Dusan Makavejev

(Copyright © 1999-2022 Piero Scaruffi | TErms of use )
6.8 Man Is Not a Bird (1965)
7.0 Love Affair (1967)
5.0 Innocence Unprotected (1968)
7.2 W.R.- Mysteries of the Organism (1971)
7.5 Sweet Movie (1974)
6.9 Montenegro (1982)
6.9 Coca Cola Kid (1985)

Dusan Makavejev (Serbia, 1932) debuted with Covek Nije Ptica/ Man Is Not a Bird (1965), a film that already showed the filmmaker's passion for fragmented storylines full of cryptic allegories.

Ljubavni Slucaj Ili Tragedija Sluzbenice PTT/ Love Affair or the Tragedy of a Switchboard Operator (1967) is a new form of film noir, a film noir that is also a psychiatric essay on libido, violence and alienation via documentarian footage and interviews. The story jumps backward and forward. We know from the beginning she the protagonist was killed, and we suspect the lover from the moment he is introduced. The pedantic lectures of the sexologist provoke a sort of Brecht-ian estrangement that deprives us of the pleasure of suspense.

The film opens with a Slavic sexologist, Alexandar Kostic, author of "Medical Sexology and Sexual Knowledge", talking about the worship of the penis (we see drawings of sex over the centuries). Rutka and Izabela are telephone switchboard operators. They walk out of the office and spend some time together talking about previous boyfriends. They meet a Muslim man, Ahmed. We then see a criminologist, Zivojin Aleksic, who gives a lecture about how killers hide their victims and we see men recovering the body of a murdered woman from a well. He explains how detectives can still discover the killer even if he tried to hide the crime. At home Izabela entertains Ahmed and reveals that she is originally from Hungary: her mother died six months earlier and now she lives alone. Ahmed explains that his father abandoned him and that now he has become a sanitation inspector. She shows him that she is a good housekeeper and Ahmed quickly tells her that he is honest, sober, hard-working and a communist party member. We see historical footage of people marching with signs to close the churches and cheering as churches are dismantled. Izabela and Ahmed sleep together. But, next, we see Izabela's dead body being carried into the forensic pathologist's room, so we know that she's going to be murdered. It's presumably the dead body fished from the well. The pathologist finds that she was three-month pregnant. We then see Ahmed at work, checking buildings for rats while the narrating voice describes the danger posed by rats. Then the screen shows a poem about a rat eating cheese. Ahmed takes Izabela to see his humble apartment, located in a sort of tower on top of a building. They make love and then hear a march of singing workers in the street. Ahmed moves in with her and they seem a happy couple. The sexologist speaks again to the camera, holding in his hand a hen's egg. Ahmed buys a turntable to play communist records that he received from East German colleagues. Izabela looks happy with him. Ahmed purchases a bathtub for Izabela's apartment. The sexologist continues his lecture on the way sex was depicted and perceived over the centuries. Then we see Izabela and Rutka at work. Micha the internal mailman flirts with all the girls. Suddenly we see Izabela frustrated, alone at home, because Ahmed left for a long business trip. Micha finds her working overtime alone in the office and pesters her until she accepts his caresses. Then we see a ballet of Adam and Eve performed by two naked dancers on a giant rotating platform. Ahmed returns from his trip and Izabela is moody, repelled by his love. Rutka accompanies her to see a doctor who confirms that she is pregnant. She tells Ahmed who is excited at the news, thinking this is his child, but she insults him. She presumably tells him the truth because he becomes a drunkard and doesn't want to talk to her. The film now jumps forward to a warrant for the arrest of Ahmed, indicted of the murder of Izabela. Back to the scene of Ahmed drunk and desperate, we see Izabela following him and trying to stop him as he tries to kill himself in a well. They wrestle and he accidentally pushes Izabela in the well. Now we know how she died. The film fastforwards to the search for Ahmed, who has disappeared. The cops find him sleeping in a backyard. The last scene shows Ahmed and Izabela walking down the staircase of her apartment building.

The documentary Nevinost Bez Zastite/ Innocence Unprotected (1968) is a nostalgic commentary to an old film about the Nazi occupation of Yugoslavia in the form of a collage of historical footage and interviews with the actors who recite the reenacting scenes.

W.R. - Misterije Organizma/ W.R.- Mysteries of the Organism (1971), ostensibly a tribute to psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, constitutes a more explicit and direct attack against sexual taboos. The film mixes a documentary on the psychiatrist, snippets of the New York counterculture (protest rock music, pop art, porn magazines) and an allegorical story set in Yugoslavia. What emerges from this multi-dimensional fresco/collage is a philosophical pessimism about all ideologies. Ultimately, this labyrinth of metaphors is a multi-layered satire of both communism and capitalism. It is chaotic and disorganized, and largely incomprehensible, like a Dali painting, but it exudes the uniform feeling that self-awareness of one's grotesque condition, as well as the search for the meaning of life, lead to madness.

The film opens with a note about Freud's assistant Wilhelm Reich, who discovered "life energy" while studying orgasmic reflex, thereby "revealing the deep roots of fear of freedom, fear of truth, and fear of love in contemporary humans", and claims that Reich fought for "liberated work and love". A man and two women play with an egg's yolk. Then the collage of stock footage begins with a Russian documentary (narrated by a female voice in English) about sex liberation and we see a naked couple copulating in a prismatic split screen. The documentary then introduces Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian-born psychiatrist who died in a US prison, and his invention, the "orgone accumulator", a device to heal energy blocks with accumulated libidinal energy. We then see the prison where Reich died and we hear that the court ordered Reich's books to be destroyed. We see a machine destroying garbage in an incinerator. Wilhelm's son Peter Reich describes how he feared for his life. We then hear people who knew Wilhelm: the owners of the town's grocery store and the town's sheriff. The female narrating voice reads passages from Reich's writings. Reich established his research center Orgonon in Maine, where he was accused of masturbating patients and keeping children in cages, and therefore surveilled by the FBI. We then see Alexander Lowen treating a patient with the Reich-ian technique, and another doctor explaining the technique. Then we see another woman who is undergoing the therapy. The artist Betty Dodson narrates how she painted men who were masturbating next to one of the paintings. Tuli Kupferberg (the poet who founded the legendary Fugs) walks around New York dressed like a soldier and carrying a rifle. A drunk worker, Radmilovic, and a sexy woman, Milena, argue in the middle of a street in Yugoslavia with the man accusing her of having betrayed the cause and shouting delirious communist slogans. We then return to New York where a young couple is walking in front of a movie theater eating ice cream cones and we hear, instead of their voices, random radio commercials. The female then tells the camera that she agreed to marry Eric because she thought he was a national hero. (The female is Jackie Curtis, the transgender superstar of Andy Warhol's films, and she refers to Eric Emerson, who agreed to marry her but didn't show up at the wedding - Jackie then married one of the guests). We then return to Yugoslavia where a young woman, Milena, walks home to find her housemate Jagoda in bed with a soldier, Ljuba. The housemate tells her that the soldier hasn't had sex in six months. Milena sits, smokes a cigar and reads the newspaper "The Communist" and then she enters an orgone while the drunkard is arrested and taken away. The musical soundtrack to the Yuposlavia scenes sounds like clownish circus music. Later she remarks to a scandalized neighbor that abstinence is counter-revolutionary and gives a speech to the whole tenement about the importance of free love. The drunkard walks into the courtyard and shouts "Maria, give it to me!" Meanwhile we keep seeing the copulating couple in her apartment. Milena continues her speech hailing free love as essential to the success of the communist revolution. Then we see footage of Mao and Stalin and, immediately after Stalin's speech, we see an epileptic man treated with electroshock and a group of Lowen patients screaming at each other, crying and lying on the floor. Then we hear Lowen himself describing the technique. Milena, her housemate Jagoda and the soldier Ljuba attend a show of the Moscow ice-skating ballet. An epileptic hits on Milena but she has an immediate crush on the chief dancer, Vladimir, and walks backstage to meet with him and brings him home. In New York Tuli is still simulating war in the streets of New York (the soundtrack now plays the Fugs' satirical Kill for Peace). He is shocked to see that Milena has a photograph of Hitler surrounded by women. Milena explains that it shows the power of orgasm. They discuss communism while Jagoda walks naked around them. Milena introduces Vladimir to the theories of Reich and he remarks sarcastically that those theories turn Trotsky's permanent revolution into permanent orgasm. Just then Radmilovic breaks the wall and crushes inside the apartment shouting "Freedom to the People!" He (the humble Yugoslavian worker) then locks Vladimir (the aristocratic Russian communist) into a closet and then walks out of the hole he made in the wall, singing a patriotic song. The interview with drag queen Jackie continues with her describing her first sex with a man. We then see a "paster-caster" artist, Nancy Godfrey, caressing the penis of a man (Jim Buckley, co-founder of "Screw" magazine) until it gets erected while the soundtrack plays the Fugs' Kill for Peace. She then begins creating the cast of the penis. We see more footage of Stalin (announcing the success of the first stage of communism) before the artist's cast is finished. Then we see a madman in a strapjacket and Tuli masturbating his rifle. Milena sees Stalin in Vladimir when Vladimir gives a patriotic speech (we see footage of an Eisenstein film about Stalin). She tries to kiss him and she slaps her in the face. She slaps him back and punches him shouting that he is a liar. Now he kisses her passionately but then we see him with blood on his hands. In the next scene Milena's severed head is delivered to a forensic pathologist who determines that she was killed after a lot of sex but the sex was consensual. Milena's severed head says good things about her killer. Out in the snow Vladimir sings a Russian song (Bulat Okudzhava's "Francois Villon's Prayer"). The last two images are of Milena's severed head smiling and of Wilhelm Reich smiling.

The delirious, labyrinthine, exhilarating Sweet Movie (1974) is his extreme artistic statement. While superficially the director seems to plunge into pornography, the film is a dizzying merry-go-round of allegorical scenes and allegorical dialogues, but realized through a demented hyper-provocative proto-punk technique (that includes children raped and killed). One has to watch the entire film to realize that all the perversion and filth have a meaning, but it is not an easy watching. On one hand there is the capitalist world, a giant machine to destroy innocence, an endless soul-less orgy of free sex, waste, alienation and libido, a process of regression to animal behavior. At the other extreme is the socialist world, austere and tragic, that kills both the enthusiastic followers and the innocent spectators. From both stories there emanates a sense of utter failure. The two stories never join, the two worlds never meet: they compete for repulsive behavior. The virgin's eroti-comic misadventures and the heroine's harrowing sadistic perversion expose both worlds as hells. Makavejev may indulge too much in disgusting scenes (notably the film's orgy and the strip-tease), but that is part of the provocation: he does not necessarily enjoy the "indulging" but he is unmasking the fact that many viewers (even well-respected members of the bourgeoisie) will indulge in voyeuristic excitement. Makavejev's sociopolitical fresco mixes Godard's montage, Warhol's pop art, Brecht's agit-prop theater and Beckett's absurdism. This madcap, hyper-allegorical romp is a feast of anarchic caricatural surrealism, an extreme form of Dadaism. As usual, Makavejev's film has its own kind of happy ending. Until the last scene we have witnessed a descent into madness and degradation: The socialist ends up killing children and the virgin ends up playing in a demeaning commercial. But in the last scene the murdered children rise from the dead, which is, in itself, a powerful allegory.
The film's final structure is a product of accident: the actress playing Miss World quit, disgusted, the set, and Makavejev came up with the second story to fill out the running time.

A TV host introduces the rich old lady who founded the Chastity Belt Foundation that sponsors the Miss World 1984 pageant. This edition offers a rich prize to the winner: marriage to the lady's son, a white South African tycoon named Dollars who has proudly stated that his business only buys things that are new. The TV host then introduces a doctor (named Middlefinger) who rides on stage on a monocycle. The doctor has delivered very important people, including generals and members of parliament, who is in charge of testing the virginity of the girls. The girls are introduced to the audience and tested by the doctor on a special chair. The audio disappears when the Canadian model walks in, replaced by a plaintive violin melody. The doctor is shocked to see the "sweetest" hymen of his career.
A woman is sitting on top a large carnival-like boat that is cruising down the canals of Amsterdam. A giant mask of Karl Marx is affixed to the prow of the boat. A young sailor on a bicycle (wearing a hat that says "Potemkin" in Cyrillic characters) follows her trying to get her attention, calling her Anna, eventually dropping the bicycle and climbing a stairwell to try and jump on the boat.
Meanwhile, the Canadian virgin is taken, dressed in white and crowned, by her groom Dollars on a helicopter tour of giant African falls. In passing, Dollars (who looks like a Texas cowboy) tells the virgin that Karl Marx shot the czar of Russia. They land and are welcome by the Chastity Belt founder, a priest and musicians. The tycoon boasts that she is "certified pure". On the first night he disinfects her carefully and then reveals that he has a golden penis and, instead of consummating the marriage, he urinates on her. The girl screams terrified while down in the garden the musicians are playing romantic music and the mother-in-law dances and smiles.
The sailor is still desperately trying to hitch a ride on the Karl Marx boat, whose name is "Survival". We see a man standing on the top mast who looks like Karl Marx. The sailor keeps following the boat and even pees in front of it, always waving and smiling at the woman. He is finally allowed to board. The woman, speaking in Russian, addresses him as Potemkin, a sailor "from the famous revolution that failed" (the revolution of 1905). He announces that he is her new lover. She is excited and they have sex on a ladder of the ship while passers-by stop and watch from the bank of the canal. After the act the couple sings the Italian communist song "Bandiera Rossa".
After her terrifying first night, Miss World complains with the mother-in-law but the result is that Miss World is thrown into a swimming pool and she almost drowns. Then she is taken by a big black bodyguard to a giant bottle of milk that towers over the industrial complex of her husband. The black bodyguard introduces himself as a certified psychopath and displays his supersized penis. As he proceeds to rape her, she licks his cheek, smiles and says "sweet". But then see hides naked inside a barrel to avoid sex. She appeases the black bodyguard by promising to show him something that she learned from her father: she masturbates him. He squeezes her into a suitcase and heads to the airport where the suitcase is checked in on a flight to Paris
Meanwhle, in the Marx boat the sailor is bathed by Anna and another woman. He speaks and sings in French to them. Anna warns him that the boat is full of corpses. We see harrowing footage of the mass graves in the Katyn forest where the Soviet Union massacred of Polish officials. The sailor then covers himself in sugar.
The suitcase containing the Miss World arrives in Paris and is taken by a car to downtown. She is dropped at the Tour Eiffel, where a TV reporter is interviewing a Mexican singer, El Macho, who intones a passioned song in front of an ecstatic crowd. Miss World stares at him transfixed. She climbs on stage, kisses him, and arouses him touching his pants. She finally loses her virginity as they make love right there on the Eiffel Tower, standing up wrapped in his cloak, with tourists walking around, A group of nuns walk towards them and the Mexican is suddenly terrified. The shock causes his penis to get stuck inside Miss World's vagina. They are transported still embracing to the kitchen of a restaurant, where a reporter photographs the operation of releasing the penis from the vagina. He then sings to the staff of the kitchen and then cries while she smashes eggs on her head.
Meanwhile, Anna tells the sailor of when she fought in Spain against fascism while he plays the flute. She concludes that "everybody deserted me". She invites children into the boat and they found that the boat is full of candies. Anna wears a white bridal dress and gives sugar to the children. She performs a strip-tease in front of the children and caresses them with her breast and her legs.
Meanwhile in Paris, a man carries Miss World in a wheelbarrow to a house where a group of people lift her into a hammock, sing to her and spread petals on her body. Miss World is not reacting, catatonic, apparently still traumatized by losing her virginity to the Mexican singer. A woman offers her breast to her as if she were a baby and she drinks the milk. The house is home to a crowded artist community. Their lunch is an orgy of disgusting jokes. Miss World sits expresionless among them, but then she explores the faccid penis of the man around her and caresses it gently with her cheek, while around her inebriated people are both eating and vomiting. One is peeing and another one is drinking his pee. Three are shitting on plates while the crowd claps and cheers, and the shit is then passed around like a dish, and the crowd intones a refrain of the Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. (The orgy is performed by an Austrian art collective, the Vienna Actionists, led by performance artist Otto Muehl) We briefly see vintage footage of German pediatrician Neumann-Neurode and then, back to the orgy, an agonizing and crying man who is washed by others and breast-fed by a woman. (The scene reenacts the act of being born) while Miss World looks positively repulsed. The man, tickled by all the others, begins urinating and gets covered in flour. He then bows as if he had just performed a musichall skit. The others get naked too and everybody starts dancing naked while an accordionist intones a folk song.
Back to Anna and Potemkin, she find them making love inside a tub filled with sugar and we hear Anna remarking that everyone she loved is dead and then that sugar is dangerous. Mice crawl in and out of the sugar. She bites him until he bleeds and then she stabs him in the abdomen. But he dies laughing while we hear a voice in French say "I was so jealous when Vakulinchuk was killed", a reference to the sailor who led the mutiny of the Potemkin. Anna appends a pastic bag that looks like a tear to the eye of the giant Karl Marx mask. She is then arrested by the police and we see the dead bodies of the children lined up along the bank of the canal: she killed all the children, besides the Russian sailor.
Back to Miss World, we see her undressing naked and being covered with chocolate syrup against a billboard advertising milk while a film crew films the action and the camera focuses on her vagina. She moves erotically in the vat full of black liquid while the excited filmmaker films her. We then see more gruesome vintage footage of the mass graves. But the children wrapped inside plastic bags slowly come back to life while a noisy train passes by (the scene begins in black and while and slowly back turns into color).

If English is your first language and you could translate my old Italian text, please contact me. Segui` la farsa surreale di Coca Cola Kid (1985), un film molto piu` "mainstream" e molto meno originale. La storia e` banale, l'umorismo e` stentato, e i personaggi sono male abbozzati. Un giovane dinamico e ambizioso viene mandato dalla Coca Cola ad aiutare il manager della Coca Cola australiana e prende subito l'iniziativa. Il giovane, che tiene un topolino per pet, e` indifferente alla segretaria sexy Terri che tenta di sedurlo. Scopre che la societa` non vende una sola bottiglia in una remota regione dell'Australia e la ragazza sa perche': un vecchio tiranno possiede l'intera area e monopolizza il mercato. Il giovane, sempre piu` arrogante e indisponente, e` deciso a imporre una ferrea disciplina in quell'ufficio che e` gestito in maniera un po' troppo informale. In particolare la segretaria e` perseguitata dal marito pazzo e lascia scorazzare per gli uffici la sua figlioletta.
Il giovane va a scovare il vecchio eccentrico, ma prima un aereo pilotato da una giovane pilota quasi si schianta sulla sua auto e poi il vecchio lo prende a fucilate. La tenacia del giovane finisce pero` per conquistargli le simpatie del vecchio. Il giovane tenta invano di convincerlo ad allearsi con la Coca Cola per modernizzare i suoi metodi antediluviani di produzione. Il vecchio testardo mette alla porta lui e i suoi autocarri ultramoderni.
A forza di provarci, la segretaria, che si scopre essere la figlia del vecchio, riesce a sedurre il giovane; ma in realta` voleva soltanto proteggere il padre, per quanto non si vedessero o parlassero da sette anni. Il vecchio intanto ha minato la propria fabbrica e la fa saltare in aria piuttosto che cedere. Il giovane riceve i complimenti della Coca Cola, ma, confuso e pentito di tutta la storia, si dimette e torna da Terri.

Montenegro (1982) usa quello stile narrativo lineare per scopi se non altro piu` nobili della commedia leggera e riprende la ricognizione antropologica nei modelli comportamentali della borghesia. Il metodo casuale alla Godard, l'approccio didascalico alla Brecht, il collage alla Warhol, la tensione alla psicodramma. Il collage anticronologico crea dubbio e incertezze, mettendo in rilievo la confusione morale.

Una casalinga svedese frustrata si perde in un quartiere malfamato e gode una sfrenata notte di trasgressione in compagnia di reietti violenti e lussuriosi, mentre il marito ha un rapporto a tre con il suo psicanalista e la segretaria; eliminato l'amante, avvelena la famiglia.

Makavejev died in 2019.

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