Films with more than one national lineage should be called “Multinational Cinema” proposes Kees Driessen, and furthermore we should investigate how these cultural influences and national ownerships add up.
Critics are quite comfortable discussing national cinemas: their cultural backgrounds, political sensibilities, defining masters and latest trends. French cinema, American cinema, Dutch cinema. Romanian, Philippine, Nigerian cinema. We do it all the time.
But what about the increasing number of international coproductions? Do we simply assign one of these nationalities to them? Do we ignore the subject? Or, could it be that something more interesting is happening? Do these nationalities – sometimes, always – actually add up? Could there exist something like, for example, a French-Polish cinema?
Let’s call this cinema, with more than one national lineage, Multinational Cinema. It is an important development, considering that national cinema is one of the mirrors in which a culture reflects itself. Which means something quite fundamental is changing when more and more of these ‘national’ films are actually multinational.
Take Holland. As the Dutch film magazine de Filmkrant reported, in roughly five years time, the percentage of films supported by the Netherlands Film Fund that are coproductions has grown from 20 to 70. More and more, Dutch cinema is hyphenated. Dutch-Belgian cinema. Dutch-Danish cinema. Et cetera.
Now, I’m not too concerned here with financing or politics. My question concerns art. When you have a consistent coproduction system with two or more participating countries, and with casts and crews getting used to working together, will you see a cultural interaction develop? Could, in Multinational Cinema, 1 plus 1 equal 3?
It’s not such a strange question. We regularly treat individual filmmakers this way. For example, Hany Abu-Assad sees himself as a Dutch-Palestinian filmmaker, with his 25 years spent in Holland shaping, as he says, both his sense of humour and a kind of pessimistic realism. In his films, he combines this with a Palestinian sense of unconditional optimism – without which life in Palestine, let alone making movies, would become impossible.
The Netherlands usually coproduce his movies – as with The Idol, shown at this year’s IFFR – so yes, I think you could argue that there exists, at least in Abu-Assad’s work, something like a Dutch-Palestinian Multinational Cinema. And that in this case, 1 and 1 does indeed equal 3.
Dutch critics also quite easily point out, for example, the Dutch aspects of Paul Verhoeven’s Hollywood movies. There’s no Dutch funding involved in Basic Instinct or RoboCop of course, but could we take these movies, together with those of Jan de Bont and others, and critically consider them as Dutch-American cinema? I don’t see why not.
In a sense, we’re already doing something similar when we talk about regional cinemas. We don’t just discuss European versus American cinema, but also South-East Asian cinema, Balkan cinema, or Scandinavian cinema. In many cases, this will include movies with regional funding and mixed cast and crew.
To be fair, critics did create a specific term for European coproductions – the dreaded ‘Europudding’. Putting these different nationalities together, seemingly only for the sake of getting the greatest amount of funding possible, was considered artistically doomed.
But globalisation doesn’t stop. The increase of European coproductions won’t stop. So let’s explore these new critical pathways. Let’s see if Dutch-Belgian arthouse coproductions indeed combine, for example, Dutch stylistic rigour with Belgian social consciousness. And if so, let’s critically assess this, so we can encourage the most interesting trends. Let’s see coproductions not only as economical and technical constructs, with the final Dutch-Belgian product usually being labelled either ‘Dutch’ or ‘Belgian’, but as artistic avenues to explore.
I do not have the answers yet. That would require systematic exploration by more than just one critic. I do see new, interesting questions. The first one, considering this year’s Critics’ Choice main theme, is: whose multinational cinema is it? The almost Pavlovian need to compare European coproductions to Europudding seems to have nationalistic underpinnings. National critics tend to claim national movies. The growth of Multinational Cinema means we’ll have to share.
Some other questions. Did Yugoslavian cinema ever really exist, artistically speaking, or was it always multinational? If it did exist, did it end when the country was torn apart by war? What about Czechoslovakia cinema? Soviet cinema? Spanish-Italian cinema has given us spaghetti-western and sword-and-sandal pics – where does it stand today? Can we trace back Ukrainian cinema through the Soviet era, or would that be motivated more by political than artistic considerations?
What about the United States? It’s a big country. Shouldn’t we be discussing Texan, Floridan and Pennsylvanian cinema? And, assuming it exists, things like Arizonan-Ohioan Multi-State Cinema? I think we could. Because my answer to the question that heads this article – ‘Whose Multinational Cinema is it?’ – is: ours. The critics.
Kees Driessen is a Dutch film journalist, currently writing mostly for Vrij Nederland and de Filmkrant.