Andrei Maliukov: We are from the Future (My iz budushchego, 2008)

reviewed by Greg Dolgopolov© 2008

Adventure tourism to 1942 as a rite of passage

As much as the poster promises a buddy time-travel movie, this is not science fiction, but a rite-of-passage teen war drama that revisions the war as something that the youth of today can respect. The time travel premise is a brash mix between fantasy and authenticity that is geared towards being enjoyed with the fresh eyes of an edgy digital edit and a dynamic modern soundtrack. The recent phalanx of films and television series of the Great Patriotic War have tended to be serious re-evaluations of the dark aspects of the past. We are from the Future takes a different road that, judging by the high box office receipts ($8,228,165), found favor with filmgoers earlier this year, placing it amongst the year's top hits.[1]

This is an unabashed teen film with youthful, cynical, anti-authoritarian protagonists who know little about the Great Patriotic War other than how to make some coin from the sale of war trophies on the black market. The four characters—former student and alpha-male, Borman, skinhead Cherep (Skull), geeky gamer Chukha, and the rapper Spirt—are amateur archaeologists. Skull wants to find an Iron Cross or a Nazi dagger. He is motivated by ideology. The others are motivated by greed. They couldn't give a hoot about respecting the past. But after their mystical time travel experience the boys are confronted by the visceral realities of the war and are utterly transformed. The film successfully updates Russian's resistance to the German advances by thrusting four street-smart youths into the midst of battle and showing their teeth-chattering response to the escapade. From this point of view it makes the war authentic, modern and relevant for today's teens. It straddles the dialogic ground between a de-ideologized post-Soviet space and a new muscular patriotic sensibility.

Like other teen time travel films, We are from the Future enacts a rite of passage that literally ritualizes the journey back in time to mark the coming of age of four young men as they accept their transformed social standing. Coming-of-age movies are about exploring the world in which the characters grow up. When we meet the four protagonists, they are “smart-arse” gravediggers, historical cynics, disrespectful exploiters of the past. Their rite of passage moves from an amped-up gang fight to the real deal of being at war and is presented ceremonially and indeed mythologically bringing elements of mystical folklore into a modern initiation ceremony.

The film triumphantly unifies today's materialism with a robust, blingy masculinity and an appreciation of the toughness of the ancestors and how the symbols of yesteryear are relevant today, but in a way not envisioned by "classic" worthy war films. The film does this neo-Soviet ideological work methodically and genuinely. There is an adventurous passion to director Andrei Maliukov's mise-en-scène that updates the representation of WWII through pastiche and fantasy. Notwithstanding the bitter online commentary that pinpoints the major gaffes in the military details of the art department, this movie makes the War appear as something fresh and relevant.

Maliukov has specialized in making war themed cinema since the 1970s, although he did diverge into art-house drama in the 80s and 90s without much success. Recently he has been experiencing somewhat of a renaissance with a number of popular war drama television serials: Special Forces (Spetsnaz, 2002-03), The Storm Gate (Grozovyie vorota, 2006) and The Saboteur (Diversant, 2004). The theme of the latter resonates with the current film project: the story also takes place in 1942 and focuses on young men, graduates of a special espionage academy, who perform secret operations behind enemy lines. As Maliukov explained:

This is a film fable, therefore there is a moral—at the finale the heroes need to have their perceptions completely transformed. That doesn't mean that we are trying to criticize the current era or to celebrate it. This film shows the connection of two different eras, so that audiences can make sense what is of value now and what we have lost from the past. The essence of the film is not in educating the younger generation but rather in demonstrating what is worth living for, what it means to love, courage and femininity. (Andrushevich)

The film is set in the present day environs of St. Petersburg and during the military defense of the city in August 1942. As the four friends leave a sunny Petersburg that feels fresh and dynamic and drive into the region in a bright yellow jeep, they come upon a small group of "southerners" digging on their previously marked plot. The fighting is fierce and brutal, but the four acquit themselves with savage honor vanquishing these foreign men who are digging on “their” land. The symbolism is straightforward and brutal and is an important counterpoint to the hysterical fear that the lads demonstrate when they are confronted by the horrors of charging the Germans.

In the heat of summer they dig zealously. When they discover a bombed out bunker full of trophies they snatch documents and artefacts feverishly but with no respect for the past. To celebrate Spirt and Skull set up target practice using a found pistol and an insolently snatched skull of a Russian soldier. Interrupting them an old woman appears offering the boys cold milk. She tells them that she knows what they are doing and that it would be fitting for the dead soldiers to be buried properly. She asks them to find her son who disappeared in 1942 with a silver cigarette case. The lads laugh at her, “like sure granny, we'll find him. What's his name?” With a foreboding folktale tone, she suggests that they should cool off at the nearby lake.

Diving into this charmed lake they re-emerge in 1942… at the height of battle with bullets whizzing around them. Initially taken for spies, the four young miserably terrified kids from the future are confronted by the company commander who eventually believes that they are shell-shocked Red Army soldiers as they simply do not behave like the others. There is an immediate air of pragmatism and hardness about the Russian military men that is radically different to the gang's anti-authoritarian cynicism. They acknowledge that there is no point revealing that they are from the future as no one would believe them or understand that Skull is one of ours, but a neo-Nazi with a swastika tattooed on his shoulder, which is quickly concealed with mud.

After numerous failed attempts to dive back into the future via the lake, the lads eventually integrate into the battalion and rapper Spirit endears himself with a modern variation on a war song around the campfire. They are taken under the wing of the stern but fatherly sergeant and shown the ropes. Borman and Chukha fall in love with the spirited, mini-skirted nurse, but a confrontation brews with her boyfriend, the captain. The tension is resolved when the boys are sent on a mission to get a German informer. But this is not a heroic representation of war. The mission fails, the stern but heart-of-gold sergeant dies so as to save the guys. They are taken captive and thrown in jail. There they meet a young soldier who is dying of infected wounds. He turns out to be the son of the old woman that they met in 2006. He gives them his precious silver-and-ruby cigarette case given to him at birth in 1917, asking them to pass this on to his mother. The lads realize that the only way back into the present is by honoring their mocking promise to find the old woman's son.

This is not a heroic tale of modern men bringing order and morality to the past; rather it is the opposite. Tough guy Borman confesses military secrets after just two glasses of vodka during interrogation. When the wounded soldier shows them his escape route, our modern heroes do not offer selflessly to carry him out with them. But the most powerful illustration of the differences between the two epochs is how the lads approach the final battle—an all-or-nothing assault on the German fortifications. They are scared stiff. It is through their quivering point of view of this battle that we as a modern audience begin to fathom the bravery and pragmatism of our ancestors and the spineless hysteria of modern street toughs when faced with the real terror of war. While they may be ready to brawl with a rival gang, they are genuinely terrified of the WWII battles. It is the trembling, teeth-chattering terror that the four protagonists exhibit as they charge up the hill that creates a palpable authenticity.

This is a satisfyingly formulaic fantasy film that captures the madness of war from the visceral perspective of today's twenty-somethings. The film attracted passionately positive responses in online forums with commentators expressing the need for new films about WWII because this is the one event that still unites the nation. We are from the Future successfully quotes iconic images, characters and situations from a host of war films, appropriating them in a glossy and revised coming-of-age ritual. The key dramatic moment is neither the youths' separation from society nor their liminal phase when they are caught between the two worlds, but that moment of social recognition when the audience witnesses their transformation in the present. These four youthful cynics re-enter society after their time travel as mature men, having completed their ceremonial rites through their encounter with the past and their new respect for our brave, fallen ancestors and their own modern responsibilities.

Greg Dolgopolov
UNSW (Sydney, Australia)

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Notes

1] 1,286,133 people saw the film by 19 March 2008 after an impressive seven-week run. It is still screening in some cinemas in September 2008 even though the DVD has been widely available for at least six months and it was broadcast as a four part miniseries on RTR on 9 May with some additional scenes. Source


Works Cited

Andrushevich, Anna. “'My iz budushchego': a chto by skazal dedushka?” Cleo, 22 February 2008



We are from the Future (Back in Time), Russia, 2008
Color, 110 mins.
Scriptwriters: Aleksandr Shevtsov, Eduard Volodarskii, with participation of Kirill Belevich
Director: Andrei Maliukov
Directors of Photography: Vladimir Sporyshkov, Olga Livinskaia
Production Design: Vladimir Dushin
Costume Design Maksim Pazilov
Composer Ivan Burliaev
Sound Mikhail Nikolaev
Editing Maria Sergeenkova
Cast: Danila Kozlovskii, Vladimir Iaglych, Andrei Terent’ev, Dmitri Volkostrelov, Daniil Strakhov, Ekaterina Klimova, Boris Gal’kin, Sergei Iushkevich, Sergei Makhovikov
Producers: Sergei Shumakov, Liudmila Kukoba, Angelina Pavlichenko, Asia Gergova
Production A-1 Kino Video, commissioned by the television channel “Russia”, with support from the Federal Agency of Culture and Cinematography
www.m-i-b.ru

Andrei Maliukov: We are from the Future (My iz budushchego, 2008)

reviewed by Greg Dolgopolov© 2008

Updated: 30 Sep 08