There are certain films which remain long in the memory and yet one can never quite classify the reason. For me, a viewing of Lazar Stojanovic’s Plastic Jesus something like a decade and a half ago (maybe more) on a late night Channel Four show was quite a revelation. This film shown in a series of programmes which tried to give some context to the war then raging in Bosnia stayed long in my mind. Bosnia (the former Yugoslavia) ‘preoccupied’ me then – and listening to so many discussions about the wars of secession I’ve always been impatient that people seem to forget that the country was at war for a whole decade – the decade of the 1990s. Having met three Slovenians in the Autumn of 1990 when picking apples in north-east Italy and kept in touch somehow the short war in Slovenia almost became something like a personally traumatic moment. It was the moment that war returned to mainland Europe. 1991 to 1993 found me in Trieste – the border town over which Italy and Yugoslavia almost came to blows after World War Two. Anyway the film Plastic Jesus was to be the film that, apart from the odd Dushan Makevejev film, would represent Yugoslav film for me from the moment I watched it on television.
Its rediscovery on You Tube a few days ago (albeit without subtitles) seemed to be something like a personal miracle. I finally managed to relocate a film which had been ‘archeologically’ important to me. It formed a certain new taste in me- and although I had never been much of a standard film buff, Plastic Jesus would be a film I would watch a number of times on a gradually worsening VHS video tape until finally it would be recorded over. The difficulty of knowing what attracted me to this very eclectic and rough film still presents with a problem in this post. The internet is definitely not a place that has much in English about this film. What little there is concentrates on the fact that this was very much an Underground classic. Stojanovic was to be the only film director jailed in Tito’s Yugoslavia. Some accounts put his jail term as a matter of days, others as 18 months and another as three years. Nonetheless, it is very clear that Stojanovic’s film is supremely radical- both for its time and also for now. Juxtaposition of Nazi and Partisan footage, of homosexual scenes immediately followed by official footage of Marshal Tito and a kind of levelling of all ideologies makes this film go way beyond the Marxist humanism of other Black Wave practitioners. The direct linkage of the sexual and the political were, perhaps, what seemed anyway to distinguish Yugoslav cinema from Soviet bloc films but here it seems to be taken further.
What seems to me to be particularly radical is also this assault on the religious along with the assault on all political ideologies – the Plastic Jesus motif and the linking of Nazi scenes and salutes coupled immediately with a group in contemporary society carrying work tools that then become crosses. This, now, seems equally, if not more, radical- as radical as the film must have been at the time. The shots of the man on the balcony loading his gun with chewing gum while he shoots at what then turn out to be film reel of victims of war atrocities to an accompanying upbeat war tune is equally radical and memorable. The further enmeshing of the sexual and the political, the historical and the contemporary, the religious and the totalitarian with an ending of the film’s protagonist which prefigures that of Marlon Brando’s protagonist in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris –makes this film a true Underground masterpiece which went beyond much of what seemed possible in its own day and which, even today, appears radical.
Stojanovic – after his jail sentence- appeared no longer to have made any major films but surely this film deserves a greater reputation than it has at present.