Female – Male

in 14th Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival

by Alexander Yanakiev

Some years ago the Open Russian Film Festival used to present films produced in the former Soviet republics. Today in competition there are only Russian films, eighteen all together. The accompanying program Panorama showed another 9 films and as a Special event – the film “Father and Son” by Alexander Sokurov. With the program made in such a way the participants of the festival were able to see almost the whole Russian production of the last 12 months. For that reason Sochi is possibly the best place for professionals and experts who want to get acquainted in details with contemporary Russian cinema and the people behind it.

In the mid 90s, in most of the cinemas of Eastern Europe, and that includes Russia as well, films about the mafia or the “nouveau riche”, the so called “new Russians” were dominant.. Quite often those were the same people. At present one can notice that this tendency is declining. Again Russian cinema is experiencing a revival. But this is something like new wine – if you drink too much of it – you get a headache.

Women are at the center of many films. One can make a detailed catalogue of Russian women’s typical obsessions, strives, wishes. These are loneliness, madness, the dream of finding the right man – “Nebo. Samolet. Devushka” (The Sky. The Plane. The Girl) by Vera Storosheva, “Michael” by Konstantin Khudyakov, “Zhizn’ odna” (One Life) by Vitaliy Moskalenko, “Ne delajte biskvity v plohom nastroenii” (Do not Make Biscuits in Bad Mood) by Grigory Nikulin, etc. All of these films are quite indicative about the mood and feeling in contemporary society. But regretfully they lack artistic quality. The men disappoint the women-protagonists.

In the so-called “male” movies we can perceive the weaknesses of the present-day “strong sex” of Russia. A senseless battle for money and success is going on and it does not bring happiness. Everyone is a loser. The last sanctuary and hope lies in memories about friendship –”Pravda o Schelpah” (All the Truth about Schelps) by Alexander Muradov, “Foto” (Photo) by Alexander Galin, “Magnitnye buri” (Magnetic Storms) by Vladimir Abdrashitov, etc. But this cannot even be defined as nostalgia for the past, but as a last chance to lean on something stable and familiar in the ever-changing world. The male protagonists are weighed down by the expectations of women, the State and life in general.

Contemporary Russian protagonists cannot adapt to the new environment. They have lost almost all sense of direction. In this kind of situation women are more active still. I think that this is an evidence of the deep crisis in post-communist society.

Some years ago the films “Brat” (Brother) 1 and 2 by Alexey Balabanov attracted the interest of the audience. That was the hero of the new time – a nice young man that does not drink too much and has found his place in society after service in the army. The hero can be presented also in another way – a person who has been tough by the army to kill perfectly and he successfully becomes a hired killer. To that one should add the powerful nationalism of the second series in order to understand the great success of this film among mass audiences in Russia.

Today such a hero cannot be seen in Russian cinema. The army and all military skills have lost the appeal that they used to have before in Soviet cinema. Only Alexander Sokurov still admires the fact that in the army there are so many young, healthy and attractive young men in uniforms – “Otec i syn” (Father and Son). For the rest of the filmmakers the army first of all represents the terrible war in Chechnya, which is a continuation of over 200 years of struggle. Suffering for the dead. The horror of being prisoner-of-war. Chechnya now has become a symbol. Behind this symbol one can see the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the wars on the territory of the Soviet Union, the streams of refugees.

These are the main themes that truly and deeply move Russian society and the real achievements of the festival are here. In the film “Kavkazkaya ruletka” (Caucasian Roulette) by Fyodor Popov the authors have found the proper balance between positions of the fighting parties. The filmmakers show the tragedy of the war in Chechnya refracted through the feelings of the mothers, regardless of the political changes of the conflict. And this is one of the merits of the film. “Shik” (Chic) by Bakhtiyar Khudoynazarov attempts to capture the situation of post-soviet society – all ties have been cut off, everyone dreams to go somewhere, people feel uncomfortable in their present state.

The main protagonist of the film “Babusya” (Granny) by Lidia Bobrova is forced to leave her home and wander around homeless. After her quite “heroic” life, devoted to bring up her children and grandchildren she is no longer needed. She humbly accepts her fate – as only wise people can. In my opinion this film touches upon some general, human problems, much greater than the ungratefulness of the “new Russians” for the ones that have brought them up.

“Starukhi” (Old Women) by Genadiy Sidorov again turns to the wisdom and experience of the old women. They carry in them the prejudices of the old socialist time, but also kindness, humanness and wisdom. May be this film best of all presents contemporary Russian society and achieves this balancing between realistic and metaphoric style.