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Yugoslav Partisan Films

The following list of videos are various links to full-length feature films which provide insight (albeit stylized) into the WWII history that lay behind the abstract WWII (NOB) monuments (or 'spomeniks') of the former Yugoslavia. During the Yugoslav era, these so-called 'Partisan films' depicting the military campaigns of Tito's Partisan resistance army were an integral populist tool in communicating the 'righteous victory' of the communist during  WWII. Therefore, to understand these films is also to understand the official government narratives communicated within the monuments that memorialize the events these films depict. My inclusion of any particular film here is not necessarily an endorsement of its content or message... I am simply providing here a range of educational options for users to explore.

Sutjeska [1973]

This feature film relates the story of the 'Battle of Sutjeska', what is widely considered the greatest of the Partisan military engagements of WWII. The film stars Hollywood actor Richard Burton portraying Josip Tito. Estimates show that this film, which was mostly financed by the Yugoslav government, was one of the most costliest films ever produced in the country. The events which this film depicts are directly related to the events memorialized the 'Valley of the Heroes' monument located in present-day Tjentište, Bosnia. This film was submitted by Yugoslavia to the American 46th Academy Awards film competition in 1974 for the foreign language category, however, the film was not accepted as a potential nominee. The film is presented in the Serbo-Croatian language without any English subtitles.

Bitka na Neretvi [1969]

This feature film relates the story of the 'Battle of Neretva', which was one of the most decisive military engagements of WWII in the Yugoslav region, where Josip Tito and his Partisan resistance in 1943 cleverly escape an Axis trap to contain and destroy them. The film stars interestingly stars Russian-born American Hollywood actor Yul Brenner as well as American actor Orson Welles in the role of a Chetnik senator. The events depicted in the film directly relate to the now ruined monument at Makljen, Bosnia. This film was also among the most costliest films ever produced in Yugoslavia, which was in part greatly financed with government funds. It was put  forward for consideration in the 'Best Foreign Language' film in the American 42nd Academy Award film compteition in 1969 and it was accepted as a nominee. However, the film did not win during the awards show. This video link presents the video in Serbo-Croatian without English subtitles.

Užička republika [1974]

This feature film, whose title translates into English as 'Republic of Užice', is a film that was produced in Yugoslavia in 1974 and directed by Serbian filmmaker Žika Mitrović. This film was popular both in Yugoslavia, but also internationally, where it was marketed under the English title "Guns of War". The story of the rise, as well as the collapse, of the Republic of Užice (in what is now present-day Serbia) during the early years of WWII is explored in this film. Many awards were granted to this film production, including Best Film at the Pula Film Awards, as well as recognitions at the Moscow International Film Festival. The role of Josip Tito is played in this production by Yugoslav actor Marko Todorović, a role which critics have widely praised for being the best portrayal of Tito ever acted in a film. Todorović later reprised the role of TIto in many subsequent television documentaries. The video of the film presented here in this link is seen without any subtitles.

Valter brani sarajevo [1972]

This feature film, whose title translates into English as 'Walter Defends Sarajevo', relates a stylized version the story of the mysterious and elusive Partisan rebel Vladimir 'Valter' Perić, who works to unite the city of Sarajevo in rebellion and resistance against Axis military control and occupation. The events depicted in the film in story of Valter and the suffering of Sarajevo during WWII is directly related to the Vraca monument located in the hills overlooking the city. The legacy of Valter, as well as this film, continue to endure in culture within the now independent former Yugoslav republics. Interestingly, the film also became a cult hit in China at the time of its over-seas release, with it achieving the status of being one of the most popular foreign films in the country during the 1970s. This video link here presents the film in the Serbo-Croatian language without any English subtitles.

Kozara [1962]

This black & white feature film depicts the events of the 1942 Kozara Offensive where Axis forces attempted to vanquish a Partisan stronghold in the Kozara mountains of western Bosnia. During this attack, thousands of civilians were killed or shipped to concentration camps. The release of he film marked the 20th anniversary of these events. The film was put forward by Yugoslavia for consideration in the American 32nd Academy Awards film competition in 1959 for the Best Foreign language category, however, it was not selected as a nominee. This production is widely considered the first in a long line of epic 'Partisan films' portraying Yugoslav WWII history. The events depicted in this film directly relate to the events commemorated with the monument built at Kozara in 1972 by Dušan Džamonja. This video link here presents the film in the Serbo-Croatian language without any English subtitles.

Partizanska eskadrila [1979]

This film, directed by Hajrudin Krvavac (creator of many Partisan motion pictures), is loosely based on the historical events of Partisan rebel efforts during WWII to create an airforce to combat against the Axis air-power which dominated the skies of Yugoslavia during this time period. The events this film is based on directly relate to the events commemorated in the monument at Medeno Polje in present-day Bosnia. In fact, it is possible that the production of this film, which was produced in part at Medeno Polje, directly inspired local inhabitants to create this monument, as it was completed in the years directly after the film's release. The film is presented here in this video link over-dubbed in the English language. A Serbo-Croatian version of this film can be found at THIS LINK.

Desant na Drvar [1963]

This black & white film, whose title roughly translates into English as 'Raid on Drvar', depicts a stylized version of events from the May 1944 Axis assault on the Partisan stronghold and Josip Tito's headquarters located in present-day town of Drvar, Bosnia. Created by Bosnian direct Fadil Hadžić, this was the second made Partisan film subsequently after the great success of the film 'Kozara'. The events shown in this film directly relate to the events commemorated at the now ruined WWII monument at Drvar. Interestingly, Croatian film critic Jurica Pavičić asserts in a 2003 article that the 'Desant na Drvar' film represents the purest and most quintessential 'Partisan film', in the sense that it satisfies all of the seven integral characteristics embodied in the genre. [NOTE: This film is temporarily unavailable in full length. I provide here a compilation of clips from the film until it is available.]

Crvena zemlja [1975]

This 1975 film, directed by Belgrade filmmaker Branimir Janković, tells the tragic and harrowing tale of the Massacre of Kraljevo in October of 1941. It is estimated that during the tragedy, German soldiers execute over 3,000 civilians. The film was titled "Crvena zemlja", which translates into English as 'Red Land', however, in Western markets the film was rebranded as 'Massacre at Noon'. Starring Dragomir Bojanić Gidra & Miha Baloh, the film centers around the days leading up to the massacre, where a young man, Miloš, attempts to flee from German capture and detention, while a young woman, Majda, does everything she can to help him from being captured and killed. There are no reports that the film won any major awards or recognitions. The version of the film presented here is in the Serbo-Croatian language without any English or other foreign subtitled.

Understanding Partisan Films

To get a better grasp of the genre of Yugoslav 'Partisan films', it helps to know a bit about what are the primary elements that make up these films. Simply, 'Partisan films' were cinematic endeavors which attempted to capture the WWII struggle (or the People's Liberation Struggle) of the communist Partisan army against the multitude of Axis adversaries and occupiers they faced. The films, which were generally 'state projects', were meant as only history tools but which could disseminate an 'official memory culture'. In 2009, Croatian film critic Jurica Pavičić wrote an analysis in the film magazine 'Jutarnji List' [PDF, page 40] about the idea of the 'Super Partisan Film'. In this analysis, he identified seven key qualities that were, in his opinion, the most quintessential in crafting a 'true' and 'typifying' Partisan motion picture. These seven qualities Pavičić indentifies are briefly defined as follows:

  • The thematic plot of the film MUST focus on a historical moment of Yugoslav struggle that is fundamental to the greater Socialist Revolution and fight against Axis occupation and aggression. In addition, the story told must be in a narrative form that is government approved and sanctioned, with no room for divergent or alternative historical interpretation.

  • The films must not feature as primary or secondary characters which portray any significant or notable Yugoslav officials or personalities. The only exception to this would be the portrayal of Josip Tito himself (who is portrayed in Partisan films). The reason for this would be to avoid any other figures or politicians potentially threatening or supplanting Tito's popularity and power in Yugoslavia.

  • The characters presented in the film (which should be numerous) must come from a wide and diverse background, generally focused around class (workers, peasants, elite, etc), ethnicity (Serbian, Croat, Bosniak, etc) and religion (Orthodox, Catholic, Muslim, etc). All characters should be shown interacting and having their destinies bound to each other.

  • The film should contain within it a pairing of both the comedic and the tragic. More than likely, the humor element of the film was to not only increase the popular appeal of the film, but also to act as a compassionate foil for the stiff, uptight and overly disciplined manner that the German Army was generally portrayed in Partisan films.

  • Characters should be present in the film which depict Partisan allies of non-Yugoslav background in the roles of 'arbiters'. The function of these foreign players in the film is to act as impartial observers meant to authenticate the Partisan's 'greatness' and to witness events which transpired in the region from a global perspective. This approach would thus lend credibility and validation to the Yugoslav struggles and achievements.

  • While the Germans would obviously be portrayed as evil, well-disciplined and a seemingly unstopped enemy, their overwhelming presence and force can be seen to be highly romanticized, almost as if to insinuate how 'worthy' and 'formidable' of an enemy they were. The purpose being that when they are ultimately defeated by the Partisans in the course of the film, it makes the victory all the more salient and impactful.

  • Finally, the film must conclude with a 'Deus ex machina'-like ending, where just as all hope seems to be lost and defeat appear almost certain, a miraculous set of circumstances manifest that lead the Partisans to victory against both a seemingly unstoppable enemy and improbable odds.

It should be noted that such 'rules' were not necessarily official. Certain films followed this formula much more than others, however, some combination of these seven elements run through nearly every single Partisan film. It was through the employment of this set of unofficial rules that these films acted as a sort of propaganda, where, like the Yugoslav monuments, they worked to construct a national Yugoslav identity and a shared cultural mythos.