Goran Marković, Film and Theatre Director, Screenwriter, Writer and Playwright

Successes Corrupts, Failures Fortify

He has made 13 feature films, mostly based on his own screenplays, has written seven theatre plays and directed several. Professor emeritus at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade, he has long since held the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He is an anarchist by political orientation because he believes that every artist should take on the overthrow of power

He came into life as the son of celebrity parents, but great actors Rade and Olivera Marković quickly experienced what it means to be proud of the talent and successes of their only son, a film and theatre director who graduated from the renowned Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, the recipient of two Golden Arena awards from the Pula Film Festival, the Best Direction Award from San Sebastian, Sterija’s Award for Best Contemporary Dramatic Text…

Asked if he recalls first becoming aware that his parents were famous actors and stars of film and theatre, Goran Marković (1946) told CorD:

“No. That followed from early childhood. For example, two large big boxes arrived each year from Avala Film. Father’s photographs were in one and mum’s were in the other. All pictures were printed with a signature. Neither of my parents went onto the street without taking at least a dozen of them. Their popularity was huge. When I went walking with them, sometimes I would walk a dozen steps behind them, in order to avoid adoring fans. They were horrible to me.

“My father would say ‘popularity is not glory’. He despised television and the popularity that he’d gained in a short period and which passed quickly. ‘That doesn’t represent anything to me, while on the other hand, it consumes me relentlessly,’ he would say.”

As an unwritten rule, parents are divided into good and bad cops, but that wasn’t the case in Goran’s life:

“I only had a good cop, and that was my grandmother (on my father’s side) Anđelija. I grew up with her. My parents worked too much, they were in the limelight, while my grandmother had time for me. A bad cop was justifiably absent.”

Gathering at his parents’ house were artists who would often gossip about Tito’s regime, making jokes at his expense. Goran listened to them, and he had to hear some of that despite being just a boy. Many years later, in August 1968, as a student, he witnessed Soviet tanks entering Czechoslovakia. It was then that his illusions about it being possible to live in accordance with justice and one’s own feelings in such systems dissipated definitively. And when he decided to make the film Tito and Me, it was an autobiographical story, written from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy who then saw Tito for the first time. He described his recollections of that greatest son of our peoples and nations with words that testify to what shattered his illusions that day at the White Palace, when he greeted him:

“Tito’s red hair. He resembled a cartoon character. Somehow artificial, unrealistic. Although he was allegedly a great lover of children, he didn’t seem to me like a man of flesh and blood. And he dyed his hair… Another circumstance caused me to lose my illusions: as the best of the best, I belonged to the Selenites, a pioneering organisation whose members were prepared to land on the moon. We trained for ten days at Pioneer City: we were dressed in paratrooper costumes, lowered by some cable in an attempt to conjure up a moon landing… Although at one point I believed that I was a future Neil Armstrong, those training sessions shook me up a lot; it seems that I was already back then ready to reconsider my own love for the great leader! ”

Tito’s red hair shattered all of my illusions. He resembled a cartoon character. Somehow artificial, unrealistic… And he dyed his hair

Goran graduated from one of the best high schools in Belgrade, the famous Fifth Belgrade Gymnasium grammar school, where he was taught by some excellent professors, while he had friends with whom he spent a lot of time:

“That was a golden time of rock ‘n’ roll, in the neighbourhood was the Tašmajdan ice rink, where Belgrade’s most beautiful girls skated harmoniously on the ice. We lived in a happy era, beautifully described in Karanović’s television series Grlom u jagode [The Unpicked Strawberries]. I still have relationships with several of my high school friends. I studied together with Karanović in Prague, and we remain close friends to this day.

“Well, nonetheless, I mostly looked forward to the girls. It’s by that that I remember my boyhood years – by beautiful, unreachable girls who were interested in older guys. That’s how it’s always been and will be.”

When his father on one occasion earned a large number of korunas from a film shot in Czechoslovakia, he suggested that his son enrols in Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts, FAMU, which he accepted. Out of snobbery, he said on one occasion, but today he confirms that it had been a good idea of his father:

“I did not regret it, because if I did I would have changed my profession. I’ve had several crises, caused by doubts about the choice of what I do as a career, but I’ve always emerged from those crises stronger. That’s presumably why crises exist – for them to be overcome and for you to become stronger.”

Goran Marković
Photo by Alex Dmitrovic

Father Rade brought Srđan Karanović and his son to Prague, and Goran was quite unprepared for the entrance exam for FAMU. He watched a few Miloš Forman films, primarily Black Peter, and that was all when it came to the cinematography of the country where he’d come to study! Still, he easily passed the entrance exam, and at the college, where studies were actually free of charge, most of the students were foreigners. Those two were the first to come from Yugoslavia, but they were followed by the likes of Rajko Grlić, Lordan Zafranović, Goran Paskaljević, Živko Zalar… It should be noted that the Prague Film School was founded after World War II, that the first Yugoslav to enrol there was Aleksandar Petrović, who had to return to Belgrade after the Informbiro resolution of 1948. Even prior to World War Two, there’d been a student dormitory of King Aleksandar in Prague, which was erected to house Yugoslav students. Many of them, including composer and conductor Oskar Danon, studied music there. During those years, Prague was a true centre of pan-Slavism, where the illusion of the cultural unification of the Slavic peoples was exceptionally strong. Secondly, it is also worth noting that Prague is an old university centre, with high-quality colleges. Moreover, the Czech language was very close for the Yugoslavs. Goran learnt it in just three months. And he describes his fondest memories of writer Milan Kundera, who taught them literature for a year, in the following words:

“As students, we were living in a dormitory that was located at the last Strahov trolley-bus station. It was a strange, alienated place near the Spartakiad stadium. As the Spartakiad was held only once every four years, the stands could accommodate 200,000 spectators and tens of thousands of athletes alone in the training area, the changing rooms were used by participants only once in those four years, and in the meantime, they represented the pavilions of Student City. Well, our professor Milan Kundera lived at the penultimate stop on that trolley-bus line. We, the Yugoslav students, and he – as our professor of literature and a young emerging writer – regularly returned home on the last bus. The only thing was that we were regularly tipsy and flushed with nostalgia, and he was in the company of a different woman every time. We later recognised those women in his iconic collection of short stories Laughable Loves.”

I’ve spent my whole life writing various stories, but writing a novel is something else. That’s not something done on the side; it’s the most difficult task. I’m 73, and I’m afraid I’ve still not matured into a novelist

When Goran started shooting films, some of the roles were played by his parents, sometimes just one of them, sometimes both. Did they have it easy with their son as the director?

“There is no protection in my work and theirs. Either you are or you aren’t. Secondly, shooting a film is sometimes such an exhausting undertaking that relations of relatives and friends are very quickly forgotten. The drama of creation is much stronger than private feelings. However, my parents weren’t the only ones close to me on the set. I established strong relationships with all the actors I worked with, so I consider them all relatives.”

Is there an actor or actress that this director strongly desired to hire to act in one of his films but didn’t manage to do so?

“There are a few actors that I used to love privately and, for some reason, we never worked together. That’s the case, for example, with Ljuba Tadić, who, as a young actor, bought me rubber boots from his first salary instalment at the Belgrade Drama Theatre. He took those few banknotes and asked me: ‘What would you like me to buy you?’ I had no dilemma, as a kid, my greatest wish was to have a pair of Bora’s boots. I loved Ljuba for that my whole life, and I think he loved me too, yet we have never film anything. How; why? I don’t know.”

The Prague students in a certain way replaced the generation of directors who had been qualified by the Tito regime as representatives of the black wave. They were Aleksandar Saša Popović, Živojin Žika Pavlović, Dušan Makavejev, Želimir Žilnik. And the young ones coming through to replace them were Srđan Karanović, Dejan Karaklajić, Jovan Aćin, Goran Paskaljević and, of course, Goran Marković. They initially made documentaries for TV Belgrade, the editor of which was Zora Korać. It was said that they were her favourites, that they were privileged so they could easily shoot television shows, documentaries and feature films one after the other:

“Do you really believe that there are privileged people who can make films easily, just like that? Do you believe that anyone entering this arena has some kind of credit, a guarantee that they will succeed? It’s always all from the beginning. Your chances of failing are always equally great. And you always fear what comes next. In our profession, there’s no undeserved success and accidental failure. With us, everything is fair and stern. And it’s good that it’s that way.”

Goran Marković

However much Marković has long been an acknowledged and successful artist, few know about how he catastrophically entered the world of film. And if it hadn’t been as he describes it, surely his value system would not have been formed as the strictly rigid maxim that he still holds to this day:

“With my first graduation film, Untitled, based on the themes of the stories of Boris Piljnjak, I experienced a real debacle at the 1973 Festival of Documentary and Short Film in Belgrade. The whole auditorium whistled at me, like when, for example, a referee gives an imagined penalty against the home team. Thus, immediately from the start, I survived a real cataclysm. I remember that after that I went to the military department and requested that, instead of freeing me, they send me to the army?! There, with a machine gun on my shoulder, I had plenty of time to think about whether the director’s profession was really for me or whether it was too late to start dealing with something “human”. I returned and succeeded, I would say. That harsh moment at the beginning of my work in filmmaking led to the emergence of a rule that I still adhere to successes corrupt, failures fortify. That helped me not to take later successes seriously, and to emerge from crises as a winner.”

CorD’s interlocutor has never been a member of any political party. He is currently a member of the political council of the Movement of Free Citizens but is not a member of that organisation. He thinks that being an artist by definition means being an anarchist: “In my opinion, every artist must deal with the overthrow of power. Especially these current ones – malignant.”

Marković initially displayed his anarchist political engagement in the 1990s. Knowing what we all endured living in Serbia during that decade, I ask him whether the 1990s brought some insurmountable differences between him and his colleagues from the territory of the former shared country, which led to them ending their friendship with them:

“It’s interesting that I didn’t have the misfortune of having a colleague or friend from our former home country disappoint me so much that I would cease socialising or cooperating with them. That’s perhaps because our long-distance relationships were motivated by the feeling that this or that man was upstanding and we didn’t have too much of an opportunity to convince ourselves of the opposite. But here in Serbia, the situation was quite the opposite. Many of my colleagues proved themselves to be worthless and unscrupulous. They joined the dark forces, that is to say, this regime, not hiding their self-serving motives much. Insatiable predation, shameless sycophantism and unprecedented lying became their way of life. I won’t give their names, but you know who I’m talking about…”

With my first graduation film, Untitled, based on the themes of the stories of Boris Piljnjak, I experienced a real debacle at the 1973 Festival of Documentary and Short Film in Belgrade. The whole auditorium whistled at me, like when, for example, a referee gives an imagined penalty against the home team

What were Goran’s expectations after 5th October 2000, and what has remained of that after twenty years?

“To be truthful, I, who was born in socialism, lived a lifetime under Tito and later under Milošević, expected that after 5th October I would finally feel the benefits of civilised, democratic life. I was happy about that for a few moments, I felt a zest of life. And then that slowly began to collapse and everything soon fell, only to bring us to this terrible, primitive regime in which we are ruled by an ordinary leader of hooligans who considers everyone who thinks as an enemy from the terraces opposite. Sometimes I think I was born at the wrong time.”

For Marković, the Balkans themselves are a danger, and the very idea of Yugoslavia is at the same time both magical and life-threatening:

“The Balkans are a mixture of mentalities, a combination of the people who inhabit this shithole. It’s all incurable. But it is also what I love. This is my homeland, no matter how often that homeland has changed its names. “Like a whore’s knickers,” as my grandmother would say. On the other hand, so many people died for the ideal that was called Yugoslavia. And how many of them just tried to destroy it. I still can’t reconcile myself with the fact that that magical country is gone. When some stranger asks me what happened, why the country disappeared, I just shrug. I don’t know any other answer.

“And in Serbia today we have a special, centuries-old conflict over whether or not we need Europe. Always when a European spirit starts sprouting here, someone finds a baseball bat to shatter it all. Or what we’ve had in the last few years: the government is like trying to get into Europe, and everything is working to thwart that. They really play one nasty, lying, dirty game. What’s even worse, those on the periphery, who support this government, know that, but they don’t care a jot, we don’t really matter to them. It is enough for someone here to keep things under control, as far away from them as possible, even at the cost of Asian terror. It’s good for them like that, even if it the leader is a hooligan, thus an ordinary peasant.

“In the depths of my soul, I’m an anarchist. The only thing is that no form of organising this worldview exists here. Okay, I told myself, then you’re a leftist. But there aren’t many of them anymore either. Back during Milošević’s time socialists became the most common interest group that crowded in the millions and who in no way represent leftist ideas. The Movement of Free Citizens is an honest group of thinking people who will never do anything practical. But at least they think freely, though, as I said, only for their soul.”

Goran Marković
Photo by Mitar Mitrovic

He has described his life in two books, converted much of his life autobiographically into films, but is there anything else in Goran’s life that he would like to film?

“My daughter Maša, who is herself a director, constantly tells me that I didn’t make a love film. Even more, interestingly, I adore melodrama as a genre. I often can’t hold back the tears when I watch a heartwrenching story. But I still haven’t plucked up the courage for a true love film. So we understand one another: I consider melodrama a kingly genre, far from despising it or suspecting it of sentimentalism, or I don’t even know what. But for that one needs courage. It’s easy to shoot all the fighting armies – divide the costumes and weapons, divide the people left and right and say, “Fight each other!” But two people who love each other within four walls, that’s devilishly difficult…

On the cover of Goran’s book, The Belgrade Trio, which was shortlisted for this year’s NIN Award for Best Novel of the Year, it is written with reason: “Moving and fun simultaneously, humorous, inventively composed as a collage of documents, letters, diaries, Darel’s reports to the Foreign Office, reports of concentration camp executives of the Udba headquarters, correspondences of British diplomats, deciphered dispatches, official minutes and testimonies, the Belgrade Trio won’t leave your hands until the last page. However, the author says of himself:

“I’m not a writer. At least I’m not a professional writer. I wrote a load of screenplays, several theatres plays and published five or six books that, until The Belgrade Trio, were not novels. I’ve spent my whole life writing various stories, but writing a novel is something else. That’s not something done on the side; it’s the most difficult task. I’m 73, and I’m afraid I’ve still not matured into a novelist.”

What is Goran’s biggest recognition, his best critique for everything he’s done in his professional career as a whole?

“Alongside the entrance to my building is a cafe, and every morning the waiter who worked there would perform a different scene from the film National Class as soon as I stepped onto the street. There recently, at a screening to commemorate the 40th anniversary of my film Majstori, majstori, the entire hall recited the lines of the actors in advance. That was a really unforgettable moment for me. I don’t need any more praise than the. That silenced the memory of that whistling after my graduation film.”

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