The Reimagined Community

A Postnationalist Kaleidoscope of European Cinema

by Olle Sjögren (Author)
©2019 Monographs 232 Pages


«The Reimagined Community» is a comparative study of European cinema and the political shift from national traditions to transnational cooperation. The European peace project is reactivated with a fresh analysis of film cultures as critical history lessons. Nationalism emerged in a close interplay with print media after the Reformation. Today, the movies have become a primary source to explore the postnationalist turn. «The Reimagined Community» replaces narrow specialization with a historical kaleidoscope of culture bound syndromes, changing gender systems, and ethnic conflict fields.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Nationalism – A Historical Parenthesis?
  • The Ancient Cradle of Western Culture
  • The Divide into East and West
  • Religion, Politics, and Nationalism
  • A Postnationalist Turn with Euro-Images
  • A New Community in Three Colors
  • Looking for Culture-Bound Syndromes
  • A Filmosophical Kaleidoscope
  • Ethics, Violence, War
  • Outline, Limitations, References
  • 1 The German History Lesson
  • The Left Opposition in Weimar
  • The Brown Terror in the Streets
  • A Female Spotlight on Hitlerism
  • From Denazification to Critical Analysis
  • Germany Divided Between East and West
  • Her-Story of the Third Reich
  • A Ger-manly Masculinity
  • Reunification and Ostalgie
  • The Sicherheit Syndrome
  • The False Innocence of Austria
  • Collaboration in Central Europe
  • Dark Shadows Over Hungary and Poland
  • Guilty Memories in France
  • The Noble Art of Self-Defense
  • Genocide in a Global Perspective
  • 2 The French Connection: Revolt and Resistance
  • Springtime for the Popular Front
  • The Law of Silent Teamwork
  • The Critical Revision of La Résistance
  • Unveiling the Masculine Mystique
  • International Left Turn
  • 1968 Between Revoltism and Nostalgia
  • The Strike Wave
  • Marx + Jesus = Guédiguian
  • In the Heels of the Precariat
  • The Pressures of Global Competition
  • Revolting Inside the System
  • Complementary Brotherhood
  • Between Multinational and National Fronts
  • The Intergenerational Perspective
  • 3 The English Game of Class and Culture
  • The Peter Pan Syndrome
  • The Angry Young Men
  • Sportsmanship and Foul Play
  • Rebellions in the Pecking Order
  • A Firm for Football Hooligans
  • Ken Loach – A Sober Socialist
  • The Decline of Industrial Masculinity
  • Female Visibility with Humor
  • The Dwindling Charisma of the Royal Family
  • The Erosion of the National Heritage
  • The Misalliance with Hollywood
  • To Be or Not to Be a Gangster
  • Video Nasties Made in England
  • Excellence and Self-Knowledge
  • 4 Russia Between Orthodoxy and Modernity
  • Iconostasis and Iconoclasm
  • Monuments of Socialist Indignation
  • Dziga Vertov and the Cinematic Centaur
  • Folk Tales and Tractor Cult
  • New Models for the Soviet Man
  • The Female Emancipation
  • The Cozy Icon in the Kremlin
  • Destalinization and Thaw
  • The Maximalist Dilemma
  • The Open Eye of Glasnost
  • Perestroika Was a Strange Planet
  • Action Fighters Versus Oligarkhs
  • Police Corruption and Class Conflicts
  • Subcultures and Windows
  • The Nostalgic Masculinity of Nikita Mikhalkov
  • Aleksandr Sokurov’s Dictator Trilogy
  • The Democratic Humor of Eldar Ryazanov
  • 5 National Resistance in Central Europe
  • The Tragic Revolt Aesthetics in Poland
  • Men of Marble/Women of Iron
  • The Socialist Self-Criticism of Kieslowski
  • Open Dialogue with Decalogue
  • A Postsocialist Purgatory
  • Uninvited Guests in Czechoslovakia
  • The Ironic Strategy of Milos Forman
  • The Limits of Czech Levity
  • The Class Struggles in Hungarian Cinema
  • Claustrophobia in Budapest
  • The Pseudo-Revolution in Romania
  • Crimes and Punishments
  • A Postnationalist Self-Image
  • Different Forms of Resistance
  • 6 The Interplay of Religion and Politics
  • The Messianic Vision in Soviet Russia
  • Icon Painter in a Materialist World
  • Looking Back at the Communist Utopia
  • The Privatization of Religiosity
  • The Moral Crisis in post-Soviet Russia
  • Submission Cult and Denazification
  • The Polarization of Left Extremism
  • Radical Shadows in the Rearview Mirror
  • The Need for an Urban Heimat
  • Agnosticism and Crucifixion Humor
  • Kierkegaard and Dreyer
  • The Protestant Renaissance After Dogme 95
  • Children of a Lesser God
  • Remythologization in French Cinema
  • Pilgrims Without Borders
  • The Vanishing Future
  • 7 Visibility, Desire, and Gender
  • The Fallen Woman in Weimar
  • Undermining the Male Hierarchy
  • Between Feminism and Terrorism
  • Film Rebellions in East Germany
  • The Surrealist Vanguard in France
  • The Cinephile Triangle of Desire
  • The Active Look of Agnes Varda
  • Feminist Visibility in Art and Politics
  • Visibility and Distance
  • Self-Restraint in English Cinema
  • Hedonism as Regional Counterculture
  • The Central Line of Feminism
  • The Female Shadowland
  • The Utopian Desire in Soviet Cinema
  • Rural Dilemmas
  • Gender and Media
  • First Love or Party Lust
  • Fascination for Outsiders
  • 8 Closets, Gaydars, Rainbows
  • A Semipublic Closet with Gaydar
  • A Third Sex Before the Third Reich
  • The Fassbinder Syndrome
  • The Homophile Vanguard in Paris
  • Love and Death in the Sign of Aids
  • Political Activism
  • Cross-Dressing and Transphobia
  • The Floating Borders of Bisexuality
  • The Lesbian Love Story
  • The Prison House of Labels
  • The Last Taboo
  • A Militant Front over England
  • Alliances and Rainbows
  • Russia Beyond Gayropa
  • 9 Economic Mobility and Transnational Balance
  • Cracks Before the Fall of the Wall
  • Human Trafficking = Illegal Mobility
  • The Option of Work or Love
  • The Transnational Merry-Go-Round
  • Journeys of Hope and Water
  • Smugglers Are Human Beings
  • The Rise of Solidarity Crimes in France
  • The Reluctant Europeanization of England
  • The Limbo of Asylum Seekers
  • No Man Is a Migratory Bird
  • Ethnic Mobility in the Sign of the Stork
  • The Black Fascination in France
  • The Price of German Productivity
  • A Greek Demythologization
  • The Eurasian Mobility
  • French Liberté over the Mediterranean
  • 10 The Elusive Integration Process
  • Outsidership in Denmark
  • Cinema Beur and Banlieu in France
  • Burning and Looting in the Cité
  • Breaking the Female Confinement
  • The Headscarf Dilemma
  • The Assimilation of Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Interethnic Coexistence
  • The Black Protest in England
  • Emergence of a Brown Sisterhood
  • From Paki Bashing to Counterterrorism
  • Gastarbeiterkino in West Germany
  • Deutschkei – The Family Comedy
  • The Ethnic Interplay of Fatih Akin
  • Honor-Related Violence
  • The Educator as Russian Paragon
  • Integrating Hooligans
  • 11 Spirals of War and Terrorism
  • The Breakup of Tito’s Yugoslavia
  • The Ethno-nationalist Powder Keg
  • The Healing of Gendered War Crimes
  • Therapy Between Wars
  • Anti-war Films Made in the EU
  • British Military on Muslim Territories
  • Islamist Shadows Over England
  • The Danish War Front
  • The French Wounds from Algeria
  • A Cinematic Distance to Holy Wars
  • Jihad Strikes Back in France
  • Terrorism or Anarchism
  • Bad Wars in New Russia
  • Revisions of the Great Purgatory
  • The Prisoner’s Dilemma
  • The Western Border After Brexit
  • The French Play with Rigidity
  • No Master Race in Germany
  • Radicalization in Holland
  • Russian Patriotism with Xenophobia
  • A Technocratic Bear Syndrome
  • Separatism in Catalonia
  • The Nationalist Split in Ukraine
  • Yin Yang Europe
  • Bibliography

Introduction: Nationalism – A Historical Parenthesis?

The European Union started as a political peace project by former enemies. France and Germany began to cooperate with a critical dialogue about former wars and opened their borders. After the fast expansion to a market of 500 million customers, we have seen many signs of political disagreement as well as nationalist discontent. The backlash culminated with a slight majority voting for Brexit in England.

The Reimagined Community is an attempt to rewrite the history of contemporary Europe as a transnational attempt reflected in its film cultures The title is alluding to Benedict Anderson and his historical classic Imagined Communities (1983/1991). He explained the rise of the modern nation-state as a political extension from the Reformation with its print technology. When more people could read the Bible in their own language, the Catholic liturgy lost its sacred aura and formal authority. Soon, the feudal order was disputed by nationalist movements and secular ideologies. During the 20th century, the dominance for print media was replaced by audiovisual forms of communication. Both cinema and television favored a more international outlook based on modern technology. In the last decades, the growing rivalry between established media and digital networks has led to a polarity between We and Them, with a simplistic focus on “foreigners”. On the contrary, I will highlight the role of European cinema in the re-imagination of a postnationalist community.

The Ancient Cradle of Western Culture

Before discussing modern Europe, I will excavate some important, pre-nationalist layers in our history We can derive the concept of Europe from an ancient term for the Occident. When our ancestors looked at the world from the Greek horizon, the sun was rising in Asu and setting in Ereb. “Europa and the bull” is a myth about a Phoenician princess, who was desired by the lord of the gods. Zeus took the shape of a white bull, who started grazing close to Europa, let her climb up on his back, and took off to the isle of Crete. Soon, their offspring populated the Greek mainland.

This myth of origin is often used as an obscure allegory of the cradle of Western culture. If we look back with contemporary gender glasses, the timeless fusion of beauty and force is unveiled as a masculine capture fantasy. The ironic distance is more transparent in the animated cartoon A Greek Tragedy ←13 | 14→(Een griekse tragedie, 1985). Nicole Van Goethem displayed three middle-aged women, who stand as dozing pillars under a crumbling temple. When the pieces crack and fall down, the trio begins to giggle and sing. Soon, the women desert their anachronistic roles as loyal supporters of a classical ruin and dance away in the landscape.

The aesthetic idealization of our Western heritage, can not conceal that the countries around the Mediterranean Sea were dominated by warrior cultures. The Greeks imagined their gods as a family clan that looked down at the mortals from the Olympia. The storytellers used to mix heavenly creatures with superhuman heroes in fantastic adventures. The Olympic Games was an attempt to diminish the local wars by organizing a less violent form of combat. And the cult of the wine god was elevated to a ritual drama with tragic purging.

The Roman Empire was a military superpower but it was undermined by a Christian sect, which promoted a peaceful gospel with a more symbolic sacrifice. The Catholic Church expanded from the Vatican by combining the hierarchic traditions of Rome with spiritual cult, theology, iconography, and music. During the 15th century, the artists and scholars in the merchant states of Florence and Venice rediscovered the classical heritage and began to modernize the medieval worldview. They developed a visual perspective with a detailed anatomy that stimulated the perception of human individuality.

The Divide into East and West

The split between East and West Christianity started before the Renaissance. The Vatican was separated from its Eastern mission center in Constantinople, and the spread of Islam forced the Orthodox Church to move its headquarter to the Kremlin in Moscow. The Russian patriarchy wanted to preserve the collective unanimity under the holy iconostasis and rejected the visual individualization of the Renaissance. During the Cold War, the Christian split was transformed into a political clash between two superpowers. While the Kremlin idealized the Soviet Union as a classless heaven, American capitalism demonized socialist alternatives as Communism.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, both Russia and United States have been involved in armed conflicts with rebel forces in the Muslim world. Their political rivalry about a new Messias was clear for a French director with Jewish background. The hero in Matthieu Kassovitz’ Babylon A.D. (2008) was a modern mercenary in Kazakhstan. Toorop was entrusted with the secret mission to “kidnap” a Russian virgin, from an Orthodox convent in Central Asia to a right wing sect ←14 | 15→in New York. Aurora possessed supernatural forces and was pregnant with twins that should save the world.

We can compare the Messianic remythologization in Kassovitz’ film with the ideological contradictions between official propaganda and social community in an Albanian movie. Slogans (2001) was set in a mountain village before the collapse of the political regime in the early 1990s. Certain members of the local party committee exploit their power positions, but most people sympathize with the ideological project. They spend a great part of their spare time on forming Maoist slogans by using the stones scattered on the hills. In the end of the film, Chairman Hoxha whizzes past in his limousine. He does not even look at the propaganda work performed by his loyal grassroots.

Gjergj Xhuvani visualized a local conflict that was situated in the margin of the macropolitical blocks. When the villagers criticize the rigid order, they do it from their own micropolitical perspective. Why are certain comrades assigned shorter slogans which require less work? Is it fair to punish a little boy for confusing China with the Soviet Union? Is the owner of a goat responsible if his animal “sabotages” a message by removing a couple of stones?

Religion, Politics, and Nationalism

Many conflicts on the macropolitical level are embedded in a religious root system. The deeper rivalry between East and West Christianity becomes more transparent, if we look at it with the same eyes as the hostile affinity between Sunni and Shia Islam. The holy “mediatization” has changed from words inscribed in stone to television commercials and terrorist videos. Long before mass media, Propaganda was the Catholic term for the proliferation of the Christian gospel. In modern Europe, religion became a private confession and human right, but politics demanded a democratic balance between majority rule and minority rights. As sects and parties fight each other, it is important to analyze religion and politics within the same theoretical frame (Martin 2014).

Religion is a research concept coined by the European scholars, who began to explore other cultures with “foreign” cults. They used the Latin concept of Religare for the adhesive forces that bind a social group together. Many political movements have mixed religious mythology with scientific dogmas. The Nazis believed in Hitler as a Savior of the German blood and they replaced the church with an arena of racist hate. However, propaganda minister Goebbels was anxious to leave a broad margin for entertainment in the cinemas. And Charles Chaplin concluded his antinazist satire The Great Dictator (1940) with a flaming speech in the same spirit as the Sermon on the Mount.

←15 | 16→

The Soviet leadership tried to reconcile its Marxist-Leninist ideology with Orthodox cult traditions and political melodrama (Loren 2016). Like the Vatican, the Kremlin was forced to retreat for the popular gospel from Hollywood. When The Jazz Singer (1927) left his father’s synagogue, he made a declaration of independence: “We in the show business have our religion too! On every day the show must go on!” The modern cinema was a local venue that could offer a double exposure and experience. The spectator was part of a social community, but he or she also had the opportunity to relate as individual to the characters on the screen. The same person who was mobilized with a democratic pathos against social injustice, could “identify” with an extraterrestrial who wanted to phone home (Metelmann 2016, Haux 2016).

In the 19th-century Europe, there were many nationalist movements that constituted a radical force. They led the re-imagination of a wider community than the feudal order, which sanctioned a society based on the holy union between the Father and the Son. When the democratic systems were undermined by economic crisis and wars, many leaders tried to control the public memory by “nationalizing” the film industry (Frodon 1998). The Cold War was able to split Europe in a capitalist and a socialist block. In a similar way, the populist parties of today want to exclude “foreigners”, but they offer no substantial revival of Nationalism. Xenophobia belongs to the human self-delusion of blaming other people, which Jean-Paul Sartre called Bad Faith (Boulé 2011).

A Postnationalist Turn with Euro-Images

The Maastricht Treaty (1992) used “United in diversity” as a slogan for the cultural policy of the European Union. Television and press were defined as media markets without borders, but France claimed a “cultural exception” for the film industry (Bondebjerg 2008). MEDIA organized a system of funds to support transnational co-operations and regional co-productions. A new institution called Eurimages (“Euro-images”) began to stimulate the creative imagination beyond the national framework. At first, many co-productions were dismissed as “euro puddings”, but the growing competence to develop a transnational synthesis was met with more respect. The emergence of a new “eurocracy” has made many critical film directors less dependent on their national gatekeepers—from Ken Loach and Margarthe von Trotta to Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier.

During the last decades, the geopolitical conditions for the preservation of National Cinemas has eroded. The foundation has shifted from cultural identity to sharing a “historical imaginary” (Elsaesser 2000). In European Cinema: Face to Face with Hollywood (2005), Thomas Elsaesser illustrated the emergence of a ←16 | 17→“postnational” film culture with movies about the longing for a new and wider community. Amélie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, 2001) was too shy to establish a deeper relation, but she liked to intervene as a good fairy to connect other people. The hero in Good Bye Lenin! (2003) began to fake television programs, in order to reimagine the East German propaganda as an ironic utopia of a failed community.

For my own part, I prefer the term “postnationalist” film culture to mark the change but respect the persistence of a national level. Peter Greenaway called his contribution to Visions of Europe (2004) “The European Shower-bath”. Here we see a group of naked people gathered to wash away the nation colors, which are painted directly on their bodies. When the water is turned off they carry a new mixture of paint and skin colors. My conclusion is that the intercultural integration of Europe is a far more complex process than the idea of “uncoloring” a nation.

In a transnational culture the “nationality” of a film becomes a simplistic generalization like “national character”. Is the passport of the director more valid than the dominating language or most recurring setting? Many scholars have tried to redraw the map of a lost heritage, define an essence as “Europeanness”, discuss the cultural policy, or capture the image of Europe (Wayne 2002, Galt 2006, Rivi 2007, Uricchio 2008, Harrod 2015, Liz 2016). I have chosen to compare the concrete transformation of different film cultures and highlight their new interplay. I prefer to approach “cinematic lifeworlds” (Sutherland 2013) and respect “feeling cinema“ (Laine 2011), rather than eurocratic abstractions as “United in diversity”.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2019 (October)
Film history European culture Peace project Ethnic integration Terrorism Filmosophy
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2019. 232 pp.

Biographical notes

Olle Sjögren (Author)

Olle Sjögren, Professor Emeritus of Film Studies at Gothenburg University. PhD dissertation on American film comics. Published books (in Swedish) about Marxism and cinema, film violence, youth cultures, television entertainment, and Chinese cinemas.


Title: The Reimagined Community
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