After World War II, soldiers of the Royal Kingdom of Greece were deported to an island of the Aegean sea. Their loyalty to the King, according to their superiors, had been questioned; most of them were accused to be communist activists. Facing this charge, they were asked to sign a document rejecting their belonging to the communist party and to discard its ideals. In the meantime, these soldiers were tortured, starved, shot to death for no apparent reason that to ask for a more human treatment, and put to work in horrible conditions violating any civil and military rights. Most of these men didn’t even know what the authority was asking them; they were from lower classes, they were workers and peasants, the real issue was not their political convictions, but mostly their heritage: they were born in the Macedonian part of Greece.
Split in three after the war, the Macedonian country, became one of the seven republic forming ex Jugoslavia under Marshall Tito presidency. The other parts of Macedonia territory were kept one by Bulgarians and another by Greeks, that started up an harassment of the Macedonians; leading most of them to leave the country in a minor exodus that reminds of the Turks’ persecution of Armenians.
A piece of History not well known even nowadays, the problem between the two countries has still to be solved after more than 60 years. Greeks don’t recognize Macedonia as a country, claiming Macedonia is a region of Greece. Of course this claim is as much preposterous as ridiculous, the only thing the two people share is the Orthodox Church (but even this one with different rules, calendars etc.). Different is the language: Macedonian it’s a Slavic one written in Cyrillic; different are behaviours, names and of course: history. They actually do have something else in common: 500 years of Turks’ domination.
This is the Black Seed (Crno Seme); the heritage of Philip II and Alexander the Great. Cenevski’s film, based on the novel by Tasko Georgievski, is the story of some of these soldiers in the prison camp, surrounded by violence, the vast breadth of the Mediterranean sea and the most insurmountable difficulties: human cruelty and intolerance.
There’s no hope for them and their ordeal is doomed from the vey beginning. Some accept it with resignation, some other try to fight it until death.
Cenevski shot the film with an essential style. He concentrated on the men’s fiends mostly with the use of Close Ups, to increase more the claustrophobic sense of being a prisoner. There are no long shots in the movie until the end, where a major sequence of a massacre is the culminating point of the atrocities. This way, the contrast with the long deserted beaches and cliffs of the island, it is more accentuated. There are no postcards here, there’s no room for beauty in this hellish tale of desperation and cruelty; even more interesting, the whole ethnic issue it’s just underlined with few sentences and not declaimed with rhetoric statements. Also the political aspect, presenting the persecution of communists after the war, it’s not typical of a regime propaganda machine: everything is implied here, except graphic violence, and suggested to the audience, leaving him free to come to his own conclusions.
CS is very different from the Jugoslavian war films of the period, that were celebrating victory over Fascists and Nazis with big budgets, Army support, and the use of international stars. This is an intimate tale of destruction, in which the few are a symbol of a whole people and generation.
Kyril Cenevski went on directing few features films more, his career concentrated on documentaries; and the approach to the subject matter here it’s exactly the one of a documentary filmmaker. There are no good characters between the jailers, that are represented as the absolute evil, but it’s very uncommon, in a contrast tale like this one, that the prisoners aren’t shown as the absolute good. They are revealed in all their weakness, frailty and contradictions; the very same that Macedonian people have known for such long time after a glorious, but more than two thousand years old, past.
Avant-Garde and experimental techniques were used as well. No music at all to score the film, to reach a more realistic mood, and an unusual employ of the soundtrack give a sense of suspense and suspension, as the slow motion shots and the freeze frames of objects and faces while the sound of the scene is left audible. These devices depart from reality to lead the viewer to an abstraction of the events is experiencing; to an allegory of persecutions suffered from different people in different countries of the world.
Produced by famous Vardar Films, the picture was released to critical acclaim in 1971 and went on to win several prizes at international film festivals like Moscow and Pula. It has been considered for a long time as the best Macedonian film ever made, and it’s a pity the movie didn’t get a wider audience around the world. Released on DVD, few years ago as part of a trilogy of Macedonian classics for video stores; this collection has been re-released later by the popular Macedonian magazine Tea Moderna. Unfortunately both editions are long out of print; but surfing the net it is possible to find copies or used ones from time to time. The DVD, produced by Vardar Films and the Macedonian Cinemateque, featured a re-mastered film from original materials in good conditions. The image retained the OAR of 1.66:1 but was not 16X9 enhanced, while displaying subtitles in different languages including French and English.
CS it’s not a pleasant show, but it’s fundamental to understand better a political situation still puzzling the European Union and to explore Macedonian cinema that is little known outside his native country with the only exception of Milcho Manchewski’s films.
Film mass is ended you may go in peace