A Russian Expatriate Adrift in Berlin
The most striking image in “Gorilla Bathes at Noon,” Dusan Makavejev’s whimsical cinematic collage set in present-day Berlin, is a gigantic statue of Lenin that stands as a ludicrous anachronism in the post-Communist era. In one of the film’s zanier scenes, Victor Borisovich (Svetozar Cvetkovic), an expatriate Russian soldier and the film’s main character, impulsively hoists himself on ropes to the statue’s head to wash its face. Moments later, the police arrive and ensnare him in a net from which he protests, “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
Not long afterward, workers begin detaching the head of the statue from its body. Lifted by crane, the severed head is lowered slowly onto a flatbed truck and carted off through the streets of Berlin. So much for Communism and kitsch monuments exalting its heroes.
Dušan Makavejev’s debut feature, establishing his freewheeling, exploratory, and often childlike style.
From the Chicago Reader:
[One of the best Chicago releases of 1974.] “His first, seen here last, like all his others only better. A parable on Socialist living, enacted on the playground of peasants in the industrial landscape.” –Myron Meisel
From Time Out London:
Makavejev’s first feature is a delightful, typically eccentric concoction, centred very loosely indeed around a story about an engineer who visits a new town to assemble mining machinery. There his devotion to work fouls up his relationship with his beloved, while a fellow worker encounters problems when his wife discovers he has a mistress. A freewheeling kaleidoscope mixing comedy and social comment as it deals with both labour and sexual politics, not to mention many seemingly unrelated topics such as hypnotism and culture (there’s a marvellous climactic scene with Beethoven performed in an enormous foundry while the heroine conjures her own ode to joy), it defies description but is extremely entertaining. – Geoff Andrew
In a Central European country a provincial town prepares for the king’s visit, and the chief of the secret police arrives to uncover a suspected anarchist plot. This is perhaps Makavejev’s most “mainstream” film, and an unexpected delight. Its pleasures are both the director’s usual satirical commentary on revolutionary politics, and the eccentricities and quirks of the individual characters and their bizarre, mad interactions. Continue reading
“W.R.” is pioneering sexologist Wilhelm Reich, whose precedent-breaking theories concerning carnal behavior and politics (including the invention of the orgone box) made him persona non grata in most psychoanalytic circles. By all accounts, Reich began his career brilliantly – as the next great successor to Freud and Jung; he then delved into extraordinarily controversial work that divided his critics, leading some to conclude that Reich had experienced a psychotic break from reality. Dusan Makavejev is the equally controversial Yugoslavian director fascinated by Reich’s theories. This essay film by Makavejev – his first major work – constitutes a witty, free-form riff on the director’s perception of Reichian philosophies as the basis of individual and collective sexual liberation. Makavejev elucidates the Reichian mindset via interviews with the doctor’s relatives and colleagues (we even hear from Reich’s barber!) Also illustrated is the ongoing conflict between the free-thinking disciples of W.R.’s sociopolitical attitudes and the adherents of sterile Stalinism. Over the course of the picture, Makavejev journeys to the U.S. and interviews such American sexual liberationists as Screw magazine editor Al Goldstein and Betty Dodson. Woven into the factual proceedings is a fictional plotline concerning the romance between Reich adherent Milena and uptight Soviet athlete Vladimir Ilyich. Though the film was never released in Makavejev’s native Yugoslavia, WR: Mysteries of the Organism firmly established the iconoclastic filmmaker’s international reputation. Continue reading
Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader wrote:
A funny, raunchy film by Dusan Makavejev–a paean to the liberating power of dirt, as in both grime and smut. The setting is squeaky-clean Sweden, where an American woman (Susan Anspach) married to a stuffy businessman (Erland Josephson) falls in with a colony of Yugoslavian immigrants. It’s a one-joke movie, without the depth or formal inventiveness of Makavejev’s WR: Mysteries of the Organism, but the joke is good and well sustained Continue reading
The first feature by Serbian director Dusan Makavejev, Man Is Not a Bird is a capable satire of the Eastern European work-politic combined with a rather ribald sex comedy. The plot centers around an engineer named Jan (Janez Vrhovec), who travels to eastern Serbia to help out in a copper factory. When he arrives, he rents a room from the parents of the local, bombshell hairdresser Raika (Milena Dravic), only to wind up in her arms as well. One night, while Jan is accepting an award for his stellar work ethic, Raika hooks up with a smarmy truck driver, angering Jan, her parents, and just about everyone. Continue reading
Innocence Unprotected was originally filmed in 1941 under the title Nevinoz bez Zastite; it was meant to be the first all-talking feature ever made in Serbia. Yugoslav gymnast Dragolijub Aleksic wrote, produced, directed and starred in this simple tale of a young man who rescues his lady love from her wicked stepmother. The film was never released, falling victim to the Nazi censors; later on, the film was condemned as pro-Nazi (huh?) Flash-forward to 1968: documentary filmmaker Dusan Makavejev unearthed this forgotten film, expanded upon it with newsreel footage of Dragolijub Aleksic performing his athletic feats and filmed interviews with the surviving cast members, and came up with Innocence Unprotected. The result is less a dramatic film than a montage-like celebration of Yugoslavian customs, folklore, and humor. Makavejev referred to Innocence Unprotected as a “montage of attractions”; viewers will no doubt find those attractions most attractive. Continue reading