Review: Srđan Keča’s ‘Museum of the Revolution’

Museum of the Revolution Review - 2021 Srdjan Keca Documentary Film

Vague Visages’ Museum of the Revolution review contains minor spoilers. Srđan Keča’s 2021 documentary features Marija Savic, Milica Novakov and Vera Novakov. Check out the VV home page for more film reviews, along with cast/character summaries, streaming guides and complete soundtrack song listings.


Museum of the Revolution is emblematic of a certain trend that seems to have taken over ex-Yugoslav documentary filmmaking. Let’s call it Slow Docufiction. This includes All the Cities of the North (Dane Komljen, 2016), Landscapes of Resistance (Marta Popivoda, 2021), The Elegy of Laurel (Dušan Kasalica, 2021) and now Museum of the Revolution by first-time feature director Srđan Keča. It’s a definite offshoot of the Slow Cinema style that has come to define some of the 21st century’s major auteur names (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Lav Diaz), whose works already contain elements of documentary, but this Slow Docufiction is more firmly entrenched on that documentary side. In the ex-Yugoslav context, this trend — I’m hesitant to call it a wave — is deployed primarily as a way of contemplating and visualizing the slow and inexorable decline of living standards in much of the region after the breakup of Yugoslavia.

That slow decline has at its heart the alienating effects of neoliberal capitalism in the region, and the further ethnic isolation that arose out of Yugoslavia’s violent conflict. These films utilize the landscape and architecture of the former Yugoslavia in their textures, particularly the often radical and brutalist formulations that were constructed in the 60s and 70s, buildings which promised a futuristic, space-age future, one which never came to pass, and which now represent the failures of times past. 

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Museum of the Revolution Review - 2021 Srdjan Keca Documentary Film

All these films are rooted in the lived experience of their filmmakers in the former Yugoslavia and how they’ve experienced the concept of post-Yugoslav life. Museum of the Revolution is no different. The opening credits tell of the building of the titular museum in Communist-era Yugoslavia, which was never finished. Much of the first half of the film is spent in this modern day space (derelict, dirty and vacant), save for what appears to be a small child (Milica Novakov) and her grandmother (Marija Savić) living there. The characters while away the time in this vast cavernous space, sleeping by a campfire. The camera frequently turns to squares of light piercing the dark: a tunnel or a skylight, funneled into the inky blackness. Keĉa certainly has a knack for powerful and evocative imagery.

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Later in Museum of the Revolution, the child’s mother, Vera (Vera Novakov) arrives. She and her kid walk the streets of Belgrade, mostly working as car window washers on busy intersections, with Vera saving up money to send to her imprisoned partner. All three actors are non-professionals essentially playing themselves.

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Museum of the Revolution Review - 2021 Srdjan Keca Documentary Film

What emerges is a story about marginalized outsiders squatting in the husk of a marginalized ideology — that of the Brotherhood and Unity that Yugoslavia was supposed to represent — subsisting day-to-day, working at the most peripheral, anonymous of places, where thousands of cars will roll by daily. Vera and Milica, it’s subtly revealed, are Roma, and so they’ll face another layer of institutional oppression on top of being homeless and financially marginalized. 

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Museum of the Revolution features effective, moving material. Keĉan avoids the standard cliched pitfalls of depicting Roma in much mainstream Yugoslav and ex-Yugoslav filmmaking, instead focusing on a “small” story situated in the wider winds of social change. Throughout, there are references to how the geography of the city has changed, often to the detriment of actual Belgraders. There’s a particularly pointed shot of the gentrified Belgrade waterfront area “Belgrade na vodi” (Belgrade on the Water), which forcibly evicted a large cultural community in favor of the international mafia construction contracts favored by the glorious current president. It’s the nature of Belgrade that it’s always been an intrinsically unfriendly city, psychologically speaking, a theme depicted as far back as When I’m Dead and Pale (Živojin Pavlović, 1967), even referenced in earlier social realist work such as Zenica (Milos Stefanović and Jovan Zivanović, 1957). But it’s an even more aggressively angry city today, held hostage by a government actively obliterating its cultural roots and annihilating centuries of spirit. This aggressive, anti-social architecture is present throughout Museum of the Revolution, with the ever-present visibility of cars and construction.

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Museum of the Revolution Review - 2021 Srdjan Keca Documentary Film

And yet, while I applaud this aspect of Museum of the Revolution, I find myself somewhat disappointed with the fact that the only way the film seems to be able to look to the future is to look to the past. It has this in common with its Slow Docufiction brethren, all of which remark on the particular architecture of Yugoslav-era thinking and lament its loss, but seem unable to imagine a new future for our region.

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Films, of course, aren’t necessarily meant to have concrete political answers for the future. But the lack of any real imagination and hope for the future — whilst emblematic of a wider post-Yugoslav malaise and apathy — does reveal a deep-seated anxiety about how exactly to move forward. To wit: in Landscapes of Resistance, viewers spend much of the time with Sonja Vujanović, the ageing grandmother of the film’s writer (Ana Vujanović), who tells the audience of her experiences as a Partizan, engaged in action against the Nazis and her capture. It’s a truly remarkable testimony, especially since the witness retells these stories matter of factly — they were and are a hard, ugly reality for her, and yet the filmmakers see in her some kind of iconography and valedictory heroism. Vujanović was a hero of course, but this valorization of her results only in calcifying the past, embedding it in Yugonostalgic amber.

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Museum of the Revolution Review - 2021 Srdjan Keca Documentary Film

I’m as hardline a Yugonostalgic as they come, but I’m not fool enough to see all our answers in a brief and tumultuous past. Communist Yugoslavia existed only for 45 years, and underwent huge rapid changes in that time; the constant harking back to that past, whilst providing some lessons for today, does limit the field of view for the future.

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And I think there’s an essential piece of the puzzle missing for Museum of the Revolution . With its dwelling, the film situates the protagonists in the past. But this past was not too glorious for them either: the Roma, the unemployed and homeless were all still marginalized back then (one only has to look at the entire oeuvre of Želimir Žilnik to find proof). The museum institution, had it been built, would have remained as abstract and apart from the daily lived reality of Vera and Milica’s antecedents in 60s and 70s Yugoslavia — which all leads me to wonder as to what the answers really are? At this point, Museum of the Revolution and its contemporaries are merely depicting a problem. They all do so effectively and imaginatively. And of course, Museum of the Revolution has no moral or artistic responsibility to provide answers. But when almost none of these contemporary films even attempt to imagine an answer, one has to wonder where exactly we’re going wrong.

Museum of the Revolution premieres in New York City at DCTV’s Firehouse Cinema on May 19, 2023.

Fedor Tot (@redrightman) is a Yugoslav-born, Wales-raised freelance film critic and editor, specializing in the cinema of the ex-Yugoslav region. Beyond that, he also has an interest in film history, particularly in the way film as a business affects and decides the function of film as an art.

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