Long shot of riders leading a prisoner - still from Aferim! (2015)
Stories & Ideas

Wed 25 Jan 2023

Ostern Powers: An introduction to the Eastern European Western

Film Melbourne Cinémathèque Retrospective
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Melbourne Cinémathèque

Australia's longest-running film society

Notes for the 6–20 December 2023 Melbourne Cinémathèque program.

It may come as a surprise, but that most quintessentially American genre, the western, was enormously popular behind the Iron Curtain. Of course, it was seldom possible for Eastern Bloc audiences to see Hollywood films. No matter; even though socialist states deemed the Hollywood western decadent in propagating foundational frontier myths, they took to the production of westerns with great relish. Inevitably granted culinary-inspired monikers linked to the country of production – “borscht” westerns from the Soviet Union, “sauerkraut” from East Germany, “goulash” from Hungary – two subgeneric traditions emerged.

“Osterns” transposed generic western tropes onto lands Sovietised at the time of production (The Wind Blows Under Your Feet, 1976, and Nobody Wanted to Die, 1965), while “red westerns” utilised local environments as stand-ins for the American west, situating their action in America but subjecting it to revisionist ideological agendas (The Sons of Great Bear, 1966) or satire (Lemonade Joe, 1964). Combined, osterns and red westerns stand in fascinating dialogue not only with classical Hollywood westerns and their revisionist variations, but also with those films produced in parallel with them in Western Europe, such as the Italian spaghetti western, which they rival in aesthetic and thematic innovation. Moreover, the genre remains vital in post-socialist Eastern Europe, as proven by two remarkable contemporary films. Tensions and power relations in contemporary East-West relations are probed in Valeska Grisebach’s knowingly titled Western (2017); while Radu Jude excavates a dark chapter in 19th century Romanian history in the extraordinary season opener, Aferim! (2015). This season of imported prints offers a grand primer in the Eastern western, boosted by two famed animated shorts which further testify to the East’s affinity for all things western.


Ostern Powers: An introduction to the Eastern European Western

Aferim! (2015) – Wed 6 Dec, 7pm
The Wind Blows Under Your Feet (1976) – Wed 6 Dec, 9.30pm
Western (2017) – Wed 13 Dec, 7pm
The Sons of Great Bear (1966) – Wed 13 Dec, 9.35pm
Nobody Wanted to Die (1965) – Wed 20 Dec, 7pm
Lemonade Joe (1964) – Wed 20 Dec, 9pm

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Melbourne Cinémathèque

Australia's longest-running film society, Melbourne Cinémathèque screens significant works of international cinema in the medium they were created, the way they would have originally screened.

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