Erected in New Belgrade in 1969, Hotel Jugoslavija took on mythical proportions. It was both a symbol and a witness to the various moments that shaped Yugoslavia: from Tito to Milošević; from socialism to nationalism; from NATO’s bombings to corrupted economic liberalism. Today it still haunts Belgrade’s landscape, a reflection of a Serbian society that is in search of new landmarks. Taking a journey through the physical space and various eras of this particular building, the filmmaker–of Yugoslavian origin via his mother, but born and raised in Switzerland–explores both a collective unconscious and a part of his own identity.
A word from Tënk
Yugonostalgia is a term that has come into use since the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s, signifying both a longing for a time of peace and prosperity in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as well as a mockery of those of us who perceive those years as such. It denotes a broken narrative that seems to me is particularly accentuated for those of us born in diaspora, to a generation who departed from those so-called golden years. Like filmmaker and writer Nicolas Wagnières, I was born elsewhere, a part of the last generation who held Yugoslav passports, who went to Yugoslavia on summer holidays, whose parents identified as Yugoslavs. We were also the generation who, within our childhoods, grew into our own sense of self amidst the fallout, suddenly no longer able to visit, perhaps even too young to make sense of the violent images that newly represented our home, the proverbial building on fire.
Wagnières’ eloquent narrative of loss is a poetic ode that guides his film through the passage of time from said childhood to the present, using a single building, the once elite Hotel Jugoslavija in New Belgrade—itself the utopic symbol of Tito’s Yugoslavia—as the locus of his search for meaning, identity, belonging, explanations with regards to his disappeared country, “Something we will never find again, but that, nonetheless, constitutes the stuff of which we are made.” Our own memories piecemeal, our elders’ stories impossible to connect to the destruction that was, and to the brokenness that is. How can you belong to a place that no longer exists? The ideals of self-management, non-alignment, brotherhood and unity, collectivity collide with great discontinuity within the ruins of memory, of literal buildings. “What growth may come in this field of ruins? In this devastated moral landscape?” he asks. When reconstruction looks more like destruction; if the story doesn’t have a happy ending, does that mean that the happy part never existed to begin with? Wagnières’ Hotel is a site of memory and of mourning, a pilgrimage and a search, a visit to an old friend, one who has changed so much he is no longer recognizable, a living wake, a reverential placing of flowers on his grave.
Writer, translator, programmer, cinephile