Gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese film­go­ers took Yu­goslav drama into its heart

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - ByWANG KAIHAO wangkai­hao@chi­

For Chi­nese peo­ple who have hit the half-cen­tury mark, scenes from a film de­pict­ing wartime Yu­gol­savia can be re­called with almost con­su­mate ease.

The 1972 Serbo-Croa­t­ian lan­guage pro­duc­tion on un­der­ground par­ti­sans dur­ing World War II, Wal­ter De­fends Sara­jevo, which is per­haps un­fa­mil­iar to most Western film­go­ers, is an im­por­tant col­lec­tive mem­ory for one gen­er­a­tion of Chi­nese peo­ple.

The film shows the twists and turns asWal­ter’s par­ti­sans fight the Nazis. At the end of the film, a Nazi of­ficier stands on a hill over­look­ing Sare­jevo and re­al­izes that the rea­son he could not de­featWal­ter is that the city isWal­ter. “It’s ro­man­tic, not di­dac­tic,” said Lu Fei, an ac­tor from Beijing Film Stu­dio, who dubbed the par­ti­san leader Wal­ter’s voice in Chi­nese. “My love for this story en­cour­aged me to put all my emo­tion into cre­at­ing the voice,” Lu said.

“Ev­ery time I was in­tro­duced to oth­ers, I was called ‘Wal­ter’, and peo­ple were al­ways amazed.”

“I watched the film five times in a row when it was re­leased in the late 1970s,” re­called screen­writer Wang Xing­dong, deputy di­rec­tor of the China Film As­so­ci­a­tion. “Also as a So­cial­ist coun­try, Yu­goslav aes­thet­ics for art shared many sim­i­lar­i­ties with China. How­ever, the film stunned me.”

It was among the first for­eign films to be screened after the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (1966-76), and to­gether with another Yu­goslav World War II-themed film, The Bridge, opened hori­zons for a Chi­nese au­di­ence ea­ger for knowl­edge of the out­side world.

“I still clearly re­mem­ber one man sit­ting by me in the cin­ema who kept mur­mur­ing about theWestern fur­ni­ture in the scenes,” Wang said with a smile.

“Though China also pro­duced many rev­o­lu­tion­ary films, they gen­er­ally lacked a de­tailed por­trayal of hu­man­ity. How­ever, the old Yu­goslav films ex­press the con­flicts of hu­man na­ture while con­vey­ing strong pa­tri­o­tism.”

The va­garies of his­tory also played a role.

“Due to the po­lit­i­cal split be­tween China and the Soviet Union in the late 1960s, Yu­goslavia, Ro­ma­nia and Al­ba­nia were the only East­ern Euro­pean so­cial­ist coun­tries that still ex­ported films to China at that time,” ex­plainedWang Yao, a 30-year-old film critic and doc­toral can­di­date at Beijing Film Academy who fo­cuses on East­ern Euro­pean films.

“Most of th­ese im­ported films were only cir­cu­lated among film pro­fes­sion­als as ref­er­ences,” he said, adding that Wal­ter De­fends Sara­jevo and The Bridge were among the few that were re­leased to the pub­lic.

“Chi­nese film­mak­ers in the 1980s tended to mimic their styles in cre­at­ing sto­ries,” Wang said.

To­day it is a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion. Apart from award-win­ning di­rec­tor Emir Kus­turica, few mod­ern Ser­bian film­mak­ers’ names are fa­mil­iar among Chi­nese film­go­ers nowa­days.

“In the time of DVDs, Kus­turica is prob­a­bly the only glob­ally ac­claimed di­rec­tor not only from Ser­bia, but from East­ern Europe,” Wang sighed. He read­ily ad­mits that his rea­son for study­ing East­ern Euro­pean films is the nostal­gia shown by his tu­tor.

“East­ern Europe’s cin­e­mas are con­fronted by the strong im­pact of Hol­ly­wood movies. In some coun­tries, their do­mes­tic films only ac­count for less than 3 per­cent of to­tal box-of­fice rev­enue. But that never means the art stan­dard is medi­ocre.”

How­ever, film co-pro­duc­tion agree­ments have be­come more common dur­ing Chi­nese lead­ers’ vis­its over­seas, and Premier LiKe­qiang’s visit to Ser­bia will prob­a­bly arouse pub­lic in­ter­est in whether closer screen col­lab­o­ra­tion will follow.

Em­bassies are the ma­jor or­ga­niz­ers of film pro­mo­tion. Ser­bia held its first Chi­nese film fes­ti­val in its cap­i­tal, Bel­grade, in2012, andRuma hosted an out­door Chi­nese film ex­hi­bi­tion in Au­gust. Beijing’s Broad­way Cine­math­eque, known for its pref­er­ence for art house pro­duc­tions, staged Ser­bian film exhibitions twice, in 2010 and 2013.

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