Of bees, birds, trees, and women: iconography, superstition and victimization of female characters in Yugoslav New Film

Main Article Content

Vesi Vuković


This study investigates how the directors of two selected case study films criticise the real-life remnants of patriarchy in the family sphere, in nominally gender-equal Yugoslavia. I argue that they do this by transposing their stories from socialist Yugoslavia to the pre-socialist times: during Ottoman rule and monarchist Yugoslavia. The selected period films Breza/The Birch Tree (Ante Babaja, 1967, Yugoslavia) and Roj/The Beehive aka The Swarm (Miodrag ‘Mića’ Popović, 1966, Yugoslavia), both belonging to the Yugoslav novi film (New Film) movement (1961-1972), refract the workings of the vestiges of patriarchy in a family domain of Yugoslav socialist society. In these two costume dramas, patriarchy is portrayed to its fullest extent, due to their stories being set in the past, ostensibly unrelated to contemporary Yugoslav society and thus uninhibited by the drive to cater to the official discourse of female emancipation.

Applying a critical film feminist perspective, by formal analysis via close readings of these two selected films, this article examines the iconography linked to fictional depictions of heroines and delves into the representation of victimisation of women. I investigate whether the depiction of the female sorceress(es) embody the primitiveness, ignorance, and/or poverty of economically disadvantaged and historically oppressed pre-socialist village. In order to peruse not only the individual portrayal of female protagonists but the dynamics of their interaction, the Bechdel test is applied and complemented with concepts such as the ‘reversed masquerade’ and ‘cryptomatriarchy’, which sheds light on the relationship between women and the presence or absence of female solidarity.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

Jak cytować
Vuković, V. (2021). Of bees, birds, trees, and women: iconography, superstition and victimization of female characters in Yugoslav New Film. Images. The International Journal of European Film, Performing Arts and Audiovisual Communication, 28(37), 285-307. https://doi.org/10.14746/i.2020.37.16
Biogram autora

Vesi Vuković, Film Studies and Visual Culture, University of Antwerp, Belgium

Vesi Vuković – doktorantka Film Studies and Visual Culture na Uniwersytecie w Antwerpii, Belga, pod opieką naukową profesora Philippe Meersa. Jest członkiem ViDi (Visual and Digital Cultures Research Center) i A* Antwerp Gender and Sexuality Studies Network na Uniwersytecie w Antwerpii. Uzyskała tytuł Master of Arts w Kyoto University of Arts and Design, Japan, oraz Bachelor of Arts na Academy of Arts w Banja Luce, Bośnia i Hercegowina. Obecnie jej badania koncentrują się na kinie byłej Jugosławii i sposobie przedstawiania w nim kobiet. ORCID 0000-0003-4216-8517.


  1. Beganović D., Changing Fates: The Role of the Hero in Yugoslav Cinema in the Early and Late Sixties [in:] Retracing Images: Visual Culture After Yugoslavia, ed. D. Šuber, S. Karamanić, Leiden 2012, pp. 135–148
  2. “Black Waves, Red Horizons – New Yugoslav Film”. Arsenal: Institut für film and videokunst e.V., 2015, accessed March 04
  3. Blackwell M.J., The Seventh Seal (1956): Cinematic Form and Cultural Criticism, [in:] Film Analysis: A Norton Reader, ed. J. Geiger, R.L. Rutsky, New York 2005, pp. 528–549
  4. Boglić M., Mit i antimit, Zagreb 1980
  5. Bogojević M., The beauty of gender sin: politics of representation in Yugoslav auteur film, “ProFemina” 2011, pp. 255–262
  6. Brinkema E., The fault lines of vision: Rashomon and The Man Who Left His Will on Film, [in:] Rape in Art Cinema, ed. D. Russel, New York 2010, pp. 27–40 Chakravarty S., Gender in transit: framing the cinema of migration, [in:] The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender, ed. K.L. Hole, D. Jelača, E.A. Kaplan, P. Petro, London, New York 2017, pp. 57–67
  7. Chivers S., “No place for sissies”: gender, age, and di- sability in Hollywood, [in:] The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender, ed. K.L. Hole, D. Jelača, E.A. Kaplan, P. Petro, London, New York 2017, pp. 68–76
  8. Cox J., Digital Nature Photography, New York 2003
  9. De Cuir G. Jr., Partisan “realism”: representations of wartime past and state-building future in the cinema of socialist Yugoslavia, “Frames Cinema Journal” 2013, p. 4
  10. Didron A.N., Christian Iconography; or, the History of Christian art in the Middle Ages, trans. E.J. Millington, London 1851
  11. Doane M.A., Masquerade Reconsidered: Further Thoughts on the Female Spectator, “Discourse” 1988–1989, 11 (1), pp. 42–54
  12. Doane M.A., The “woman’s film”: possession and address, [in:] Re-Vision: Essays in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. M.A. Doane, P. Mellencamp, L. Williams, Los Angeles 1984, pp. 67–82
  13. Đorgović M., Panić A., Popović U., Ženska Strana/Women’s Corner, [in:] Exhibition Catalogue, Belgrade 2010
  14. Favero P., Blessed be the good soldier: cinema, media and the manufacturing of nationhood in post 9/11 Italy, “Archivio Antropologico Mediterraneo” 2011, 13 (1), pp. 55–66
  15. Fischer L., Feminist forms of address: Mai Zetterling’s loving couples, [in:] The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender, ed. K.L. Hole, D. Jelača, E.A. Ka- plan, P, Petro, New York 2017, pp. 36–46
  16. Gage J., Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism, Berkeley 1999
  17. Gilić N., Uvodna bilješka, “Hrvatski filmski ljetopis” 2010, 16 (62), pp. 6–7
  18. Grant B.K., Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology, London 2007
  19. Gudac-Dodić V., Položaj žene u Srbiji (1945–2000), [in:] Žene i deca: 4. Srbija u modernizacijskim procesima XIX i XX veka, ed. L. Perović, Beograd 2006, pp. 33–130
  20. Haskell M., From Reverence to Rape: The treatment of women in the movies, 2nd ed., Chicago 1987
  21. Heckscher W.S., Art and Literature: studies in relationship, Baden-Baden 1994
  22. Hole K.L., Jelača D., Kaplan E.A., Petro P., Introduction: Decentering feminist film studies, [in:] The Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender, ed. K.L. Hole, D. Jelača, E.A. Kaplan, P. Petro, New York 2017, pp. 1–12
  23. Johnston C., Women’s cinema as counter-cinema, [in:] Feminism and Film, ed. A.E. Kaplan, New York 2000, pp. 22–33
  24. Jovanović N., Gender and Sexuality in the Classical Yugoslav Cinema, 1947–1962, PhD, Gender Studies, Central European University 2014
  25. Kaplan E.A., Motherhood and Representation: The mother in popular culture and melodrama, London 1992
  26. Kaplan E.A., Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera, London 2000
  27. Krelja P., Breza – film za sva vremena, “Hrvatski filmski ljetopis” 2010, 16 (62), pp. 13–21
  28. Krelja P., Opake žene jugoslavenskog filma, [in:] Knjiga o filmu: “Filmska kultura”, 1957–1977, ed. F. Hanže- ković, S. Ostojić, Zagreb 1979, pp. 409–416
  29. Krijnen T., Van Bauwel S., Gender and Media: Representing, producing, consuming, communication and society, London 2015
  30. Lesage J., The political aesthetics of the feminist documentary film, “Quarterly Review of Film Studies” 1978, 3 (4), pp. 507–523. doi: 10.1080/10509207809391421
  31. Lóránd Z., The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia, Cham 2018
  32. Miller N., The Nonconformists: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism in a Serbian Intellectual Circle, 1944–1991, Budapest 2007
  33. Morokvašić M., Being a woman in Yugoslavia: Past, present and institutional equality, [in:] Women of the Mediterranean, ed. M. Gadant, London 1986, pp. 120–138
  34. Novaković S., Vreme otvaranja, Novi Sad 1970
  35. Novaković S., Tirnanić B., Dušan Makavejev: Negirati estetiku u korist života, “Polja” 1967, 13 (109), p. 6
  36. O’Meara J., What “The Bechdel Test” doesn’t tell us: examining women’s verbal and vocal (dis)empowerment in cinema, “Feminist Media Studies 2016, 16 (6), pp. 1120–1123, doi: 10.1080/14680777.2016.1234239
  37. Panofsky A.L., From epistemology to the Avant-garde: Marcel Duchamp and the sociology of knowledge in resonance, „Sage Journals” 2003, vol. 20, nr 1, pp. 61–92
  38. Pantelić I., Partizanke i antifašistički front žena Jugoslavije (1942–1953), “ProFemina” 2011, pp. 81–98
  39. Papić Ž., Žarana Papić. Tekstovi 1977–2002. Belgrade 2012
  40. Perić T., Tradicijska glazba i običaji Sjeverozapadne Hrvatske, Bachelor’s Degree Bachelor’s thesis, Odsjek za učiteljske studije, Sveučilište u Zagrebu – Učiteljski fakultet 2016
  41. Petrović A., Novi film II (1965–1970): “Crni film”, Beograd 1988
  42. Racic M., Do this year’s best picture Oscar Nominees Pass the Bechdel Test? Revisiting an imperfect but useful litmus test in light of #MeToo, “The New Yorker” 2018, last modified 3/3/2018, <https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/do-this-years-best-picture-oscar-nominees-pass-the-bechdel-test>, accessed: 31.03.2018
  43. Rajković Z., Narodni običaji okolice Donje Stubice, “Narodna umjetnost” 1974, 10 (1), pp. 153–214
  44. Ramet S.P., In Tito’s Time, [in:] Gender Politics in the Western Balkans: Women and society in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav successor states, ed. S.P. Ramet, University Park 1999, pp. 89–106
  45. Riviere J., Womanliness as a masquerade, [in:] Influential Papers from the 1920s, ed. R.D. Hinshelwood, London 2018, pp. 127–138, Original edition, 1929
  46. Rožić R., Život je žilav – Janica je živa?!, “Hrvatski filmski ljetopis” 2010, 16 (62), pp. 22–24
  47. Ryland J., Iconography, [in:] The Women’s Companion to International Film, ed. A. Kuhn, S. Radstone, Berkeley 1990, pp. 212–212
  48. Simić A., Machismo and cryptomatriarchy: power, affect, and authority in the traditional Yugoslav family, [in:] Gender Politics in the Western Balkans, ed. S.P Ramet, University Park 1999, pp. 11–30
  49. Sklevicky L., Konji, žene, ratovi, Zagreb 1996
  50. Slapšak S., Žensko telo u jugoslovenskom filmu: status žene, paradigma feminizma, [in:] Žene, slike, izmišljaji, edited by Branka Arsić, Beograd 2000, pp. 121-138
  51. Stojanović D., Velika avantura filma, Beograd 1969
  52. Vaquero M., A recurrent theme of the Spanish medieval epic: complaints and laments by noble women, [in:] Epic and History, ed. D. Konstan, K.A. Raaflaub, Chichester 2010, pp. 310–327
  53. Woodside A.G., Case Study Research: Core Skills in Using 15 Genres, Bingley 2017
  54. Zaharijević A., ‘Women’s Liberation’, Četrdeset godina kasnije, “ProFemina” 2011, pp. 187–200
  55. Zaharijević A., The Strange Case of Yugoslav Femiism: Feminism and Socialism in “the East”, [in:] The Cultural Life of Capitalism in Yugoslavia: (post)socialism and its other, ed. D. Jelača, M. Kolanović, D. Lugarić, Cham 2017, pp. 263–284
  56. Žižek S., The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality, London 1994