In the late 1980s I was still living in my native city of Sofia, blissfully unaware of the impending end of Zhivkov’s regime under which my life had evolved up until then and of the subsequent cosmopolitan émigré life that was in store for me. One day, friends came to talk about a text that was exposing Bulgaria’s “economy of jars.” There was some element of embarrassment in this -- we had been “found out” about a practice that was far too common and that we did not give much thought of. The author was a Western woman who had written about the habit of Bulgarians who would visit with her to bring along jars of self-preserved food and leave them as gifts. This was so persistent that over time she had built up surplus and had started taking jars to other friends herself. Thus, she had become part of Bulgaria’s “economy of jars,” one of us.
I never read the text at the time, so rudimentary was my English, so all I knew about it probably came from conversations. Today I can confirm that this was a study by Canadian anthropologist Eleanor Smollett, whose 1989 text “Economy of Jars” was published in Ethnologia Europea and is now available online. Smollett was wondering “what could be learned about contemporary Bulgarian society by tracing the movements of the thousands, nay millions, of jars of food that criss-cross the country? Who gives what kind and how many to whom on what kinds of occasions? What statements about relationships are built into these gifts? How much importance do these jars (and other gifts of food) have in the quantity and quality of a family's food consumption?” (1989: 127). ... More
In early October, the world community was shaken by the news of the death of a cinema pioneer. In lieu of an obituary, the following “purloined” letter, which will never be read by its recipient, recounts an imaginary (and, therefore, real) encounter and insists on the meaning of this absense.
5 November 2015
On the 3rd of October 2015, your milestone 1975 film Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was screened in a tightly packed room in the Greek Film Archive in Athens. I was there; watching it for the first time on the big screen, enthralled. With the kind of tragic irony that only the randomness of reality can orchestrate, two days later, a month ago today, you committed suicide. Since then, I am trying to write an obituary and can’t do it. I finally chose to address you in person, as I should have done when you were still alive, given the admiration that I have felt for your work for so long.
Jeanne Dielman and your other films, fulfill the combined demands of feminism and avant-garde art; the former being encapsulated by the second-wave feminist slogan that “the personal is political” and the latter being the realization that no radical content can be expressed without radical form. The connection between feminist filmmaking and the choice of the avant-garde is not circumstantial. The avant-garde art position claims that you cannot question the dominant order by using its forms, visual and narrative, because it is inscribed in these very forms. Therefore, you can’t truly do feminist filmmaking without questioning the dominant ways of filmmaking. This realization is the hallmark of feminist avant-garde cinema, or rather its conceptual and structural definition. It was then, in the 1970s, that it became a conscious movement;i and your Jeanne Dielman was quite possibly its flagship. ... More