remaking) one more Western. Like faulting Romania for making one more film about post-socialist transition. Like faulting Russia for making one more World War II epic. Like faulting the French for making one more film about cinema.

When browsing the catalogue for the 2014 Belgrade International Film Festival (FEST) untrained eyes will find a unique co-production credit that could easily be thought a misprint: Serbia-Republic of Serbia. This credit is attached to the film The Canon Was Hot by Slobodan Skerlić, a war film depicting the events in Sarajevo that ultimately determined this confusing duplication of names. Of course, there is no shortage of national names throughout the history of the region – so many that the one previously mentioned is not even the first instance of repetition: e.g. Kingdom of Yugoslavia, Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. It reminds me of the opening credits for The Role of My Family in the World Revolution (Bata Čengić, Yugoslavia, 1971): SSSR (Soviet Union) – SAD (United States) – HAHAHA! In these instances war is usually the common denominator for the conditions engendering the assumption of various monikers, so much so that it reveals wars are fought for the right of identification and representation.

Names are very important. They can give excuses for aggression where one is needed to fan the flames of hate. However, another film playing at FEST and also dealing with war in the 1990s, this time in the Caucases, Tangerines (Zaza Urushadze, Estonia-Georgia, 2013), features its protagonist at the conclusion asking if it matters if someone is Georgian, Russian, Estonian, or Chechen. The answer given to this rhetorical question is no – it is just one more excuse for human beings to divide themselves. There is no such humanist message at the conclusion of The Canon Was Hot, which is not to say that it is an inhuman work. Names spoken aloud still have the potential to arbitrate life or death in Skerlić’s film. This may be a reason why the young protagonist does not possess the ability to speak for a majority of the film’s running time, and why when he does he feels compelled to leave the besieged Sarajevo he called home.   

top je bio vreotop je bio vreoSkerlić has not directed a feature film in almost two decades and in the meantime worked in business marketing (selling names?). He comes back to the industry with The Canon Was Hot, based on the controversial novel by Vladimir Kecmanović, which premieres at Belgrade FEST on opening night. The film is so well-made and so powerful that it should not be a surprise given the overall amount of talent in Serbian cinema. Somehow it is. Branko Vučićević once wrote that if Serbs are fond of slaughtering people there must be a method of film cutting that corresponds. I am still searching for that local tendency which must correspond to the method of film directing.

The Canon Was Hot is another Serbian war film. The genre’s setting and conflict are a bit worn out. The critiques that will no doubt be leveled at it are too. It is not possible to make a film about this war that is not controversial. Perhaps such a film would not be worth making. I may not be able to fault Serbian cinema for producing another war film but I can ask what the audience gains as a result. This is the more relevant question rather than one about the ethics of representation. We should remember that the young protagonist of the film had no name.      

Greg de Cuir, Jr