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European Cinema at the Crossroads


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor: Dorota Ostrowska (subject to change)
  • Assessment: an essay of 5000 words (100%)

    Module description

    From the end of the World War Two until the early 1990s, Europe was gripped by the Cold War and divided by the Iron Curtain. While Western Europe was aligned with the United States, Eastern Europe found itself under the influence of the Soviet Union and its alternative model of cultural production inspired by the communist ideology. Although national cinemas on both sides of the Wall followed their own rhythms and were cut to the measure of their diverse political, social and economic circumstances, they remained in a dialogue with each other and followed surprisingly similar aesthetic trajectories. Almost immediately after the war, Italy's neo-realism attracted worldwide attention and inspired experiments in new forms of 'realism' in France, Russia and Poland. These realisms became vehicles for coming to terms with recent history, before they gave way to the modernist experiments which flourished in Italy, France and Germany.

    This module places several key films each week in their social, historical and critical contexts, with the aim of arriving at an overview of post-war European cinema's strengths and weaknesses. The module draws on a range of audio-visual critical material such as film essays, TV and cinema documentaries in order to understand and critically assess the advantages and limitations of the audio-visual criticism and knowledge in presenting and conveying the history of cinema. The presentation and exploration of the post-war history of European cinema is placed in a wider context of Hollywood and world cinema which the audio-visual critical material enables and encourages.

    Indicative module syllabus

    • The End of the WW2 Realism? A cinema of liberation: Italian Neo-realism
      • Screening: Bicycle Thieves (De Sica, 1948)
    • Socialist Realism: After Stalin: 'Thaw' in the USSR
      • Screening: The Childhood of Ivan (Tarkovsky, 1962)
    • Politics of Historical Memory: Polish School
      • Screening: Ashes and Diamonds (Wajda, 1958)
    •  Reconstructing the Past: France’s coming to terms with the Occupation
      • Screening: Hiroshima, mon amour (Resnais, 1959)
    • Documenting the Present: New Realisms around Europe: Sweden, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia
      • Screening: The Switchboard Operator (Makavejev, 1967)
    • Cinema of Reconstruction: Italy and the Discontents of Modernity
      • Screening: L’Avventura (Antonioni, 1960)
    • Re-writing the Hollywood Script according to European Realisms: Cahiers version of cinema
      • Screening: A bout de souffle (Godard, 1960)
    • Return of the Repressed: the German New Wave
      • Screening: Alice in the Cities (Wenders, 1974)
    • Dogma 95
      • Screening: Festen (Vintenberg, 1998)
    • History Made Present: Romania New Wave
      • Screening: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Mungiu, 2007)

    Learning objectives

    By the end of this module, you will:

    • have extensive knowledge of the history of European cinema presented in the comparative perspective between the European western and eastern artistic traditions
    • have advanced skills to analyse complex filmic texts and engage in their close critical readings
    • be able to critically assess the importance, value and relevance of a variety of theoretical and conceptual approaches to the study of European cinema coming from both Western and Eastern European intellectual contexts
    • be able to engage with critical, historical and theoretical writings on the history of European cinema
    • understand the main processes of modernity which shaped formal and aesthetics aspects of European cinema as well as its changing modes of representation.