Burnt By The Sun:
The first thing I noticed about the film when it started was the aesthetics. I knew that it was released in 1994, however the look of the film was comparable to American films from the 1970’s. I do not know whether this was a low budget film, if Russians just preferred older styles of filming, or if it was something else entirely; however, the first thing I thought when the film began playing was, “When was this shot again?”
I feel that my lack of knowledge of Russian history left me at a bit of a loss when it came to understanding the overarching story involving what was happening in the Soviet Union at this particular time. It made me really want to learn more though, because it seems like an interesting bit of history that I feel a tad ignorant for not knowing. I went into this only knowing that Stalin was a pretty terrible guy who committed a lot of atrocities, but knowledge other than that is unfortunately limited.
Aside from being a bit in the dark with the historical aspect of the film (which is in no way the films fault), I really enjoyed the tension that was caused by the return of Dimitri. The very quiet battle that went on between Dimitri and Colonel Kotov throughout the film was very compelling to watch and made the culmination of the film all the more upsetting when the whole film you feel inclined to root for Colonel Kotov. I thought how the film handled the love triangle plot was superb. Too often with American film we expect a plot like this to culminate in a grand lovers quarrel near the climax of the film. However, this love triangle was handled so internally and built up so much tension within the viewer because you could see so much pent up emotion within all characters involved. It was just a much more subdued and much more effective way to handle a story like this, in my opinion.
The use of Nadya also was a great tool for showing the tension between the two men. Dimitri showed up and immediately started paying quite of bit of attention to Nadya and began to act in a fatherly way toward her. One thing I mentioned in my notes was that in the swimming scene, Dimitri makes sure to steer Nadya away from the broken glass on the ground when she runs off; however when Colonel Kotov walks in the direction of the glass, not a word is said of warning. It was a subtle difference between the treatment of the two, but it shows Dimitri’s protective affections for Nadya while towards Kotov he feels no such duty. Aside from being an extremely adorable child, I thought Nadya’s character added an extra amount of depth to the tension between the two men that was intriguing to watch.
Overall, I thought it was an excellent and powerful film to watch. I wish I only knew more about the time it was set so I could have better put the story into context. But knowing that this is one of the first films produced about this period of time, it was an excellent portrayal of a time in history that did not get a voice for many years.
Twilight of a Woman’s Soul:
First things first, I loved both clips that were shown of Yevgeni Bauer’s films. I thought that the finale of The Dying Swan was beautifully filmed and leaves the viewer very uneasy. I have not seen many silent films prior to watching Bauer’s films, however I was struck by how powerful they were despite the lack of dialogue. Watching the end of this film in particular made me want to go and seek out more silent films to watch now that I know that there are some really powerful films out there from this era.
In Twilight of a Woman’s Soul we were asked to take note of the set design and the first thing I noticed (possibly due to it being mentioned regarding The Dying Swan) was that there were a multitude of cut flowers crowding Vera’s bedroom. Also, the rest of the house might as well have been a garden with all of the plant life filling up their home. Something interesting that I noted with the flowers in this film is that they wilted and eventually died as Vera’s conscience began to catch up with her. By the time she told the Prince her secret of killing the homeless man, the flowers were dead. I thought this was an interesting way of using the set to create a mood and to mirror the character’s inner struggle.
I think that Vera’s story is a particularly intriguing one due to the time this film was released. The fact that a rape was shown seems very ahead of its time for a film released in 1913, even if it is only hinted at. I knew right away what had happened (mainly because I have some knowledge about how these matters were handled in older cinema) but it was still a very shocking moment to see depicted in such an old film. Her character arc is an interesting one because I feel she never truly gets her happy ending, which in American film is something that does not happen often. She is constantly haunted by the rape and the subsequent murder she committed, she loses the man she loves due to her secret, and she becomes an actress to escape from her past. She is in no way gets a fairy tale ending and I love that about her, she seems more layered than a lot of American females in old Hollywood films.
Lastly, I think the way the rape scene was dealt with is very interesting. She went to Maxim’s shack because of a dream that she had that caused her to want to help the poor. However, when she gets raped by Maxim, a title card appears of the screen that simply says “Fate”, as though because she helped the poor it was her fate to get raped. I think that is an interesting look into how they viewed helping the less fortunate and it seems to match up with what was mentioned in class about helping the poor as being a leisure activity, not something people did out of kindness.
Overall, I loved both of Yevgeni Bauer’s films that we viewed. I will have to explore more of his films because I enjoy watching films with strong female characters and by the looks of it that is what he specialized in. I am very glad to have been introduced to these great films.
Aelita: Queen of Mars:
First things first, I thought that it was interesting to take a look at a Russian science fiction film, especially sense there are not very many of them from this time period. I thought the way they handled that aspect of the film was very interesting. The martians were depicted in human form, only distinguishable by the angular costumes and set design. Otherwise, there was no “otherness” present with the martian people, creating a commonality between them and the humans. A good number of science fiction films made in America emphasize robots and other worldly aliens, but this film seemed to portray them as humans who happen to live on Mars.
On a similar note, I thought the costumes were particularly on point. The integration of set design and costumes in the Mars scenes was kind of marvelous and created a cohesive vision. Since the martians appeared like regular humans, we got a sense of what their culture was through the Constructivist design elements they used in their architecture and wardrobe. Those pants that Aelita’s handmaiden wore were so distracting every time they were on the screen because I wanted a pair so bad! Honestly, I thought that it was a subtle way to show a difference in culture without a need for going over the top in showing they are from another world.
As far as representing the political climate at the time, I feel that the film is clearly within the lines of socialist film making standards. The film emphasized serving the greater whole over individual achievements and it showed the hazards of the old regime while promoting the benefits, values, and ideals of the new order in an inconspicuous way. I think the part that most stuck out to me as a sign of the time period was when Los’s wife went out with her other man to the bourgeois party and they traveled to the party dressed in common clothes only to remove them at the party to reveal formal wear underneath. I thought this was an interesting snapshot of the time, showing that it was not safe to flaunt any wealth without fear of coming under attack for being a part of the bourgeois.
Overall, I thought it was interesting to watch a Russian science fiction film. I did not particularly find it intriguing compared to other films in the genre, especially compared to Metropolis, another sci fi film from a similar time period. However, it was an interesting look at how films were made to gear to soviet ideals and the costumes and art direction were absolutely stunning.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks:
First things first, this film was a complete hoot. Never was I expecting an early Russian film to be this funny and so self aware. It was awesome to see they could poke fun of the way other cultures viewed them and in such a funny way.
The film seemed to be modeled very much on American action adventure films, Westerns in particular. After having watched what traditional Russian films have looked like in this class, I would not characterize this as fitting with the style we have observed. The film was light, comic, and filled with madcap action. The film had a traditional Hollywood ending and the American characters were basically character archetypes from classic American cinema. The film borrows American aesthetics, I believe, solely because it is a film satirizing the American view of Soviet Russia. It would only make sense that a film poking fun of America would also adopt their style to do so. It really adds to the funny slap in the face that this film seems to be giving to our depiction of them.
After it was mentioned that Kuleshov was inspired by circus performance, I noticed myself picking out places where that inspiration was obvious. In the police chase scene with Jeddy, there was a woman who did a slapstick tumbling act that was so over the top that it was almost clownish. Also during that sequence Jeddy does a tight rope act that is notable at circuses. The overall physicality of the performances mixed with the slapstick humor that was featured throughout gave it a vibe of being a long circus act.
The film as a whole was a brilliant piece of Soviet propaganda. From the beginning of the film to about an hour in I was confused about the film’s intentions. Kuleshov was seemingly portraying Bolsheviks in the stereotypical view of the American tabloids, which made me question why a Russian filmmaker would portray his own people in that type of light. But in the last 10 minutes it all became clear when Mr. West was introduced to the “true Bolsheviks.” Never before have I ever seen a film unabashedly pushing a political agenda. After being saved, Mr. West is given a tour of Moscow, sees all of the progress, and decides to become a socialist, even going as far as to call his wife and tell her to hang a photo of Lenin on the wall. I could not help but laugh at this ending because they in no way tried to be subtle about pushing their beliefs. It was front and center for everyone to see.
Overall I thought this was an excellent film, much more watchable than Aelita: Queen of Mars that was released in the same year. The film pulled no punches when it came to making an over the top joke of American culture and our view of the Soviet Union. The film’s fearlessness in poking fun at themselves was really refreshing to see after watching a string of bleak Russian films. I thought the film was well paced, the score was exceptionally fitting for the film, and I personally loved Aleksandra Khokhlova, your eyes really could not be taken off of her. She was incredible to look at and had a striking physicality about her. Overall I had a blast watching this film and thought that it was an incredibly entertaining way to make a blatant piece of propaganda.
I found this film to be an interesting watch due to it’s use of the musical genre, its depiction of race within the Soviet Union, and its use of the American awakening to the glory of socialism. While the plot and tone of Circus is very different from The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, both films concluded in a similar fashion, which perhaps shows the regulations at the time of having to use socialist realism. However, just as I thought with Mr. West, as the film concluded I could not help but feel I was just watching a piece of Soviet propaganda.
Going into the film knowing that it was a Russian musical, I was expecting a large divide in styles between what I was going to see and what I have seen of the glitzy early Hollywood style musicals. I was surprised to find that Circus still had the pizazz and energy that goes into a Hollywood style musical. There were flashy costumes, romantic duets, large chorus lines, and a grand final number. Everything that I was not expecting to see ended up appearing in the film, leading me to expect that American musical films surely were inspiration to some extent for films like Circus. I was hoping to see cultural differences in how the genre was approached and when it came down to conventions and aesthetics, there were more similarities to me than differences.
Something I found beguiling with this film, just as I did with Mr. West, is how Russian films attempt to show Soviet Realism. The finale, where Marion’s mixed race son gets exposed and she feels she is ruined, turns into a happy ending with the whole audience of the circus not judging her as she expects but instead passes the baby around and sings him a lullaby. Marion, being an American, expected an angry mob to attack her for mixing races, but she finds that people in the Soviet Union can look past that fact and accept anyone. After finding this out, Marion chooses to stay in the Soviet Union and the final frames show her marching in a Stalin parade while singing the grand final song.
I thought that this ending was just as forced and ridiculous as the ending of Mr. West. After reading about the purges and Stalin’s distrust of people not from the Soviet Union, I am highly skeptical that this ending is even a realistic depiction of how an American woman with a black baby would be received. As a viewer watching this film removed from the time it was released I can look at this ending as amusing, but ultimately unsatisfying. Endings like the last two films we have watched are just blatant and unabashed propaganda in my eyes, and it takes away a lot of the satisfaction that comes from a good, original ending.
This film stuck with me long after I left class, and I am still trying to nail down why. This type of art house, new wave film has never been my cup of tea. They often lose my attention or give me a headache with their non existent plot lines and their jarring editing techniques. However, Daisies did quite the opposite in that it kept me rapt the whole time and left me to the point that I think about the film all week long.
One of the topics we were told to think about while watching the film was how Marie and Marie were criticized for be unsympathetic and unlikeable characters, and I feel this is something that I strongly disagree with and has to completely do with watching the film 50 years after the release. We live in an age where vapid, self absorbed, “spoiled” characters are strewn across our television and film. Entertainment viewers have now become accustomed to these character types to the point where we are not as repulsed by them as someone in 1960’s Czechoslovakia would have been. I found Marie and Marie to be an absolute hoot, and i completely attribute my loving of them to my love for reality television and trashy film. Marie and Marie were ahead of their time.
I also would disagree that the film lacked a narrative. It was not a traditional film with a three act structure and it had more of a narrative concept than a planned out storyline, but there was a story here. Marie and Marie see the world being spoiled and decided they ought to be spoiled along with it. Therefore, the girls scam older men out of dinner and drinks and eat food like insatiable pigs. In the end, they tire of being spoiled and wish to go back but realize that you cannot go back again once you become bad. The plot may be thin, but I think that critics that say there is not a plot are not thinking hard enough.
Something regarding the film that I still wonder the significance of is the purpose of food as a motif. There were times when I noticed a clear connection (like when they were talking on the phone with a suitor and were chopping up a myriad of penis shaped foods), but most of the time it left me wondering. What I could come up with was that it was a critique on gluttony and selfishness and that it only leads to self destruction, but I imagine since the director was not a huge fan of Soviet control that this type of Soviet theme would not be the goal. So I am still left thinking about what the meaning could be, but I am impressed that this film still has me thinking a week later.
By far the most intriguing film we have watched so far, Daisies is one that I plan to try and give a second viewing so I can try and take in what I may have missed the first time. I ultimately think the film and the characters are before their time and would not have been received so harshly in today’s society where these character types are enjoyed and celebrated. I thought this was an overall memorable and enjoyable experience to watch and the characters stuck with me long after the viewing.
I find it hard to write about Stalker because I had a really hard time getting into the film. It was slow paced, drawn out, and had a very thin plot that did not hold my attention. All these issues aside, I will attempt to give my response to the film.
One thing regarding this film mentioned in class was to think of the film as cinematic poetry. Stalker had a lot of symbolism involved in its imagery and included a slow and languid pace and rhythm that had a very contemplative feel to the film. The emphasis on nature also gave the film a poetic quality in the style of the romantics who loved to wax poetic about nature and it’s splendor. In this way Stalker creates a different view of nature as dangerous and ominous as they fight the whole film to not be killed by their environment as they travel to “the room.”
The other thing I picked out from class was the use of the human face as a landscape. This was a technique used in the film that I actually found captivating. The expressiveness of their weary and worn faces came across well when left as the only visual for the viewer to ruminate on. This technique worked particularly well for this film due to it’s quiet moments that are great for reflection.
I’m grasping at straws to find things to talk about because I had a hard time engaging with this film. I appreciate the film for it’s gorgeous visuals and cinematography, but as a piece of entertainment I just could not handle it.
To me, I viewed this film to be a very heartbreaking critique of the institutions that the children in this film resided in. The final scene of the wedding has stuck in my mind, because it fully embodies the emotional ruin that comes with an institutionalized child who feels unwanted and unloved. A day that was supposed to be joyous and happy turned into a room full of girls crying and throwing tantrums, unable to feel the happiness for Anna because they did not feel happiness within themselves. It was truly heartbreaking because the system should never be set up in such a way that it takes advantage of the people who are supposed to be helped by it.
I though the character of Kata was a fiercely independent character that I found to be very admirable. She knew what she wanted and she defied the men who told her that she should not go through with having a child as a single mother. I think that her character growth throughout the film was very subtle yet profound, she was a very reserved woman but you still felt that you knew her and what she was going through on a personal level. She was an all around well crafted character and she was a great example of a strong woman.
As far as how this film fits into Stagnation cinema I am not quite sure. The other film we watched, Stalker, was very different to this film in so many ways that I fail to see a connection between the two other than possibly an aesthetic similarity in the muted and drab color schemes. It was mentioned to note the slow pace of Adoption, but I really did not think the pace was anywhere near as slow as Stalker. Possibly because I felt engaged with the characters in Adoption, I was less critical and noticing of the slow pace, but I honestly thought that it was very well paced and definitely not dull. Also, my perception of Stagnation films based on the readings is that they are not as boundary pushing and more of a step back creatively than the films of the Thaw, and I did not really see that with this film either. I thought that she was rather scathing in her critique of these institutions and what they do to the children’s emotions, and this kind of blatant critique is not something that I expect to see in a stagnation film based on my limited knowledge of the period.
This film was a particularly frustrating watch, but I felt as though the story was well worth the frustration. I admit that I did not realize that the scenes were supposed to repeat because I thought that they were edited in a way that made it look like the player was skipping or that Amazon received a poorly reedited version of the film. Due to this uncertainty about what was going on, I did not fully appreciate the film while watching it. However, after being told the relevance of the repetitious scenes I thought that it was a very effective tool for the story. Showing the scenes from different accounts and perspectives allows the viewer to see all of the conflicting and intersecting views that make up our historical reality. While all of the scenes were relatively the same, they each were slightly different enough for the viewer to question which is reality. This coincides with how history really is, no one really knows what actually happened in history because every story we are told is an account by someone on one side, but there is always someone whose conflicting story does not get heard even if it only differs a little bit. I feel that this mode of storytelling is what the film was going for.
I could be wrong, but I felt that the dead body of the old mayor symbolized the lingering effect of communism over the people in the community. I remember it being mentioned that Georgia had a relatively uneasy association with Soviet rule and since the old mayor was a stand in for the communist ideals and values, his body reappearing to haunt his family would make sense as representing the lingering presence of communist rule in Georgia. In a less symbolic way, the dead body also represented the woman’s determination to make the community and the mayor’s family not forget the horrors that he committed while he was alive, particularly to her family.
This film would have never been made if there was not a loosening of censorship in the Glasnost period. The film is obviously leery of the Soviet rule because the audience is led to feel strongly on the side of the woman who is digging up the body of the dead mayor, and even some of the characters in the film begin to realize that she is in the right in what she is doing and representing. The film is a critique of Stalin era communism and the lingering effects it caused for the community, and that is something that would not have been able to be talked about in an earlier period.
Time of the Gypsies:
From what I know about the Roma people, family is a very important aspect of their culture and I feel that this cultural value was very well represented in Time of the Gypsies. From the relationship between the Grandmother and grandson to the bond of the brother and sister and everything that he goes through to get her back all represent the strong familial bonds between the Roma people. Even when the uncle impregnated his nephew’s girlfriend, he was not cast out of the family and hated like he may have been in other cultures. The strong family bond between the characters is what I feel drive the film as many of the characters are working for the betterment of their family.
I did not feel that the magical realism in this film had as strong of a presence as it does in some films I have seen, but I feel that this is a good thing. The magical realism comes in with Perhan, who has telekinetic powers that he uses throughout the film. Whether used to impress a girl he likes or to kill the man who took his sister, the powers are used primarily as a plot device to move the story forward. I feel that people tend to believe in magic in dark times and in times of uncertainty and unrest, and that I feel describes how Yugoslavia was around the time this film was made. Therefore, the use of magical realism could have been used as a since of escape from reality, while keeping the story grounded in the realities of contemporary life.
I thought that this was a beautiful film to watch and was very moved by the rough but meaningful lives of the Roma people. Many aspects of this film stuck with me after the viewing but none more so than the music. There was a rather haunting phrase of music that repeated in many of the most impactful moments of the film and accentuated the sad moments perfectly. I feel that music is an excellent way for people to feel and recall past emotions and this musical piece used throughout the film was an excellent use of music to create a feeling. Overall, the film was a powerful viewing experience that took a look into the lives of an ethnic group that is highly underrepresented in film, and I feel that it was successful in painting this group in a respectful and realistic light.
Window to Paris:
Like Time of the Gypsies, Window to Paris was another example of magical realism being used in the cinema of Eastern Europe. While Time of the Gypsies used the concept in a more somber way, Window To Paris offered a more whimsical take on magical realism. At this time in Russian history the Soviet Union had broken up and the future was very uncertain as to how things would play out in Russian society. Therefore, the “window to Paris” that is mentioned in the title, is used as a metaphor for escape from the uncertainties of modern Russian life into a world that is more settled and carefree.
The Russians in the film appear to have a love/hate relationship to the French and the French culture that they encounter in Paris. They are constantly grumbling about how things are better in Russia, but by the end of the film when the window closes up, they are scrambling to find a way back. Even when the French woman gets trapped in Russia after going through the window, her view of Russia is one of fear and disgust. I feel that the Russian’s attraction to French culture comes from their repression of everything that the French celebrate. It is even mentioned somewhere in the film that the Russians are somewhat prudish in their beliefs and actions and this goes to suggest that maybe what they crave is to have a more French attitude towards life.
Lastly, we were asked to think about the final scene in the film and determine what vision of Russia’s future that it offers. What I took away from the final scene was that the uncertain future of Russia had the main characters scrambling to get back to Paris any way they can. That is why they were destroying a brick wall where they suspected the portal could be. They desire to live a lifestyle like they had in Paris, but that is something they feel they could not attain in Russia; even the schoolchildren did not want to go back to Russia and just work in Paris and send money back to their parents. The whole film seemed to be rooted in this uncertainty for the future and this longing for a culture other than your own.
Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe:
This film is set in a particularly uncertain time for the Hungarian people right after the break up of the Soviet Union. The two main characters, Emma and Bobe, are Russian teachers who find their jobs obsolete as the schools now want to teach English to the children. The film details their struggles to cope with the abrupt changes that are taking place in the country and their personal lives.
One aspect of the film that we were told to reflect on was the significance of Emma’s reoccurring dream. The dream consisted of her falling naked down a pile of sand to what ultimately ended in her death by suffocation. The dream symbolized her feeling of having little control over her life and her circumstances to the point where she almost felt suffocated by her environment. Everything from her relationship with the married principal, her new job requirements, and her relationship with her friend Bobe all made her feel as though she did not have control over her life. All of these story lines basically converged to the point where she broke down and could not handle the pressure anymore as she yelled at her students. The last straw for Emma was the death of Bobe, who could not cope with the changing world, and Emma subsequently was shown selling newspapers on the street.
The film was ultimately a ballsy effort considering the very raw nature of the material. Made only three years prior to the end of the Soviet Union, showing an unflinching portrait of how screwed over many people were in the satellite territories was a risky thing to do. Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe makes no attempt of showing a positive outcome for the characters who appear as victims of a government that failed them. Yes, some of the problems the characters faced were brought on by their own detriment, but the majority of their issues can be linked directly to the governmental changes and the stresses that came along with that. Overall it was a gutsy film to make when all of this was still so raw.
Overall I thought it was an excellent film. The film was well acted, dealt with relevant subject matter, and was a complete downer (which I always think makes for a better film). Definitely an excellent example of film as a tool for important social commentary.
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