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

Słowa kluczowe

Yugoslav New Film
female characters
Bechdel test
‘reversed masquerade’
‘crypto- matriarchy’

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


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.

PDF (English)


University of Antwerp Research Fund [DOCPRO1 BOF]


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

“Black Waves, Red Horizons – New Yugoslav Film”. Arsenal: Institut für film and videokunst e.V., 2015, accessed March 04

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

Boglić M., Mit i antimit, Zagreb 1980

Bogojević M., The beauty of gender sin: politics of representation in Yugoslav auteur film, “ProFemina” 2011, pp. 255–262

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

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

Cox J., Digital Nature Photography, New York 2003

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

Didron A.N., Christian Iconography; or, the History of Christian art in the Middle Ages, trans. E.J. Millington, London 1851

Doane M.A., Masquerade Reconsidered: Further Thoughts on the Female Spectator, “Discourse” 1988–1989, 11 (1), pp. 42–54

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

Đorgović M., Panić A., Popović U., Ženska Strana/Women’s Corner, [in:] Exhibition Catalogue, Belgrade 2010

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

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

Gage J., Color and Meaning: Art, Science, and Symbolism, Berkeley 1999

Gilić N., Uvodna bilješka, “Hrvatski filmski ljetopis” 2010, 16 (62), pp. 6–7

Grant B.K., Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology, London 2007

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

Haskell M., From Reverence to Rape: The treatment of women in the movies, 2nd ed., Chicago 1987

Heckscher W.S., Art and Literature: studies in relationship, Baden-Baden 1994

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

Johnston C., Women’s cinema as counter-cinema, [in:] Feminism and Film, ed. A.E. Kaplan, New York 2000, pp. 22–33

Jovanović N., Gender and Sexuality in the Classical Yugoslav Cinema, 1947–1962, PhD, Gender Studies, Central European University 2014

Kaplan E.A., Motherhood and Representation: The mother in popular culture and melodrama, London 1992

Kaplan E.A., Women and Film: Both Sides of the Camera, London 2000

Krelja P., Breza – film za sva vremena, “Hrvatski filmski ljetopis” 2010, 16 (62), pp. 13–21

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

Krijnen T., Van Bauwel S., Gender and Media: Representing, producing, consuming, communication and society, London 2015

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

Lóránd Z., The Feminist Challenge to the Socialist State in Yugoslavia, Cham 2018

Miller N., The Nonconformists: Culture, Politics, and Nationalism in a Serbian Intellectual Circle, 1944–1991, Budapest 2007

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

Novaković S., Vreme otvaranja, Novi Sad 1970

Novaković S., Tirnanić B., Dušan Makavejev: Negirati estetiku u korist života, “Polja” 1967, 13 (109), p. 6

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

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

Pantelić I., Partizanke i antifašistički front žena Jugoslavije (1942–1953), “ProFemina” 2011, pp. 81–98

Papić Ž., Žarana Papić. Tekstovi 1977–2002. Belgrade 2012

Perić T., Tradicijska glazba i običaji Sjeverozapadne Hrvatske, Bachelor’s Degree Bachelor’s thesis, Odsjek za učiteljske studije, Sveučilište u Zagrebu – Učiteljski fakultet 2016

Petrović A., Novi film II (1965–1970): “Crni film”, Beograd 1988

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

Rajković Z., Narodni običaji okolice Donje Stubice, “Narodna umjetnost” 1974, 10 (1), pp. 153–214

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

Riviere J., Womanliness as a masquerade, [in:] Influential Papers from the 1920s, ed. R.D. Hinshelwood, London 2018, pp. 127–138, Original edition, 1929

Rožić R., Život je žilav – Janica je živa?!, “Hrvatski filmski ljetopis” 2010, 16 (62), pp. 22–24

Ryland J., Iconography, [in:] The Women’s Companion to International Film, ed. A. Kuhn, S. Radstone, Berkeley 1990, pp. 212–212

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

Sklevicky L., Konji, žene, ratovi, Zagreb 1996

Slapšak S., Žensko telo u jugoslovenskom filmu: status žene, paradigma feminizma, [in:] Žene, slike, izmišljaji, edited by Branka Arsić, Beograd 2000, pp. 121-138

Stojanović D., Velika avantura filma, Beograd 1969

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

Woodside A.G., Case Study Research: Core Skills in Using 15 Genres, Bingley 2017

Zaharijević A., ‘Women’s Liberation’, Četrdeset godina kasnije, “ProFemina” 2011, pp. 187–200

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

Žižek S., The Metastases of Enjoyment: Six Essays on Woman and Causality, London 1994