Nusja dhe shtetrrethimi (The Bride and the Curfew), Kristaq Mitro & Ibrahim Muçaj, Albania, 1978 (Foto: Arkivi Qendror Shteteror i Filmit)

O partigiano! Pan-European Partisan Film

October 25 to December 4, 2019

In the aftermath of World War II, several (especially newly formed) European states started reconstructing and reimagining their identities and recent histories through a vast production of films that celebrated and commemorated their guerrilla struggles against fascism. These films ranged in scope and ambition from psychological to overblown military spectacles, from elegiac remembrances to pure pulp fiction. Particularly in former socialist federations of Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, they performed a key role in constructing a sense of history. Similar to the Western genre in Hollywood, partisan films also served to 'whitewash' problematic and traumatic aspects of recent history. In this both genres produced and reinforced myths about the formation of a community, and both performed their ideological operations on the backdrop of a concrete "landscape in turmoil" that needs to be either "civilized" (the western) or liberated (partisan films). In the late 60ies and early 70ies, both genres reinvented themselves and underwent a political revision: not everything was so simple under the overbearing blood-red ideological umbrella.

There is no – and there can't be any – single all-encompassing definition of partisan film as a genre: it even encompasses comedies and musicals. And contrary to popular belief Eastern Europe was not the sole producer of partisan films. Italy and France produced some of the finest examples of partisan cinema (some of which we have been considering as neo-realist masterpieces alone), and even countries like Denmark or Norway celebrated the same stories of armed grassroots resistance.

The retrospective of the Viennale and the Austrian Film Museum  for the first time makes evident the international dimension of this cinematic production. Can we consider the partisan film phenomenon as the first genuine example of modern (as in post-war) pan-European cinema: a set of narrative tropes, themes and devices linked by a shared historical experience that should become the founding myth of modern Europe.
Eighty years after the commencement of the war that spawned the genre of partisan cinema, we find ourselves sliding towards gradual revisionism of basic civilizational values we have been taking for granted in the decades following the victory over fascism. Ideas of isolationism, nationalism and populism have invaded the public and (social) media discourse across the European Union, and discourses previously considered extremist slowly gain mainstream legitimacy. Time is therefore ripe to (re)discover the rich cinematic legacy of the partisan film, in all its diversity, and in rare archival film prints sourced from all across the continent. In this, we celebrate these films as artworks and as historical records of an era where, across the divisions and the barbed wire separating the continent, one could still call a spade a spade, and a fascist by their name. (Michael Loebenstein, Jurij Meden)
A program of Viennale and Austrian Film Museum