When I am Dead and White

English Title: When I am Dead and White

Original Title: Kad budem mrtav i beo

Country of Origin: Yugoslavia

Studio: Filmska Radna Zajednica

Director: Živojin Pavlović

Producer(s): Aleksandar Radulović

Screenplay: Ljubiša Kozomara, Gordan Mihić

Cinematographer: Milorad Jakšić-Fandjo

Editor: Olga Skrigin

Runtime: 79 minutes

Genre: Drama

Language: Serbian

Starring/Cast: Dragan Nikolić, Neda Spasojević, Slobodan Aligrudić, Ružica Sokić, Severin Bijelić, Dara Čalenić

Year: 1967

Volume: East European

Synopsis:
Through the impoverished underbelly of 1960s Yugoslav society travels the young outsider Janko Bugarski (aka Jimmy Barka). After failing to get money from his mother, he and his partner try to find work elsewhere, whence the temporary chance for Janko to work as a manual labourer arises. However, at the first opportunity, he steals from his co-workers and is chased away, following which he takes up with a singer and begins performing. This too does not last long, and Janko moves in with another woman whose brother is in the army and for whom he agrees to sing at a rally. When this turns sour and Janko moves on with yet another partner, he runs into the woman who had been with him in the beginning, and who now seems to be pregnant. His decision to leave with her, based on the money she has accumulated, leads him to a fatefully violent incident.


Critique:
Even with his early shorts, which appeared in the portmanteau films Grad/The City (1963) (the only film in the former Yugoslavia to be officially banned in court), and Kapi. Vode. Ratnici/Raindrops. Waters. Warriors (1962) – Živojin Pavlović established himself as one of the most distinctive voices of New Cinema (Novi Film), the New Wave movement in Yugoslav cinema which sprung up in early 1960s and was ended by political decree in the early 1970s. By 1967, the year in which Kad budem mrtav i beo/When I am Dead and White was made, Pavlović had already produced three feature films, of which Buđenje pacova/Awakening of the Rats (1967) was perhaps the best, achieving critical acclaim and also stirring up political controversy. In his fourth film Pavlović continues with both the thematic and aesthetic preoccupations that had animated his earlier work, scratching the gilded surface of Yugoslav socialism and delving into its uglier, hitherto invisible, sides and revealing its latent contradictions.

 

The film tells the story of Janko Bugarski, or Jimmy Barka (Jimmy the Boat, played by Dragan Nikolić), a disillusioned socialist youth with no education, decent job or permanent abode. Once described by Pavlović as a ‘man without qualities’, this big-mouth/small-town womanizer who earns his daily bread by pick-pocketing was everything but a desired character in a socialist film. Pavlović’s narrative is episodic and based upon Jimmy’s escapades rather than on strict dramaturgical principles; an openness that is not merely a peculiarity of the director’s style, but rather a means by which the social vulnerability of the film’s central protagonist is communicated.

 

The milieu in which the film is set is also a political statement: accompanied first by his vagrant friend and partner in crime Lilica (Neda Spasojević); and subsequently the one-night-stands he undertakes in the person of the provincial folk singer Duška (Ružica Sokić); and the train conductor Mica (Dara Čalenić), Jimmy roams the desolate suburbia, rural funfairs, roadside taverns, dilapidated co-operatives and communal laundrettes. All of these real locations, which are depicted with Pavlović’s sharp, naturalistic eye for detail, are clearly an implicit yet unmistakeable assessment of the less positive sides of Yugoslav reality. The picaresque narrative of the film, which undoubtedly took inspiration from Italian neorealism and the French New Wave, enabled the director to work through a radical critique of the social, economical and cultural reality of the Yugoslav society of the 1960s, and to highlight a number of anomalies in an ostensibly classless society (official hierarchies, mass poverty, etc).

 

The loosely motivated tragic ending of the film was also seen as defying the always present demand for optimism, which stipulated that socialist art, especially the one that depicts contemporary reality, should provide an optimistic account of that reality. Pavlović’s Jimmy emerges as an outcast, a reject of a socialist society whose alienation resembles the one depicted in modernist bourgeois art. In addition to the unwelcoming present-day reality, the tragic ending of Pavlović’s film was also seen as a grim statement about the future awaiting the socialist youth of Yugoslavia. Yet, although it was met with harsh criticism by the Party, When I am Dead and White was still voted as the best film at the annual national film festival in Pula (Croatia), and Pavlović was nominated as the best director.

Author of this review: Dušan Radunović