Slavic Culture on the Screen

in 36th Moscow International Film Festival

by Olga Surkova

Three films of the so-called Slavic culture were presented at the Festival; very fortunate, considering the current political situation. Two Russian films in the running (White Yagel by Vladimir Turmayev and Yes and Yes by Valeriya Gay Germanika) were nicely upheld by a vivid Ukrainian picture (Brothers: The Final Confession by Victoria Trofimenko).

But if the work of Germanika had a provocative nature concerning Russian traditions, laying claim to a shocking avant-garde permissiveness, the work of Turmayev demonstrated a careful reverence to the traditions of soundly realistic cinema. In this regard the Ukrainian motion picture also followed the good tradition of “the poetic Ukrainian film”, which established itself in Soviet Russia with names like Parajanov, Ilenko, Mykolaychuk and Osyka. It has to be noted that all these pictures were distinguished in one way or another with different kinds of awards.

Germanika had the most fortune as she was given the second most important Best Director Award, and also the FIPRESCI – and The Newspaper Kommersant Award. The Ukrainian picture got the Award for Best Actress (N. Polovinka). And last, but not least, White Yagel got the Public Sympathy Prize.

In the context of the evolution of western cinematography, it’s hard to call Germanika’s film stunningly innovative. Nonetheless, in the context of Russian culture and tradition, her work stands out and is clearly of a provocative nature. This seems all the more a case of principle since the Russian Ministry of Culture gives legislative authority to its meaningless sanctimonious demands, like, for instance, the ban on the use of profanity in feature films. Obviously, all the close-to-life characters in the film curse because it’s very familiar to their surroundings.

The film of Turmayev, on the contrary, reminds us of the indigenous peoples and their patriarchal values, inexorably forced out of their lives due to social process. The story of separation and love, contradicting the laws of the clan, requiring only its continuation is slowly expounded by the director in the midst of the beauty of the Russian Far North, inhabited by nomads, Chukchi or Nanaitsi, who have been engaged in reindeer herding and hunting for a long time. “Civilized Russia” is all but stingy when it comes to providing these people with cheap vodka which they pay for with their priceless fur.

The director of the Ukrainian motion picture Brothers: The Final Confession, based on the novel of Swedish writer T. Lindgren, immerses implacably fighting brothers into the poetical atmosphere of the snowy mountain Transcarpathia, filled with folklore symbols and also untouched by modern civilization.

Beyond the great, big world, the brothers fight for the right to be the best, sharing one woman and one son. In the midst of this untouched beauty of the mountain world and eternal passions, a female writer and a female missionary emerge, who try to reconcile the irreconcilable. The war between two brothers who have killed their beloved woman and choked to death their only common beloved son are also perceived symbolically as the battle of two irreconcilable forces, threatening to strangle their “beloved” Ukraine in their embraces.

Edited by Rita di Santo