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

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The framing of Macedonia.
Reviewers, then, did not doubt the beauty or authenticity of the images. Indeed, at times they appear to wallow in the tragic paradox that was created; that such violence could exist in a landscape so beautiful. In Maclean’s Magazine, again, the film was seen as an unveiling of some essential truth, “as if the director is revealing his homeland to the world for the first time in all its beauty and pain” (Johnson 1995). In the words of another critic who was particularly transported, “the scenes near an Orthodox monastery could have been painted by Mantegna or Bellini, with stacked puddles of limestone and stubborn ascetics doing penance under a moth moon” (Woodward 1995, in The Village Voice).

In such reviews, nature’s beauty, comprising the primitive and unspoiled, stands against the neo-primitivism of the people of the landscape. The contrast with and distance from the non-Balkan reviewer’s home is absolute. For this audience, Manchevski’s representation of Macedonia thus combines elements of otherness and distance: it is magnificent and unmodernized, and yet threatened by the forces of barbarism and backwardness. Running through the assemblage of North American and British reviews of the film are these two dimensions of the film as a whole, which are seen to encapsulate its message. Macedonia is a beautiful country, spoiled by those that inhabit it.

This impression, derived here from reviews, is confirmed by the immediate reaction that various amateur audiences in Europe and the USA had. Audiences there appeared to consider they were seeing the landscape of Macedonia, and the people of Macedonia. Jonathan Schwartz recalls that in discussion with Dutch University students, he had to convince them that the film was “not an actual documentary but a dystopian nightmare” (Schwartz n.d.). For a range of audiences outside Macedonia, then, the film documented recent Yugoslav history, and made contemporary Macedonia a part of that history. The Republic is thus implicitly put into a celluloid realm—the same one inhabited, to all intents and purposes, by the rest of Yugoslavia. And the events of Yugoslavia hover in the background to such viewing as a road of destiny for the Republic. The effect is to suggest that violence must and will spiral out of control in reality, as it appears bound to in the film. In subscribing to such impressions, reviewers cast themselves as documentary-watchers, privy to an insider’s snapshot, of Balkan brigands in a Balkan landscape.

In terms of work on cinema spectatorship, which resonates with that of Bell with regard to theorists, the audience, in this mode, interact as controlling spectators of a distant object.v From such a viewpoint, Before the Rain is framed as a spectacle: the events depicted are thus cast as maximally distant and irrelevant to that viewer, an object of study or curiosity rather than engagement. Yet the mode is simultaneously that of documentary realism, whereby the screen images are taken to correspond to actual events in the Balkans. Here it could be said that a second dimension of a previously-constructed frame intervenes, to equate a set of cinematic images with those seen elsewhere as documentary reportage. The potential slippage between these frames could be argued to find its mediation in the central place of a Western-trained photo-journalist in the film. The character offers non-Macedonian reviewers and audiences a point of reference within the film to cast Macedonia as passive object of observation, in front of the lens. They concentrate attention on the locations and characters that the photojournalist encountered on his return. The country is thus simultaneously conceptualized as a place to which a spectator—in this case, the character of the photojournalist—travels from afar. Non-Macedonian viewers thus “gaze” at a distant object along with the camera and director, and label that object as “Macedonia.”

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