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Parading the Parade
or mainstreaming the subversive

The ParadeThe Parade

The Parade (Parada) 2011
Director: Srdjan Dragojevic
Screenplay: Srdjan Dragojevic
Cast: Nikola Kojo, Milos Samolov, Hristina Popovic, Goran Jevtic,

 

The Parade was released in in Serbia October 2011. At the Podgorica last November premiere the audience gave standing ovations to the film makers and actors, and for a moment it seemed the theatre was filled with satisfaction and relief. The film crew then withdrew and I left the theatre wondering where all the emotion had perished. The Parade had been announced as the first Serbian gay-themed film with the flair of giving an insight into the difficulties experienced by gays and lesbians in the face of prevailing homophobia in Serbia. How come the excitement with this long-waited re-presentation could be interrupted with a simple withdrawal of the film crew from the stage? And why is it that their short appearance on the stage brought about an immediate discharge of emotions and foreclosed any further request for (self-)reflexivity and critique? It was as if The Parade replicated the precarious situation of the parade proper which came to be a matter of a universal political necessity rather than a plausibility of particular historic and cultural contexts. To critique translates as to run against the already delicate matter.

Homosexuality has never been publicly discussed in Serbia (and the Balkans in general), and there has never been a gay scene which would bear the hallmarks of a distinct subcultural formation intelligible both form the inside (the minor gay 'community') and from the outside (the major straight 'society'). So how does one make a gay film in a society with no gay histories and which has just recently begun to recognise gays and lesbians as fully-fledged human beings, much thanks to the Europeanization of the Balkans? A year before The Parade another gay-themed film had been released. Sasha follows the story about a young pianist, a son of former Yugoslav immigrants living in Cologne, on his journey to adulthood. Although brought up in Germany, Sasha struggles to come out to his parents. Sasha, however, never made such a buzz among the former Yugoslav public as The Parade did, and I believe this is not purely because of poor marketing. By focusing on a truth about a character with hybrid (multinational) background, who just happens to be gay, Sasha is limited in speaking the truth of the gay situation in national Parade. Speaking in anthropological terms, Sasha is 'the Other'.

The Parade tells a story about Limun ("Lemon), a war veteran, who is pressured by his fiancé into organising and guaranteeing safety at the first Pride Parade in Belgrade. Due to the lack of support from the state authorities, he embarks on a journey around former Yugoslav republics in an attempt to sway his side his wartime enemies, all of them belonging to different national/ethnic backgrounds. Surprisingly, we find out that the people whom he fought and fervently hated in wartime became his life-long buddies. He is also accompanied by Radmilo, a timid and fearful veterinarian whose boyfriend, Mirko, is a gay activist and wants to see a pride parade happen in Belgrade by all means. The film abounds with humourist references to the insanity and senselessness of the wars in former Yugoslavia driven by hatred between the ethnic and national groups. Admittedly, some of the jokes, although vulgar, are quite witty, overtly ridiculing political correctness. However, what mustn't be omitted is that laughter is always a convenient instrument to cover up the underlying discomfort triggered by the awareness something is out of place. The jokes cease towards the end of the film, in the scene of the violent clash between gay activists and a neo-Nazi formation. The joking ceases because violence and death are no laughing matters, and the story suddenly assumes a tragic twist. The problem here is not the film's playfulness of genres for this is widely present in today's cinematic experimentations. It is the abrupt turnover of the narrative and the form themselves that obstructs the reader's understanding of gay people as real people. It seems almost as if the narrative is at odds with itself and calls for an immediate intervention from reality in order to make the story more credible. Mirko falls prey to this violence and dies.

Homosexuality has never been publicly discussed in Serbia (and the Balkans in general), and there has never been a gay scene which would bear the hallmarks of a distinct subcultural formation intelligible both form the inside (the minor gay 'community') and from the outside (the major straight 'society'). So how does one make a gay film in a society with no gay histories and which has just recently begun to recognise gays and lesbians as fully-fledged human beings, much thanks to the Europeanization of the Balkans?

Mirko's death is suggested earlier in the film when jumpy Lemon has a go with him and winds up injuring the back of Mirko's head in one the quarrels prior to Lemon's acceptance to help organise the Parade. The scene suggests blood will be shed. Any other outcome would fail the demands of the narrative, leaving open the possibility of endowing homosexuals with a human quality. And this is contrary to the imperatives of social norms which regulate whose bodies pass for human, and whose don't. A similar pattern was established in American mainstream cinema to re-present homosexuals in as either ghostly creatures who were to embody the freakishness of our concealed fears, as sick persons who succumbed to the twistedness of their sexual perversion, or as outcasts living on the margins of society. Not until the 1980 did the images of gays as persons appear on the screen. But even then, these images predominantly spoke gayness though the window of the AIDS crisis, creating a seemingly natural relation between homosexuality and illness. For a long time mainstream Hollywood industry monopolised the right to imagery of gay people. "Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gay people, and gay people what to think about themselves (Celluloid Closet 1995). In recent years there has been a certain breakaway from the earlier tendency to portray homosexuality in a singular fashion. Hollywood has managed to incorporate into the mainstream ideology a diversity of gay characters who are complex and realistic. But Serbian cinema is no Hollywood cinema, of course. And it shouldn't be, for that matter. In this sense, the leap from complete invisibility to full-on visibility in The Parade is managed at the expense of authentic re-presentation. If the Serbian mainstream cinema is to include gay images, it should rely more on the gays' and lesbians' realities and less on ghostly phantasies.

For a long time mainstream Hollywood industry monopolised the right to imagery of gay people. "Hollywood, that great maker of myths, taught straight people what to think about gay people, and gay people what to think about themselves



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