Hotel Jugoslavija appears as a mirror image of the Yugoslav glory and downfall, symbolised by the once grand and luxurious hotel in the capital of a country that ceased to exist.
As with the other nations once under Communist rule, the republics of the former Yugoslavia remain home to iconic buildings and monuments that are now being fetishized by the West as fading relics of a world outside capitalism.
Director Nicolas Wagnières in his debut documentary feature Hotel Jugoslavija (2017), which screened at the Berlin International Film Festival this February, considers such a flagship edifice as a prism to reflect on the past, and to mourn the loss of images that have lost their legitimacy.
Located at the Belgrade Danube banks, Hotel Jugoslavija opened its doors in 1969 and was in the years that followed one of the biggest and luxurious hotels in the former Yugoslavia.
Wagnières’ film argues that the declining fortunes of the hotel mirror those of Yugoslavia as a whole, as it broke apart amid rising nationalism.
At the time of the filming, the year is 2005 and the hotel – which the director only discovered as an adult when he rekindled contact with Belgrade – is about to be closed for renovation. Wagnières keeps returning to it «near-religiously» over the years, «filming to retain and regain», as he puts it.
The fading letters of the hotel name, emblazoned across its vast façade, now bares the witness of its past time glory that has been slowly fading after the end of the Yugoslav era. Perhaps it is known to some foreigners nowadays as a curiosity and a memorial to the Brutalist architecture commissioned by Tito, which characterised the era and appears to us as taken straight out of a sci-fi movie.