Last month, as part of our project’s interdisciplinary Film Seminar entitled Europe East and West: Film, History, and Mourning, I presented a Macedonian film called “Before the Rain“. When I chose to do so, I wasn’t guided solely by my love for this movie, or for the Balkan region itself. I was also curious about approaching something very familiar from this new position of mine – that of a memory studies scholar – while drawing the audience’s attention to the rich field of collective remembrance in former Yugoslavia. Incidentally, I believe this should constitute a part of any comprehensive European studies programme.
For every important relationship of our lives, we can tell stories of when and how we met. Well, the same is true for places. “Before the Rain” is what started my long-standing connection with South Europe. When I first watched it, I was an undergraduate at Bard College (NY). The year was 1999.
That was nearly 12 years ago, and every time I’ve seen it since then, I discovered something new. Which, I think, is precisely what makes a work of art successful – its ability to grow and evolve with us over the years. “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, which I first read in the single-digit years of my life and which was then nothing but a gripping fairy tale, is another excellent example of this temporal versatility.
In my presentation, I tried to approach the film from my new position. I argued that its chronological puzzles reflect the human process of reminiscence, which is never linear in the first place. And, of course, I had the pleasure of getting to address some of my favourite topics as well – on taking sides, on making choices, on outsiders and insiders, and on the role (and responsibility) of an artist. At the end, I suggested a concept of ‘memory as a matter of choice’ – and not as a binding given, as we tend to perceive it – as exemplified by things each of the characters chooses to rely on when making a decision. “Alexandar: remember murder or remember love?” was the last line of my talk notes.
Throughout it all, I was privileged by the presence and support of colleagues from South Europe. But one thing I didn’t quite expect was to hear back from Milcho Manchevski, the film’s director. He kindly agreed to send me some thoughts for his audience at Cambridge, despite the busy premiering of his newest triptych, “Mothers”. I passed his words on to the viewers when introducing “Before the Rain”. The wholeheartedness of his responses enriched the film with a personal touch, which I enjoyed (as if for the first time!) with those who gathered in the unheated Keynes Hall.
“It is incredible to read his own words about the movie. It is a revelation,” was the email from a close family member. But Milcho did more than that. He proved once again, to me, the possibility of a warm human presence behind a strong and lasting work of art – a combination that, at first glance, can seem unlikely. This is a tribute not only to the Balkans, or to Macedonia, or to modern post-Yugoslav cinematography, as his works are usually perceived. This one is a tribute to Milcho himself.
To this, only a “благодарам” can be added.