Communism with Its Clothes Off: Eastern European Film Comedy and the Grotesque

Communism with Its Clothes Off: Eastern European Film Comedy and the Grotesque

Lilla Toke

Language: English

Pages: 239

ISBN: 2:00145599

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


The dissertation examines the legacies of grotesque comedy in the cinemas of
Eastern Europe. The absolute non-seriousness that characterized grotesque realism
became a successful and relatively safe way to talk about the absurdities and the failures
of the communist system. Thismodality, however, wasnot exclusive tothe communist
era but stretchedback to the Austro-Hungarian era and forward into the Postcommunist
times. The analysis explores how film comedyprovided a second, carnivalesque world
that mirrored official culture in a grotesque way and ridiculed it, and as such these
comediesindicated the failure of the Grand Narrative of Communism. The films
constituted a much-needed alternative public sphere, where the controversies and
absurdities in the dominant social structures could emerge in a critical light. They
demystified the workings of state communism in two important ways: first,they revealed
that ideological and material reality wereincongruous and often contradictory and that
the illusion of ideological reality was forcefully maintained through language. Secondly,
the films disclosed that the communist state’s biopolitics was ultimately unsuccessful
since it failed to fully integrate the individuals into its ideological project and instead
encouraged a particular “doublethink”to emerge (where people simultaneously accepted
and defied communist control over their bodies). Ultimately, in its carnivalesque
representations,Eastern European cinema performed an important counter-cultural
function that commented on the very ontology of existing socialism: the films pointed to
an irreconcilable contradiction between communist ideology and material reality that
would ultimately lead to the system’s demise as well as the state’s aggressive attempts
and failures to interpellate its subjects fully and successfully.

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greater damage to the communist authority than showing it to be a grotesque parody and a performance, and thus undermining its binding force over reality. The films discussed throughout the dissertation did this work. They presented the world as a ruse, an upside down carnival where all that seemed natural became unnatural, all that was normal became abnormal and the abnormal was presented as the norm. This subversive aspect made the grotesque especially suitable to reveal a fundamental condition

question “Who makes a team great? [Ki tesz naggyá egy csapatot?],” his answer is that, disappointingly, every player expects to be paid well and “Nowadays only money matters! [Manapság csak a pénz számít!]” The foremost example of moral deterioration is Vallai, the talented goalkeeper who, on his girlfriend’s insistence, asks to be reimbursed for his tram tickets. For Minarik, Vallai’s demand to get 73 paid is a shameful violation of his dedication to the team, especially since he is aware of

Robinson’s heroism. Minarik did everything in his potential to fulfill the dream of bringing his team success. However, when fate repeatedly betrayed him, he readily admits defeat and moves on. His grandness is not self-sacrificial; instead it lies in his being able to survive the hard times and knowing the right moment to walk away from his ideals. Minarik is aware of his own limits to take on the hostile world. He is ready not only to fight but also to compromise, not only to appear but, if

(2001: 214) primarily belonged to men. Following Elisabeth Grosz’s definition of patriarchy as “a system of universal male right to the appropriation of women’s bodies” (9) I argue that the ideological work of grotesque realism moves largely within a patriarchal framework. The male characters in the films generally have complete control over and right to the female body, which transforms the Enlightenment’s dream of social and physical alliance against oppression and injustice into a mere fantasy

Stalinist political ideology. Her character is built on an irreconcilable paradox, a purposefully maintained schizophrenia (the need to choose either love or revolution), which I consider phallic in itself because it denies woman the possibility of simultaneous political and romantic engagement. This paradox can only be explained in terms of a masculine desire that builds Milena’s fate in parallel with the fate of Yugoslavia after World War II. The need to decide whether to commit herself to

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