A Film a Week - The Winter of a Spring / Zima jednog proleća

 previously published on Cineuropa

Milan Nikodijević is a film critic, scholar and documentary filmmaker mostly interested in topics related to Yugoslav film and cultural history. He is best known for his 2007 six-part series of TV-format documentaries about the censored auteurs of the Yugoslav Black Wave that he co-directed with Dinko Tucaković. His newest documentary, The Winter of One Spring, has another period of Yugoslav film history in its sights: the so-called “FAMU Boys” or “Czech School” movement, and especially the memories of several Yugoslav FAMU students of their time in Prague during the fateful events of the Prague Spring and the Soviet invasion of 1968. It recently premiered as a special screening at the Festival of Auteur Film in Belgrade.

Nikodijević opens his film with a static shot of a photo camera, with its specifications printed as a textual info card, set against the classical music piece “Vltava” by Bedřih Smetana, before narrating a story about a photograph that was not taken. It is actually his childhood memory of the summer of 1968 and a family that arrived in a white Skoda with Czechoslovak plates and set up camp in front of a schoolhouse in the Serbian village where he lived. The family were on their way back from a holiday on the Adriatic coast when they heard the news about the invasion, so they decided to stay put for a while until the dust had settled.

However, another photo was taken, and it became iconic. The photo in this case is the one of Jan Palach, after he burned to death, with his head wrapped in the Czech flag. It was taken in the morgue and sold to Paris Match and other prestigious newspapers, and its author was a Yugoslav cinematography student at FAMU, Predrag “Pega” Popović, later known for his work on a large number of iconic and popular Yugoslav films. That photo serves as the centrepiece of the film and Popović as our primary, but not sole, guide as we edge closer to it.

In a series of interviews, Nikodijević brings together the stories of other Yugoslav students at FAMU at that time – filmmakers like Srđan Karanović, Goran Marković, Rajko Grlić and Lordan Zafranović – who, along with Popović, recall their student years, the economic and cultural differences between Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia at that time, the glory days of the Prague Spring, the protests after the invasion, their activities to help and protect their Czechoslovak colleagues and professors, the significance of Palach as a symbol that has been changing over time, anecdotes involving Czechoslovak and foreign people from the fields of film, literature, culture and journalism, and the circumstances surrounding Pega’s famous photo. In the third act, he follows Pega on a trip to Prague in the hope of retrieving some of his footage of the protests that might have been lost, misplaced or even destroyed.

The Winter of One Spring is certainly an intriguing story, told with clarity and zest by Nikodijević, Popović and the rest of the interviewees and subjects. Its strong informative and narrative value could make it a precious piece of cultural and cinematic history focusing on several countries that arose from the two federations. In aesthetic, stylistic and technical terms, it is serviceable and competently made, but never flashy. The repeated shallow focus in Jovan Milinov’s cinematography and the frequent use of Bohdan Mikolašek’s song “Ticho” have a clear dramaturgical meaning, and Aleksandar Komnenović’s editing is precise and smooth enough to make the film a pleasant, if not spectacular, viewing experience.

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