Macedonian Culture and Its Audiences: An Analysis of "Before the Rain" by Keith S. Brown

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This paper has sought to trace the parallel biographies of a film, its director, and the country which both came to represent in the course of 1995, when the images of Before the Rain travelled an international circuit. I have tried to demonstrate the utility of a notion of “frames of belief” in the analysis of the different interpretations of the film and its relationship to the recent realities of Yugoslav history. Simply put, the central goal is to show how different understandings of that history impact upon practices as seemingly apolitical as watching a feature film, or describing a director’s background.

At times it may appear that the result of the analysis is to put in place a binary distinction between “non-Macedonian” and “Macedonian” readings of the film, and to suggest that the former are untrue while the latter are true. The principal point of comparison, though, is not in terms of any correspondence with any single “reality.” Rather, the aim is to illuminate the existence of different modes of imagining by which realisms are constituted.

Arjun Appadurai notes that “Art spread both more broadly and more thinly across the world” and constitutes a realm of its own (1995:218). At the same time, the artifacts of this realm may, as in the case of Before The Rain, retain or acquire particular significance for specific agents or groups. So too their creators may lead double lives, like Milcho Manchevski, and be characterized as being at home in different localities. To consider the global interconnections and implications of local cultural phenomena, and vice versa, it appears that some notion of “framing” may be useful. The appeal of such an approach is precisely that it allows an analytical demarcation between interpretive realms, while acknowledging that frames may co-exist and blur into one another.

The recognition of the expressive and artistic complexity of Before the Rain yields one further result. Anthropologists and others who are engaged in the debates over the legitimacy of the new Macedonian nation-state are frequently asked to classify and identify practices, customs, beliefs or norms that are characteristic of and unique to Macedonian culture. If they claim to do so, they find themselves cast as over-engaged Macedonian nationalists: if they challenge the validity of the classification project, in the language of cultural flows or globalization, they are likely to be dismissed as irrelevant obscurantists. It is perhaps too glib a response for an anthropologist to respond to the challenge simply by pointing to Before the Rain. Nonetheless, to encourage focus on a site which demonstrates the different modes in which imagining, viewing and reviewing constitute a range of realisms could be a further step towards understanding the interconnections of cultural practice and political consequence.


1) The focus of Anastasia Karakasidou's work has been the Hellenization of the northern region of what became part of the Greek state in 1912. In the course of her research she has found herself caught up in rhetorics of continuity, ethnic identity and loyalty, as well as debates over academic freedom and publishing policies (Doyle 1996).

2) Public Culture's contributors include prominent members of the school of subaltern history, such as Partha Chatterjee and Ranajit Guha, and other scholars of the post-colonial moment, including Pierre Balibar and Nicholas Dirks.
3) The movie's budget was under $3 million. 65% of the funding came from British Screen, (including 20% originally provided by Channel 4, which was then withdrawn): 25% from Noe Prods, a unit of PolyGram France: and the balance of around 10% from the Macedonian Ministry of Culture (West 1995).
4) The prevalent ideas here described briefly are analyzed in greater detail by Todorova (1994), who claims that they constitute a discourse of "Balkanism."
5) This section draws on Laura Mulvey's pioneering work (1992)[1975], which argues that the effect of this alignment of the "gaze" of audience and apparatus is masculinizing, and serves simultaneously to feminize the object displayed for the audience's pleasure. Her argument stands at the beginning of an extended debate over relations of gender and power implicit in the gaze, and established the importance of making analytical distinctions between the multiple modes in which audiences can engage with images on screen.
6) Non-Macedonian reviewers frequently misidentified specific locations, and drew false inferences from the term "Macedonia." Among the misrepresentations were that the action took place in a Russian monastery, or in Northern Greece. One reviewer presented a bizarre vision by placing the church scenes in the landlocked Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the seaside.
7) This foregrounding of the reproductive medium , in music which is on the soundtrack rather than occurring in the scene, serves to blur the line between extra-diegetic and diegetic. By creating the impression that what we are hearing as audience is what the character is hearing inside his head, the director can be seen again playing with the boundary between the world and the world of the film.
8) See further Thiessen (n.d.). Sherbedzija became famous for playing Hamlet in Dubrovnik in 1974. Tito died in 1981, and his death is as mythological within Yugoslavia and Macedonia as that of John F. Kennedy in North America: most people claim to remember where they were when they heard the news. Sarajevo was the spiritual home of much of the best Yugoslav rock music of the 1970s and 1980s, including the most famous of the bands, Belo Dugme. It was also host to the Winter Olympics in 1984. A significant dimension of the shock felt in Macedonia when fighting began in Bosnia was the inability to locate ethnic hatreds in a city that had become synonymous with an easy urban cosmopolitanism.
9) Manchevski himself referred to feeling "culturally schizophrenic-and glad about it" (Woodward 1995).

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