Issue 30 (2010)
Aleksandr Samokhvalov: We Are from the Future 2 (My iz budushchego 2, 2010)
reviewed by David McVey © 2010
Positing a culture-wide “religion of war” in Soviet film (Iskusstvo kino 5, 2005: 56), Aleksandr Shpagin argues that the “myth” (58) intended to sanctify the Soviet Union’s purpose and accomplishments in the Great Patriotic War developed a fervently religious tenor and replaced the original ideology of the Civil War (57). Shpagin contends that “[the] war is the great feat of the Soviet people; [the] war is the test of the durability of all human qualities; owing to [the] war we saved our country and all the world from the brown plague. [The] war is one of the best pages of our entire history” (57).
According to Shpagin, the god of this religion was both jealous and punitive: “Anyone who doubts the righteousness of any great ordeal [during the war] is automatically rendered an outsider, and therefore, a coward and a traitor.” This religion mandated a strict “code of honor, which reads: ‘you must fight together with all and perish for the right cause’” (Iskusstvo kino 6, 2005: 76). Shpagin claims that this narrative peaked with Mikhail Chiaureli’s Fall of Berlin (Padenie Berlina, 1949), which glorifies an unobstructed march by the Red Army on a cravenly fascist Germany (Iskusstvo kino 5, 2005: 65-8),but gradually waned over the decades and met its ultimate debunking in Elem Klimov’s Come and See (Idi i smotri, 1985), which bleakly portrayed the war as an episode of fatal insanity (Iskusstvo kino 6, 2005: 79), not of effulgent triumph and unimpeachable moral rectitude.
The Russian blockbuster, We Are from the Future (My iz budushchego, 2008), and its sequel, We Are from the Future 2 (My iz budushchego 2, 2010), however, have burst into cinemas as clarion calls to revive the religion of war, or as evidence that it never completely vanished. Tatiana Smorodinskaya observes a marked increase in the number of Russian war films—moreover, with an overarching purpose—in the twenty-first century (90): “The new Russian masterminds do not try to restore communist ideals; rather, they strive to create a new unifying national idea, and they clearly realize the importance of the heroic past as a basis for a new patriotic doctrine” (Smorodinskaya, 89), using the war to promote kneejerk pride in Russia over multifaceted analysis of people’s actions and motivations during crisis.
The We Are from the Future films corroborate Smorodinskaya’s thesis and challenge Shpagin’s contention that the Soviet war myth in movies died. These two films select a cohort that has apostatized from the religion of war, only to reform them and welcome them back into the fold. Whereas the first movie deals with cavalier Russian opportunists who brazenly excavate war artifacts and sell them for profit, the sequel takes on Ukrainian nationalists who despise all things Russian. After their conversions, the born-again heroes are energized to share the gospel of war with any compatriots who still ignore, doubt, or dishonor the glorious legacy of the Great Patriotic War.
In the first installment, an old woman’s hex sends four contemporary young moral reprobates (economic opportunists and a skinhead) back to the front in 1942 after she catches them desecrating archeological remains from a period battle site. Relocated to the mythic time of the Great Patriotic War, the quartet earns the chance to atone for their sacrilegious disrespect and prove their (Soviet-) manly mettle through fighting the Germans alongside heroic Red Army soldiers. Emerging intact from the experience and wholly converted to the religion of war, the four return as changed men to twenty-first-century St. Petersburg, preparing viewers for the film’s closing imminent smackdown between them and a group of unconverted skinheads. One imagines these reformed heroes as Russia’s future, willing to confront the present-day forces of corruption and anti-patriotism. As the religion’s newest disciples, they are eager to share their newly-found faith with those who have not yet entered the fold—or to impose it on the unenlightened.
We Are from the Future 2, released on 18 February 2010, replicated its predecessor’s success, opening as the box-office champion and taking in $8.2 million in ticket sales in Russia. Such fare obviously attracts the Russian movie-going public, demonstrating that the myth of war still resonates, even among young people, who comprise the majority of spectators. The film also has a flashy website, which explains the characters’ Vorgeschichte and sports a short blog with links to press articles and comments about the film. Clearly, Russia’s youth are the recruitment target of this action film’s proselytizing.
The sequel takes several initially confusing departures from the original. First, Andrei Maliukov, who directed the 2008 film, does not return for the sequel, helmed instead by Aleksandr Samokhvalov. Second, only the lead characters of Borman (Igor’ Petrenko) and Cherep (Vladimir Iaglich) appear, and only Cherep is played by the same actor (Danila Kozlovskii does not return as Borman). These two have dropped their tough-guy monikers and now answer to the respectable-sounding Sergei Filatov and Oleg Vasil’ev. Filatov teaches history at university, Vasil’ev has grown out his hair, and both have shed nearly every trace of moral turpitude and disrespect for the war. Instead of raiding battle sites, they now reunite dead soldiers’ descendants with the personal effects of their valiant forebears. Both returning characters have mostly embraced the religion of war, but the film suggests that an ongoing renewal of faith is always in order. To this end, the comrades travel to Ukraine to participate in a reenactment of a key battle near Brody, in which the Nazis and Ukrainian separatists tried to break through the Soviet line one last time.
When Filatov and Vasil’ev arrive on the mock battlefield, they are met by a throng of surly Ukrainian nationalists who exploit the event as score-settling for their grievances against Russia. The Ukrainians depreciatingly refer to them as “moskali” and one of the Ukrainian organizers even announces over a megaphone that “here in 1944, our fathers and grandfathers laid down their heads for the freedom of [our] native Ukraine.” So consumed are these Ukrainian nationalists by their disdain of Russia that they have rehabilitated the Nazis and the Ukrainian freedom fighters, venerating their campaign against the Soviet Union.
This episode’s mise-en-scène clearly links the participating Ukrainians to Hitler’s army and the decadent West. One reviewer describes the spectacle as “some kind of SS evenings on a farm near Dikan’ka” (Andreev): Ukrainian and Nazi flags flap in the breeze; the Ukrainian participants are decked out in Nazi war helmets, suspenders, and lederhosen; the Ukrainian heroes lurch onto the scene in flashy SUVs, shouting “privit” on their mobile phones as they enjoy heavy metal music. They commemorate the event with a death-metal disco, complete with screaming and pyrotechnics. This all happens under the ample influence of alcohol. The Ukrainians take the whole event rather casually, clearly discounting the war myth’s denunciation of Nazi ideology and blaspheming against the war religion’s sacred site. By contrast, the Russians, already converted, arrive with an air of reverence and are visibly appalled by the Ukrainians’ revelry and sympathy for the Nazis.
The two primary Ukrainian characters are introduced less sympathetically than the band of Russian miscreants were in the first movie. They greet Filatov and Vasil’ev with hand gestures that imply a noose and a revolver. Taran, played with impressive introspection by Aleksei Balabash, is a brooding type who harbors a deep, almost palpable hatred of Russians. He harasses a female Russian organizer by sticking the muzzle of his rifle into her skirt and provokes Vasil’ev to start a mass brawl at the dance. Fleeing the fracas into the surrounding woods, Taran comes across a ramshackle monument to the Red Army. Enraged by its symbolism, he kicks over the obelisk, the Soviet star crashing to the earth, and releases a spooky wind and mist from the base (Beware, Estonia!), which signals that the he will soon be receiving a lesson in respect for World War II. Taran’s comrade, Seryi, played by Bogdan Stupka’s grandson Dmitrii Stupka, is cast even less flatteringly as a sniveling, spoiled rich kid in need of a haircut, a simpering mama’s boy and a coward incapable of fending for himself. The pronouncement of one of the film’s producers, Liudmila Kukoba, in an interview suggests that this reading of the Ukrainians is correct: “These two handsome men conceal within themselves a terrible threat for society and its future” (Kukoba). The film warns that separatist Ukrainians can bring Russia down, and sets out to change their thinking.
Unsurprisingly, the film was swiftly condemned in Ukraine and did not receive certification for distribution. The film’s creators, however, have denied that their production was intended as an expression of anti-Ukrainian sentiment (Kuznetsova). These protestations are simply not credible, however, as the film portrays Ukrainian nationalists as uniformly evil and emerges on the heels of a series of often tense contretemps between Russia and Ukraine. Recent bones of contention include Ukraine’s fizzled Orange Revolution, closer ties to NATO and the European Union, and indictment of Stalin for the 1930s famine, as well as Russia’s naval base lease in the Crimea, vengeful gas exporting policy, and a Russian-led campaign for greater influence of the Russian language and the Orthodox Church in Ukraine.
Additionally, Ukraine and other former Soviet republics have taken to publicly defiling Russia’s sacred-cow narrative of World War II. To a degree, Ukrainian nationalists have rehabilitated the wartime separatist Stepan Bandera (Marples 555). In December 2009, Georgia blew up a war monument to the Soviet Union, and in the process killed a female bystander and a child. In 2007, Estonia prompted harsh criticism from the Kremlin, violent rioting by the Russian minority in Tallinn, and crippling cyber attacks from Russian hackers after relocating the infamous Bronze Soldier from a city square to a memorial cemetery. Consequently, it is difficult to refute that We Are from the Future 2 is a cinematic volley against the wave of anti-Russian sentiment in Russia’s near-abroad.
The lessons in respect for World War II begin in the film when Taran and Seryi toss a low-grade petard onto Filatov and Vasil’ev, who are crouching in a dilapidated bunker on top of an undetonated bomb. The ensuing explosion catapults the four back in time to undergo their re/conversion to the religion of war. The photography imbues this moment with the significance of a religious sacrament—what would otherwise be frenetic movement grinds to a halt, and the camera pans and zooms through the billowing flames in bullet time, finally homing in on Filatov’s watch, which races backward, stopping at twelve o’clock. Whereas the new disciples in the first movie of war were baptized by water, entering the mythic time of war through a mysterious lake, the sequel’s converts are baptized by fire. They come to their senses in 1944 and are apprehended by Ukrainian nationalist soldiers.
Apparently a more pressing matter, the Ukrainians’ route to conversion commences immediately. The “Banderovtsy,” or members of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), inspired but not commanded by the renegade Bandera (Marples 562), throw the Russians in a pit with several dozen other “kommuniaki” and command Taran and Seryi to shoot them dead. The quivering Ukrainians witness close-up and firsthand the unflinching brutality of the very freedom fighters they revere in twenty-first-century Ukraine. Since Taran and Seryi refuse to shoot, the UPA carries out the murder instead. During this mass shooting episode, the action decelerates to slow motion, bullets pierce bodies, red craters and bloody arcs spurt from heads and torsos, and the Soviet sympathizers’ limbs flail and faces grimace as they are mercilessly and unjustifiably mown down by the UPA. This gratuitous display of gore rips the Ukrainians away from their iniquitous idolatry of the UPA and converts them almost instantly to the Red Army’s true gospel of anti-fascism. They are compelled, albeit reluctantly, to accept Filatov’s declaration that “we can have our conflicts in the twenty-first century, but to return there, we will have to stick together.”
But the film is not content merely to convert Ukrainian nationalists to the religion of war. It also tests the faith of already pious devotees to ensure that they are not worshiping any other gods. Filatov, for example, still obsesses about the fate of his wartime love from the previous film, the nurse Nina (Ekaterina Klimova), and this distraction evidences that he is not wholly devoted to the cause. The religion of war demands that Filatov cast aside the false deity of love and pledge unhindered allegiance to the Soviet effort, and for this reason he is afforded a second chance to prove his fealty.
After escaping from a contingent of Soviet soldiers, the four heroes encounter Major Demin (Vladislav Reznik) from the previous film. Filatov discovers that Nina has survived, married Demin, and is expecting his baby. Dejected, Filatov continues to pursue Nina on the sly and suggests that they travel back to the future together. Nina, dedicated to the reality of war and her new family, ultimately rebuffs his persistent advances, eventually eliminating the diversion of infatuation and convincing Filatov to devote himself to the greater war effort. In the scene immediately preceding the climactic scene’s mass bombardment, Filatov abandons his romantic designs on Nina and throws himself selflessly into the fray against the Germans alongside Vasil’ev and the Ukrainians.
On top of overcoming their idolatries of nationalism and love, the Ukrainians and Russians must perform two feats before they can be allowed transit back to the future. The first is defending Nina while she gives birth to Demin’s baby, and then escorting the newborn to safety. This incident tests both the Ukrainians’ and Russians’ commitment to the war narrative and their ability to overcome their previous detracting beliefs. While the film’s heroes are transporting the heavily pregnant Nina to a safer location, she suddenly goes into labor as the Germans launch an attack on their vehicle. The men whisk Nina into a cottage on a nearby farmstead whilst the Nazis hail down bullets and grenades on all sides. The Ukrainians, wearing Nazi uniforms from the battle reenactment, are forced to fetch water and guard Nina through the birth as the German onslaught rages in the barnyard outside. Later, Taran and Seryi are entrusted with getting the child out of harm’s way, which Taran achieves by carrying the infant through the forest and passing him to a Russian nurse on a departing convoy. He tells the nurse the child’s real Russian name. The Ukrainians thus prove their devotion to the war effort, for in their old incarnations as reactive nationalists they would have balked at helping deliver and rescue an ethnically Russian child on Ukrainian territory. Filatov also puts his demons aside, fetches alcohol for antiseptic purposes, and protects his former lover as she gives birth to a rival’s child. A quick cut during the birthing scene to an Orthodox icon of Jesus Christ suggests that the god of war smiles not only on the birth, but also on the men’s selfless actions as an indication that they are passing the tests of sacred war.
The second feat involves preventing German forces from occupying a strategic hill, and thus regaining a foothold in western Ukraine. This task requires that Taran and Seryi fight against and kill the very freedom fighters they used to idolize. In an impressive ninety-second take that—without cutting—weaves through trenches, witnesses several soldiers slaughter each other, and follows projectile explosives as they arc in the sky, the two Ukrainians reach the house on top of the hill, where they meet up with Filatov and Vasil’ev. Opting to fight in this decisive battle is a heart-rending decision for the Russians, as well, because they know that no Soviet soldier survived the battle, including Demin and presumably Nina. Seeing that they are totally surrounded by Germans and that the Soviet air force will soon be carpet-bombing the hill to obliterate the last gasp of Nazi resistance, the four heroes decide to die in a blaze of glory with the saints of the religion of war—Demin and his Red Army soldiers. When the Katyusha-rockets hit, however, the four protagonists do not perish, but return to 2010 in a wall of flames, as purified converts and eager missionaries.
Any earthly gospel promises eventual blessings to those who obey its tenets, and the war myth is no exception. Both the Ukrainians and the Russians are rewarded for their efforts in the film’s somewhat stunted and unsatisfying dénouement. Taran and Seryi, in brief close-ups, sport cheerful, relieved dispositions as they chat on mobile telephones. Having cast off the burden of nationalism, they can breathe freely and enjoy modern technology. Filatov, though, reaps the lion’s share of the blessings for his sacrifice. The film’s final scene appears to be a relic-reunion/blind date in a café between Filatov and Nina’s granddaughter, who is the spitting image of her ancestress. Filatov receives as his inheritance the next-best thing for giving up his wartime romance. Vasil’ev witnesses this scene through the café window and smiles.
The film thus ends with everybody converted to the religion of war. Its uniting of Russians and Ukrainians in a feat of rescue and the defense of a new Russian baby and Soviet territory serves to support the recent statement in Izvestiia v Ukraine by the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zubarov: “I am convinced that we are not only fraternal nations—we are a single nation” (Durava). Whatever the closeness of the connection, the film proposes that Russians and Ukrainians are indeed united as brothers-in-war, or brothers-in-faith. The myth of war in the film sidesteps current and past injustices on both sides, and glosses over the sentiment expressed by Dennis Soltys: “No regime professed so much ‘fraternal’ amity for another nation and yet destroyed as many of its people as did the Soviet Russian regime in Ukraine” (171). One can only wonder whether the films’ producers will shoot a third installment, and whom they will choose as the next cohort to convert to the Soviet religion of war.
The Ohio State University
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Andreev, Kirill. “Vy ch’i budete?” Film.ru. 15 February 2010.
Durava, Anna. “Mikhail Zubarov: My ne prosto bratskie narody—my edinyi narod.” Izvestiia v Ukraine 16 June 2010.
Kuznetsova, Natal’ia. “My iz budushchego 2: Fil’m o proshlom i nastoiashchem.” Nashfilm.ru 02 February 2010.
“Liudmila Kukoba: Uspekh kartiny My iz budushchego 2 neminuem.” Proficinema.ru. 20 January 2010.
Marples, David R. “Stepan Bandera: The Resurrection of a Ukrainian National Hero.” Europe-Asia Studies, 58.4 (2006), pp. 555-66.
Shpagin, Aleksandr. “Religiia voyny: sub’’ektivnye zametki o bogoiskatel’stve v voennom kinomatografe.” Iskusstvo kino, 5 (31 May 2005), pp. 56-68.
Shpagin, Aleksandr. “Religiia voyny: sub’’ektivnye zametki o bogoiskatel’stve v voennom kinomatografe.” Iskusstvo kino,6 (30 June 2005), pp. 73-89.
Smorodinskaya, Tatiana. “The Fathers’ War through the Sons’ Lenses”, in Helena Goscilo and Yana Hashamova, ed. Cinepaternity: Fathers and Sons in Soviet and Post-Soviet Film. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010, pp. 89-113.
Soltys, Dennis. “Shifting Civilizational Borders in Orange Ukraine: Dilemmas and Opportunities for Western Diplomacy.” International Journal, 61.1 (2005/6), pp. 161-78.
We Are from the Future 2. Russia, 2010
Color, 99 minutes
Director(s): Aleksandr Samokhvalov and Boris Rostov
Screenwriter: Aleksandr Shevtsov
Cinematography: Il’ia Demin
Producers: Liudmila Kukoba, Ruben Atoian, Andrei Rad’ko
Production Company: A-1 Kino Video
Cast: Igor Petrenko, Vladimir Iaglich, Aleksei Balabash, Dmitrii Stupka, Ekaterina Klimova, Vladislav Reznik, Denis Karasev, Ivan Krasko
Editing: Ol’ga Proshkina
Art Director: Konstantin Pakhotin
Music: Aleksandr Pantykin
Sound: Mikhail Nikolaev, Igor’ Zamotaev
Visual Effects: Viktor Lakisov
Aleksandr Samokhvalov: We Are from the Future 2 (My iz budushchego 2, 2010)
reviewed by David McVey © 2010