Wild Field By Inga Pērkone-Redoviča

in 18th Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema

by Inga Perkone-Redovica

As a young doctor, Anton Chekhov became a distinguished author after getting to know closely the Ukrainian steppe. Life in the steppe cured him from his physical ailment and inspired his writings. We do not know why and where the young doctor Dmitrii from Mikhail Kalatozishvili’s film Wild Field has come from to the nowhere land of the Kazakh steppe, where time stands still and death lurks yonder. Unintentionally maybe, the film pays tribute to Chekhovian mood and ideas, and to the main focus of his plays, the Russian intelligentsia. The principal character is therefore remindful of Anton Chekhov himself, but is also a typically Chekohvian intelligent, who prefers contemplation to action — a feature he shares with art cinema protagonists.

The doctor’s aloof attitude is contrasted to that of the supporting characters who, in their turn, evoke the personages from the classical cinema. In each episode, they emerge as if from nowhere, only to return back there after having achieved their seemingly sole raison d’être: to shake the doctor out of his reflective state and to force him into action.

The filmmakers have chosen a landscape reminiscent of the open vistas of Hollywood Westerns. Suggestive of the unfathomable post-Soviet post-history, a solitary house — the hospital run by only one person, the doctor — is lost in the middle of an empty, uncivilized steppe. A perfect place for the definitive theatrical performance! But the hospital is not a safe haven of civilization as traditional Westerns would have — far from it — for it itself has been overtaken by misery and destruction.

There are a lot of cultural references in the film — from the Bible to Chekhov, from Eisenstein to classical Westerns to Soviet war films. Its real achievement however is that these cultural references — like Pieta and the martyrs buried in the sand in Eisenstein’s Que Viva Mexico! — do not make it look and sound heavy or dead-serious. Kalatozishvili has made a copiously original and sometimes funny work because of his ironic usage of these cultural symbols or via witty reversals of their original meaning: while hot iron flesh burning features invariably as a gruesome torture in Soviet war films, in Wild Field it is applied as a miraculous treatment, snapping back to life an old drunkard.

Another case to point is the paradoxical interpretation of a key phrase, an almost sacred mantra from the Soviet times: “Be what it may, but only not a war!” In Wild Field one of the characters however exclaims hopefully: “May it be a war!” No matter against whom and why. Like the strong Soviet power, still epitomized in this anarchic place by a Soviet-era militsioner (or policeman), war emerges as one of the fundamental values of Soviet society against which all other values measure up to and make sense.

Nostalgia, longing for the past, is a typical trait of post-Soviet culture, especially in Russia. In Kalatozishvili’s film, however, nostalgia is surprisingly combined with a powerful feeling of freedom. Along with the other characters, Doctor Dmitrii has come to the end of the world — and it is a place where eternity begins.