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History of Communism in Europe

Volume 1, 2010

Politics of Memory in Post-communist Europe

Oana Popescu-Sandu
Pages 117-129
DOI: 10.7761/HCE.1.117

“Something nice to remember” Silence and Memory between Generations in Two Gulag Films

After 1989, several Bulgarian films engaged in the exploration of the communist past, but, as in the Romanian case, the period of exploration did not last very long. Yet the topic of the past did manage to reach a point of saturation. Bulgarian film scholar Dina Iordanova writes that “the gloomy 1950s were recycled ad nauseam […] Before long, the topic of human rights violations and moral compromises of the period was no longer attractive to filmmakers.” (New Bulgarian Cinema 61) Iordanova adds that Bulgarian film, after the early 1990s, turned away from the traumatic past to focus on other problems of identity, in a manner similar to the Russian chernukha genre. (60) My analysis of several Bulgarian films will show, that, like in the Romanian case, the line between productive exploration of the past and the repetition of communist paradigms is very thin. In my analysis of the Bulgarian film I focus less on the mechanisms of the confession proper and what it reveals about the past, and more on the way the past and the present live together within the same body and the even same film frame. I will look at the crippling effect of the past on the present, at the effect the unresolved life of parents has on children. Lilly’s confession to her son in Canary Season is not cathartic but deadly; Ţandără’s son is crippled, both physically (as he suffers from liver disease) and mentally. Canary Season (like The Afternoon of a Torturer), shows how the confession of parents does not help children and does not enlighten and unburden the present. The confession is sabotaged, delayed, undervalued or simply comes too late. The life of the children is meaningless and joyless unless they decide to escape the perpetual return of the dead and to the dead that is sometimes advocated by the older generations.