I read this piece over the weekend about marking the 100th anniversary of Wilfred Owen’s death. Mary Borden also gets a shout out.
St. George Shoots the Dragon (2009) is a Serbian film following characters from the end of the First Balkan War until World War I. In class, we have not interacted with Serbian perspectives on the war, and after preparing to watch this film, it’s clear that access to Serbian art about the war is limited. You cannot purchase this movie from most popular online retailers; it is available from an independent Serbian shop online or on Ebay for a general price of 46 dollars, with sellers marketing it as rare. This is not an exaggeration; In fact, the only place one can easily access the film is on European Film Gateway, a European Union hosted database of films, with no subtitles. Despite the difficulty of access and the language barrier, St. George Shoots the Dragon is worth watching. It brings up questions surrounding disability in times of war and illustrates an intimate proximity between the battlefront and homeland that English and American books simply cannot capture.
The acting is startlingly effective—though the film is solely in Serbian, the actors portray vivid and realistic emotions that one can understand without language. Additionally, for a film depicting the effects of two different wars, it is surprisingly funny. There is lot of very dramatized fighting between veterans of the previous war as the writer stages a sort of gang rivalry between those who have returned with disabilities and those who came home unharmed. At one point, a man who has lost his foot is serenading a married woman, and another veteran throws a pig heart at him and wraps the intestines around his neck. While this attempt at humor relies on disgust, it is a somewhat petulant depiction of the new battle that exists at home in the time between the two wars. Of course, this disdain for disabled veterans is a bit off-putting in comparison to the portrayal of disability and injury in the texts we have read; in English and American society, disabled veterans seem to have been regarded with a level of nationalistic fetishization. In this Serbian village, the characters are instead viewed as deviants who must be excluded from greater society while uninjured men are seen as war heroes.
While using the disabled characters as tools for humor is certainly questionable, the film does provide further commentary on the dangers of this rivalry; as World War I begins, the able-bodied soldiers determine that the disabled veterans left at home are dangers to their wives and families. This discrimination so deeply permeates their society that in order to placate the soldiers, the veterans are forced to enlist as well. Though our other texts illustrated the desperation for bodies towards the end of the war leading to injured soldiers having to return, this film explores it in a much darker scenario as soldiers, devoid of compassion and filled with jealousy, fight for the death sentences of their neighbors.
Largely, this difference seems to lie in the proximity of Serbian soldiers to the war. For them, the front is not across the ocean. It is in their towns, walking distance from their homes and families. These characters are navigating both their lives and the war at once. In one scene, as the village celebrates a festival, children wave joyously at a pilot flying overhead before he drops a bomb down onto the town as male townspeople shoot up at him. After the bomb fell, hitting only a cart of watermelons, the festival continued. War was not just a threat to these character’s lives, it was intricately sewn into the tapestry of their experiences, their marriages, their happiness. Further, the deaths of characters within the film are not abstract letters to their spouses. Wives reclaim the bodies of their husbands from the trenches. Discrimination flourishes because soldiers are not isolated from their homelands. While English soldiers are countries away from the women and officials they disdain, Serbian soldiers have more of an opportunity to exert their traumatized anger on scapegoat victims.
Overall, this film was beautifully produced. It is graphic and blunt in its illustrations of humanity and war, while still providing audiences with humor not always found in serious war art. It is hard to find and hard to understand, but very easy to enjoy. For anyone interested in exploring another side of World War I, St. George Shoots the Dragon is worth searching for.