The Postman's White Nights

in 15th goEast - Festival of Central and Eastern European Film

by Andrei Plakhov

“White Nights”, the Russian competition entry at Wiesbaden’s GoEast, looks fresh, and even if it reminds of Konchalovsky’s early masterpiece “Asya’s Happiness” (“Istoriia Asi Kliachinoi, kotoraia liubila, da ne vyshla zamuzh”, 1966), this does not provide a real stylistic clue. Half a century ago the use of non-professional actors and a candid camera seemed to be a revelation – but this is no longer the case in the age of digital technologies. Still, the reality of the Russian provinces looks rather exotic from the European point of view. Konchalovsky knows this and makes his movie as a contemporary artistic piece, full of energy but at the same time very calm and wise.

The people who populate this mythological territory of Russia’s North still consume potatoes as basic food, reminding us of Claude Lelouch’s film “A Man and a Woman” (“Un home et une femme”, 1966), and they keep an old calendar with the portrait of the Communist leader Gennadi Ziuganov. Their life is timeless: sometimes it looks as if related to the era of socialist romanticism, sometimes it seems closer to the period of the capitalist boom of the 1990s. Both eras were defined by radical developments in the capital and big cities, but the countryside remained almost untouched, and the character of severe Northern natives has not changed much. They still exist in the space of a myth. Although Konchalovsky recalls Anton Chekhov and Fedor Dostoevsky, his latest artistic experience lies rather closer to Homer, Pushkin or Shakespeare (“White Nights” ends with a citation from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”).

In this very Russian and certainly not idyllic world, people have always suffered under the pressure of corrupt power, but their existence has an inner meaning which lies in a pagan, pre-Christian unity with Mother Nature. Sometimes this mystical atmosphere brings back the memory of another film made by Konchalovsky in Louisiana, “Shy People” (1987).

The protagonist of this lyric drama, Alexei Triapitsyn, is also very shy. Triapitsyn is a real postman who plays himself: He delivers letters and – what is especially important – pensions for the last of the Mohicans in this abandoned land. The postman symbolizes the bridge between patriarchal life and modern civilization: the famous Plesetsk cosmodrome, launching rockets into the skies, is located nearby. The film’s characters feel solitary and unspoken love. Every morning Triapitsyn takes a motor-boat and crosses the lake with his latest postal deliveries. The northern lights reflect in the water. Eternal life goes on.

Edited by Birgit Beumers