Reconceptualizing National Cinemas

The other extreme of the "post-national" national cinema would be a commercial producer's perspective, who like many a European entrepreneur, will utilize to the full the EU provisions for subsidies, tax-breaks and other community measures designed to minimize his business risk, in this case, of making films for an unpredictable internal market and with few export sales opportunities other than into the world's niche markets, namely art houses, public service television, and DVD-sales. Films produced in this way, i.e., European in their legal status, insofar as they enjoyed forms of subsidy and are bound to the contractual obligations that flow from them, would normally be co-productions, and have the country codes of several states in their production credits. Lars von Trier's EuRopa, for instance, has five of these (Denmark, Sweden, Germany, France, Switzerland), Kieslowski's ThRee ColouRs: Blue has three (France, Poland, Switzerland), and Chocolat, set in France and directed by a Swede is a UK/US co-production, with no French input. In other words, such films would still have to declare their nationality in all kinds of other ways: for instance, by their stars, their settings and story. For audiences, finally, the criteria of choice are different still: they might recognize the name of a star, say Juliette Binoche, and think of Blue and Chocolat as French films, belonging together because of Binoche. Europa may look to them like a German film, because of its setting

These perhaps exceptional examples nonetheless indicate that national cinema has become a floating designation, neither essentialist nor constructivist, but more like something that hovers uncertainly over a film's "identity." The national thus joins other categories, such as the opposition posited between mainstream films featuring stars, and art cinema identified by a directorial personality; popular genre films versus documentary style and psychological realism. All these binary divides no longer seem to work, since a broader spectrum of possibilities now minimizes the differences between independent cinema, auteur cinema, art cinema, mainstream so that the great loser is national cinema, for which there hardly seems any space, recognition, or identity left at all, when looked at from the audiences' perspective. What may be distinctly European is the seemingly ever-widening gap between European countries' cinema culture (the films their audiences like and get to see) and the same countries film production, where some films are made for the festival circuits and rarely if ever reach other screens, while others are produced by and for television. Only a minority of European productions has the budgets, stars and production values even to try to reach an international mainstream audience, and often enough these films fail in their aim, not least because it means they have to disguise themselves to look and sound as if they were American.

Thus, when differentiating along the classical (mainstream) categories of production, distribution and exhibition, in order to identify what is European cinema, one ends up turning the definition of national cinema upside down, dismissing nationality as the least determining criterion. Rather than rounding up different national cinemas or adding more and more qualifiers, one could start with a concept such as hybridity that immediately makes apparent the essentially mixed or relational nature of the concept Cinema Europe. It, too, would have the advantage of overcoming the conceptual deadlock between essential-

Breaking the Waves

and Barbara Sukowa, known from her roles in Fassbinder's films. But what would such a spectator make of Breaking the Waves or Dancer in the Dark? British the first, American the second? Then what are Catherine Deneuve and Bjork doing in Dancer in the Dark? Cinephiles, of course, will know that these are Lars von Trier films and associate them with Denmark, a nationality label that only the production credits will confirm, but not the language nor setting.

ism and constructivism that typified discussions of national cinema from the 1960s to the 1980s. But what is served by falling back on the portmanteau words of cultural studies, whose semantics may point in the right direction, but whose formalism risks turning them into empty mantras? If the concept of national cinema is to have any purchase at all, and be of use in understanding the shift from national to European cinema, which in turn communicates with world cinema, then we must be able to explore categories coming from outside the immediate field.

This is to some extent what Stephen Crofts has tried to do, in his useful and much-cited articles from 1993 ("Reconceptualizing National Cinema/s") and 1998 ("Concepts of National Cinema"), where he sets out a number of taxonomies.24 Crofts, for instance, differentiates between seven types of (world) cinema, ranging from the Hollywood model to Third Cinema. The categories most interesting from a European perspective are those of art cinema, popular indigenous cinema, totalitarian cinema, and regional/ethnic cinema. While such a scheme at first also looks very formalist, it does allow one to draw significant parallels that often cut across geography and social systems, when one thinks how art cinema is a category valid for Sweden as well as for India, and that ethnic/regional cinema can extend from Basque films made in Spain to Maori films made in New Zealand, from Irish cinema to Chicano films in the US, from Turkish directors making films in Germany to Moroccan films made in France or Asian filmmakers entering the mainstream in Britain. It is from Crofts that I have borrowed some of the concepts already briefly introduced, notably the idea of a sub-state cinema.25 This idea, to which I am adding the sub- and supra-state levels of national identity, will be further pursued in the chapter "Double Occupancy" where specific films will be read against the foil of different political scenarios.

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