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The Balkans as “Pretty Kitsch”: Stereotypes, the Traveler’s View and Parody in Migrant Cinema

Sandor Klapcsik

Abstract


This essay analyzes Balkanist stereotypical images in recent southeast European films, mostly from the post-socialist era, when encounters between people of the former eastern and western sides of the Iron Curtain intensified and became the topic of numerous productions. The characters either travel in their country between a westernized city and what was traditionally Balkanic countryside, or they oscillate between their homeland and western Europe as immigrants or exiles. The films tend to portray strong, bohemian, jovial, patriarchal male and young, temperamental female Balkanites, as well as wise old women who live in the countryside and still use centuries-old, almost supernatural, folk wisdom that entails magical realist depictions. Many critics find such stereotypical characterizations problematic to a greater or lesser degree. This essay, however, relies on imagology and stresses that the way nations construct their own ethnic identity is inevitably intertwined with externally constructed and maintained discourses, and detects three distinct stereotypical behaviors. First, several protagonists remain faithful to their ethnic or Balkan heritage: although they experience the lure of the urbanized West, they eventually return to their homeland and synthesize East and West. Second, certain less heroic or even villainous characters become morally corrupted by contemporary western society. Third, many Balkan films feature clumsy but loveable characters who try to imitate the West, but they fail to create their mimicry convincingly. Such carnivalesque techniques of parody equally target western and eastern stereotypes, holding a broken mirror to both traditions, and thus gaining popularity among both audiences. Thus, the estranged but somewhat familiar views of the Balkans emphasize and criticize the marginalized position of the region by bringing to the foreground attempts to accept western European values, while at the same time portraying alienation from western Europe.


Schlagworte


stereotype, Balkanism, travelling

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