A Film a Week - ŽŽŽ (Journal About Želimir Žilnik) / Žurnal o Želimiru Žilniku

 previously published on Cineuropa

Želimir Žilnik is a filmmaker whose unique style and approach blur the line between documentary and fiction. His fiction films have the documentary qualities of truthfulness, while his documentaries are as tense as fiction films. In more than 50 years as a filmmaker, he’s directed more than 60 films, short and feature-length, documentaries, fiction films and hybrids in which he aimed to expose the part of the truth that was hidden under the surface. Now he has himself become the subject of a documentary called ŽŽŽ (Journal About Želimir Žilnik), written and directed by Janko Baljak, known for his documentary work predominantly in the short and mid-length TV format, on socially relevant topics for Serbia and former Yugoslavia from the early ‘90s onwards.

ŽŽŽ (Journal About Želimir Žilnik) premiered in the documentary competition at the 27th Sarajevo Film Festival. The influential filmmaker at its centre should suffice to secure it some further exposure, especially in the West Balkan region and also at specialised festivals. The film will eventually land on television, where its informative qualities and clear structure should play well.

The title of the film is actually a word play on the title of Žilnik’s breakthrough short documentary Newsreel on Village Youth in Winter (1967) which opened another angle in the perception of the reality of socialist Yugoslavia, but Baljak opens the film with a discussion about another one of Žilnik’s controversial works, namely his unfinished film Freedom or Cartoons (1972) whose production was halted by the authorities. ŽŽŽ (Journal About Želimir Žilnik) is structured as a road movie of sorts in which Žilnik, accompanied by Baljak and his crew, revisits his old films, the locations they were shot in, crew members and colleagues, the subjects that have survived, such as the iconic Pirika, the star of Little Pioneers (1968) and Pirika on Film (2013), and their descendants. Of course, the milestones of Žilnik’s career are mentioned, such as his Golden Bear-winning film Early Works (1969), the court process about a possible ban of the film that ensued, Žilnik’s relationship to the so-called Yugoslav Black Wave, as portrayed in his short documentary Black Film (1971), his exile in Germany during which he made five shorts over the course of a single year, his return to Yugoslavia, his work of exposing the schizophrenia and the violence of the ‘90s, as shown in his films Tito’s Second Time Among the Serbs (1994) and Marble Ass (1995) and his striving to find a humane way to deal with the current state of capitalism and the ongoing refugee crisis with which he dealt in his newest films. The efforts to regain the remaining tapes of Freedom and Cartoons and to finish the film as a testament of sorts is, however, a thread that is woven into the film from the beginning to the end.

With such a rich career, Žilnik as narrator and guide is probably the greatest asset of the film, as he has many stories and anecdotes to share with the audience. Baljak has the task to steer and “edit” him a bit, which he does with great respect, actually capturing Žilnik’s spirit and even continuing his work in a way. Scored by one of Žilnik’s frequent collaborators Predrag Vranešević and smoothly edited by Aleksandra Milovanović in order to blend the newly filmed material with Žilnik’s old work as well as with archival material, such as newspaper clippings, ŽŽŽ (Journal About Želimir Žilnik) is a pleasant and informative watch and a strong tribute to a great filmmaker.

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