MAN IS NOT A BIRD (Dušan Makavejev, 1965)

Belgrade-born writer-director Dušan Makavejev’s first feature, Čovek nije tica shows Godard’s influence while staking out a distinctive artistic signature. Jan visits an eastern Serbian industrial town in order to assemble heavy machinery in the local copper factory. The factory, which is real, reminds that Makavejev is a former documentarian. But there are also “scientific” passages of faux-documentary—a Makavejev specialty.
     One of the factory workers, Barbulović—“Barbool”—tyrannizes his wife, whose favorite dress he has given to his mistress, causing his wife to assault the other woman publicly. Barbool explains to the police that he bought the dress for his wife and therefore has the perfect right to give it away. Providing for her, he adds, he also has the right to beat his wife—which the gradual blackout of an earlier domestic scene suggests he has done. His crude, cruel behavior becomes comprehensible when we see Barbool at hard labor at his job—an extensive passage, before a fixed camera—while, with withering irony, upbeat voiceover notes how much easier industrial work is now than before the war. Periodically Makavejev shows an expert lecturing an audience about hypnosis. The gentleman hypnotizes audience members, having them, once under, flapping like birds. But “man is not a bird,” and the totalitarian state is hypnotizing the masses, in the process dehumanizing them. “That’s how we live, believing everything,” Barbool’s wife tells Barbool’s mistress, newly an ally, adding, “You do everything [my husband] says.” “No more hypnosis!” the wife protests.
     Jan and Raika (Milena Dravić, vibrant, sensuous) become lovers. Their scenes together in bed are both erotic and melancholy, sex—well, intimate human contact—being necessary to navigate an unfriendly world encapsulated in a searing overhead shot: the couple walking across a desolate expanse of dried, cracked mud.

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