The Potential of the New in The Old School of Capitalism

Ernest Larsen 

For anyone interested in — let alone committed to — the politics of film, Želimir Žilnik’s Old School of Capitalism will bear and abundantly repay the most intense scrutiny. There are only a very few films in any period with the nerve to stay right on the serrated edge of everyday life as it is in fact being lived by so-called ordinary people, those who earn their daily bread, and next-to-none that I know of so attuned in such detail to its deep betrayals and its brief triumphs. Old School of Capitalism is so densely packed and so thoroughly immersed in the unpredictable flow of ongoing events it could also be called The Here and the Now and yet, perhaps paradoxically, the film races ahead of the tumultuous surfaces of the cacophonous present to predict unexpected collisions. The film begins on April 29, 2009 at a demonstration in Belgrade called by the Independent Workers Union of Serbia against the government’s collaboration in the ruinous privatization of the economy, against the train-wreck reign of the tycoons. The camera captures a ricocheting, sometimes heated, but unresolved argument about which system of lies is less degrading: the old scoundrel state socialism or the new(-er) crooked capitalism. It is clear to all that the new(-er) bandits are even more ruthless: as we know to our intense regret every time we try to cross the boulevard of broken dreams the profit motive recognizes no brake on its rapacity. Some testify that the socialist state at a minimum made some promises it sometimes struggled to keep. Once the names of Putin and Obama are tossed like Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum into the wrangle, it’s also become clear that what’s been happening to them — to the workers struggling to support their families in the towns and cities of Serbia — is also a distorted microcosm of the contortions of global capital as it sweeps aside all lingering obstacles. Thus the energies and acute frustrations the arguers expend in the argument amid the bleats and sirens and applause of the demonstration should also be microcosmic: because as a group (rather than individually) they know what they are talking about. In other words, each spirited speaker is wrong in the sense of being irremediably partial but is nevertheless true to himself and so taken as a group (as indeed they take themselves, at least provisionally), they approximate or are attempting to shape a totalizing view of the intolerable situation in which they all find themselves. In any case, these men have real faces. One would never mistake them for actors. So, agree with them or agree to disagree, we cede them credibility. Already, Žilnik’s method has done its work on us. The reality effect which is both documentary’s glory and its Achilles heel has got us. Žilnik’s method is to presume no break, none at all, between the representation of the real and the representation of that something else which could be called the reality of the imagined.

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