KinoKultura: Issue 27 (2010)

Kinoshok 2009: The Expiring Principle of Soviet Brotherhood

By Dar’ia Borisova (Moscow)

The 18th Open Film Festival “Kinoshok” of the CIS, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia
Anapa, September 2009

southernIn the main competition of this year’s Kinoshok there were eleven films; only three started their festival life in Anapa, while the others had already done quite a bit of traveling around the world and even garnered a fair amount of awards. But each festival creates a new context for the film, and here, too, the “replayed” films sounded in a different way. Some spoke to each other, others found neither a thematic nor an aesthetic match and stood apart. For example, the Lithuanian film Low Lights (Blizhnii svet/Artimos sviesos) by Ignas Mishkinis was the only example of an inexpensive, ascetic European art-house style, characterized by psychological investigation into attitudes between modern townspeople. A young husband and wife, both business-people, have lost their feelings for each other and grown tired of the numbing daily marathons along office corridors and the wait in long and tiring traffic jams. The crisis is inevitable and, apparently, fatal for the marriage. But nature suddenly takes its own course and cuts through, like trees through asphalt. According to the script, the woman follows the arch-woman Eva, and the method of temptation tested for many centuries works once again: the man is intrigued, fascinated, runs after her, and falls into her traps.

There was no match (thank God!) for the weakest film of the program, the debut of the Ukrainian director Valerii Iamburskii, The Day of the Defeated (Den’ pobezhdennykh). The filmmaker’s desire to create a film “for the people” can faintly be detected here: the film shows the ruins of a former collective farm, some drunken peasant guys, women in kerchiefs, some greasy and bald Don Juan who continually gets himself into situations that resemble a vulgar and trite joke. It is hard to make out a storyline; Iamburskii clearly does not have the stamina for a feature film, although several years ago Kinoshok showed his rather pleasant short film “Astray” (Pribluda), a sentimental story about a touching mongrel. The Day of the Defeated was produced by the Dovzhenko Studio, and it is sad to see a glorified studio trust their resources to debutants, whose talents are more than doubtful.

backdoorThe only Russian film, Backdoor (S chernogo khoda) by Stanislav Mitin, also stood apart. The film is made in retro style and could have been made two, or ten, or even fifteen years ago. “I wanted to shoot an old-fashioned, anti-modern film,” Mitin admitted during the discussion of the film. Everything is of sound quality: the reconstruction of the environment and the atmosphere of the middle of last century, the acting, and the camerawork. But the film has no face and does not stay with you, although it is about love—and at that the forbidden love of an older pupil and a teacher. But probably the only Russian entry had to be encouraged, so the jury—including directors Ali Khamraev, Algimantis Vidugiris and Mikhail Kalatozishvili, film critic Irina Pavlova, and chaired, in Kinoshock tradition, by a person from outside the film world: the well-known writer Vladimir Makanin—gave the award for best actor to the young Vladimir Kuznetsov, who played Mitin’s enamored young man.

sukunatThe program also contained two films, whose heroines are contemporary actresses and hostages of the noisy capitals of Tashkent and Baku. The beautiful and popular Lobar in Yolkin Tuichev’s Silence (Bezmolvie/Sukunat, Uzbekistan) is like a doll with whom a theatre director, a filmmaker, a photographer, and relatives (mother, husband, brother) play. She realizes too late the illusoriness of her art, crushing her own Self on the set or stage into fine particles; when the realization comes, she understands not with her mind but through certain signs from above: she plays the role of a woman who is about to go deaf, and Lobar notices that her hearing worsens, too. Silence is a classical parable that illustrates a moral message. Welcome, my Angel! (Privet tebe, moi angel!/ Günaydin, malayim, Azerbaijan) by Oktai Mir-Kasym is wider than genre. This film comes from a mature master, in a sense a wise man, who has reached a philosophical peak in his understanding of life. Even though her beloved has died in the prime of life, the woman’s life continues. Instincts are once again stronger than grief: the woman has to fight for her daily bread, feed the child, defend her family. It is important for any woman not to give up when remaining alone, but Mir-Kasym’s heroine is also an actress. She faces problems at the theatre, prejudices about the openness of the bohemian world that pose a hurdle for her relationship with people. At other times, Medina almost despairs in her loneliness. Pride and fidelity to the memory of her beloved are almost washed away by a tide of everyday troubles. Welcome, my Angel! is the story of the painful path from the darkness of woe to the light of a spiritual awakening. The reward for the lone woman lies not so much in worldly pleasures, which are suddenly available (she is cast for a film role, the climate at the theatre changes to her advantage), but in inspiration: love does not end with the death of one “half,” and the contact of souls carries on even between Heaven and Earth. After the screening of Mir-Kasym’s film nobody doubted that the magnificent Ayan Mir-Kasym would be honored as best actress: her performance is truly at the level of big European cinema, showing a high degree of psychological acting. But the Kinoshok jury duplicated the decision of the jury of last year’s Eurasia IFF in Astana and gave the award to Irina Ageikina for her role in Marat Sarulu’s film Song of the Southern Seas (Pesn’ iuzhnikh morei, Russia-Kazakhstan-Germany-France-Kyrgyzstan).

welcomeBesides Song (in Russian distribution it will bear the title The Family [Sem’ia]) Kazakhstan was represented in the competition program by the very recent film Kelin, with which the popular Kazakh scriptwriter Ermek Tursunov debuted as director (he is one of authors of the script for Satybaldy Narymbetov’s film Mustafa Shokai). At the same time as being shown in Anapa, Kelin also screened at the IFF Toronto, where the director presented it, while nobody from the crew attended Kinoshok. The quite interesting idea to use a story from ancient times when there were no Kazakh or Kyrgyz peoples yet, but so-called “proto-Turkic” tribes, turned into a cold and schematic film that elicits no response. The aim at abstraction and universality means that we see functions instead of people: these functions are neither embodied in characters nor do they bear any personal markers. Again, instincts reign: in the severe conditions of antiquity the main thing is that the young bride should bear a child, a successor who would prevent the family from dying out. If she cannot conceive from the elder brother, she tries to have a child from the younger. Customs were wild, true, but the human livestock did not decrease.

Harutyun Khachatryan’s Border (Granitsa/Sahman, Armenia; prize for best direction) and The Other Bank by George Ovashvili (Drugoi bereg Georgia, special jury prize) are variations on the theme of the senseless and ruthless Caucasian wars which make people— and animals—suffer, run away, and perish.

sharmankaFinally we must turn to the films of the recognized masters of cinema: Melody for a Barrel-Organ (Melodiia dlia sharmanki) by Kira Muratova and The Rainbowmaker (Meteoidiot) by Nana Djordjadze. Both filmmakers possess the talent to create their own worlds and populate them with their strange, original characters. Both cast children: in Melody the girl is older and more active than the boy conducted by her. They simply cannot understand the laws of the adult world, but dream of their own happiness. Melody takes the shape of a Christmas fairy tale, but this is merely a deceit; the ending is tragic. Djordjadze’s eclectic film also turns into a fairy tale at the end, when natural phenomena and miracles interfere with the story and everything suddenly turns into general pleasure (even the grandfather leaves, led by the figure skater “Death” quite happily: his time has really come). The Kinoshok jury recognized Melody for a Barrel Organ as best film. Indeed, it would have been strange to have a different result with such a film in competition. Another question is whether the festival should have included Muratova’s film in the competition, when it is obvious that she has for a long time already been in a different league of filmmaking, while films made today in post-Soviet countries, where cinematographies often struggle and exist in a cultural vacuum, cannot compete with Muratova.

revolutionIn the competition program “Non-format” (“Neformat,” in the past called “cinema without film”), two young ladies took the lead with their most interesting documentary films: Alena Polunina (The Revolution that didn’t Happen [Revoliutsiia, kotoroi ne bylo]) received the prize for best film in the category and the “Elephant” prize of film critics) and Svetlana Strelnikova (Artemia). Polunina is a restless soul, who constantly visits those places where there are things to expose. The heroes of her latest film are found in places where normally outsiders would not be admitted, leave alone with a camera—for example, the embassy of North Korea, where one of the main characters of the film received an award: the head of the exemplary Petersburg branch of the Party of National-Bolsheviks. Interestingly, Polunina’s protagonists are neither Eduard Limonov nor his temporary fellow-travelers Mikhail Kasianov and Garri Kasparov, but nats-bols of the second echelon. The psychology and daily life of these modern revolutionaries is in the focus of the director’s steadfast attention. Revolution makes the same inconvenient viewing as, for example, Russia 88. It captures the human decline of politicians as such, and secret party technologies are shown in full color.

revolutionStrelnikova also sensitively listens to dangerous public tunes: the mimicry of values and the increasing cynicism of the young generation. Her hero is a young playboy from the capital who chills in night clubs and squanders money by developing “creative events.” In the morning he dons a white gown and begins his clinic in a district hospital, because his proper job is a doctor: for three years he has to work off his debt to the State that paid for his studies… To the question of a patient troubled by his manners “Why you have chosen this profession?” the impudent doctor answers: “I’m looking for my karma.” At the press conference Strelnikova let slip that the doctor by the nickname “Bez” is a real friend, who is still confused by the blood system of the human body.

There was a lot to see at the 18th Kinoshok, but there were few pleasures. The general criteria for the selection of films from countries such as Latvia and Uzbekistan are thinning out. Film finances are suffering almost everywhere, but the consciousness and the degree of creative freedom separates citizens in the former republics of the USSR hugely. Such events as Kinoshok can no longer merely rely on the brotherhood from the Soviet past. The young generation of the independent states already badly speaks Russian (or does not speak it at all), so in the near future the factor of a common language for dialogue will disappear. A new principle of professional cooperation is needed. 

Translated by Birgit Beumers

Dar’ia Borisova

Dar’ia Borisova© 2010

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Updated: 11 Jan 10