Aniko I

Anyone even vaguely familiar with Eastern and Central European films will notice their preoccupation with children and teens. Yet, ''youth film,'' in the sense of a genre of films that address young people, is at best an emerging concept in postsocialist cultures. Similar to the way in which Hollywood's teen representations have changed over the decades along with the political climate,1 adolescents have served as indispensable representational devices for Hungarian, Slovak, or Polish filmmakers engaged in processing the ''moral panics'' of their respective times. During socialism, child and teen characters, most often portrayed in dysfunctional school and home settings, where they were invariably humiliated and subjected to physical and psychological abuse, served as symbolic screens onto which the culture could alle-gorically project its own schizophrenic state—the psychological division between a sense of collective, national maturity derived from a Eurocentric cultural heritage, and the vulnerable, childlike condition to which Soviet colonization and socialist totalitarianism reduced national citizens.

The most common narrative pattern of such allegorical films is the boys' bonding and coming-of-age story. Protagonists of these films are in search of female care and male role models, a quest not lacking in uplifting moments but invariably doomed to fail in an era when idealistic energies bounce back from the glass ceiling of political control. Geza Radvanyi's Valahol Europa-ban (Somewhere in Europe, 1947) or Miklos Jancso's A harangok Romaba mentek (The Bells Have Gone to Rome, 1958), set during and immediately following World War II, both tell stories about rebellious boy groups. In Rad-vanyi's highly symbolic film, a group of orphaned and stranded ''European'' children turn to violence and crime to survive. Jancso's teen boys face the ethical dilemma of whether they should join the war effort or not. Idealistic, they escape to an island that is both real and symbolic, where they form their own republic.

These plots are similar to that of Ferenc Molnâr's turn-of-the-century novel A Pâl utcaifiuk (The Pâl Street Boys), considered a national classic and mandatory reading for all Hungarian students. The novel, as well as Zoltân Fâbri's eponymous film adaptation (1969), depicts a war over a vacant lot— an urban island—between two gangs of teen boys.2 The fight takes the life of the weakest link, the little Nemecsek. Melodrama shifts to tragedy when it turns out that the "island" will be taken away from the boys so it can be developed. Ultimately, this film is not so much an inquiry about adolescence as it is a parable about the senselessness of war. Jiri Menzel's well-known Ostre stedované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains, 1966) also has literary origins: it was adapted to the screen by Bohumil Hrabal from his own novel. While its bittersweet plot revolves around a bumbling teenage boy's sexual experiences under the guidance of a womanizing stationmaster, its allegorical concern, once again, is with the moral choices a man should make during wartime, under foreign military occupation. All of these films process the impossible ethical dilemmas presented to men as universal—ungen-dered human choices one has to make in situations when youthful idealism pushes against the political constraints of the historical moment. None of these films offer explicit critical commentary about the gendered nature of warfare and of its incentive, territorial nationalism.

The postwar East and Central European generation's decisive and unifying experiences were Nazism and the Holocaust, the unspeakable destruction of the war, and the subsequent socialist regime, with its own lasting moments of national trauma. However, the experience of children who were born or came to critical consciousness after the end of the Cold War—today's East and Central European teenagers—is crucially different from that of their parents and grandparents. It is safe to speculate that the generational gap that separates baby boomers in the U.S. from their children, variously nicknamed "screenagers," "slackers," or "Generation X,''3 is not nearly as profound as that between parents who grew up in national isolation, under travel restrictions, centralized governments, and state-controlled media, in forced economic equality assured by relative poverty, and without democratic elections, and their children, who are growing up in a world where the very term "Eastern Europe'' is becoming obsolete. This new world is characterized by a fast-growing divide between the rich and the poor, quickly rendering socialism a tourist attraction or nostalgic memory, yielding, somewhat reluctantly, to the multimedia seductions of postmodern consumer capitalism. At the same time, it is also a more colorful world than it used to be, bearing the impact of recent immigration flows and revitalized tourism, offering more choices not only when it comes to television channels but also in matters of identity politics.

East and Central European film industries, scrambling to get film production back on track after the near-total dissolution of the funding, distribution, and exhibition structure of national cinemas, and facing the new challenges of for-profit filmmaking on a national and international scale, went through their own ''awkward age'' in the 1990s. While filmmakers and the industry were busy trying to update their own values and redefine their national identities, transnational media swooped in with attractively packaged and easily adaptable products to fulfill and multiply teenage desires. The overwhelming popularity of Hollywood-made or inspired youth films, commercial television programs, video games, print magazines, and fan sites in the postsocialist region makes it evident that the products of global media have had much better success at tapping into teen fantasies and wallets than have national cinemas. Commercial television channels in native languages are the cinema's main competitors for youth viewership, churning out banal but widely popular soap operas, reality shows, talk shows, and game shows licensed and adapted from globally successful models.4

East and Central European cinemas have also made an inevitable turn toward the commercial, following tried-and-true recipes of genre films. While some of the comedies, romances, and occasional action-adventure flicks that have cropped up have achieved relative popularity, they still have difficulties resonating with the unique generational sensibilities of post-socialist screenagers. Given the lack of an indigenous youth film genre, then, I will offer a rudimentary typology of recent films that center on teen characters. My intention is twofold: to spark interest in further, interdisciplinary research on postsocialist youth media cultures and to contribute to a global understanding of the youth film genre, for which existing descriptions, based primarily on Hollywood products and American consumers, are inadequate.

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