Burnt By the Sun Thoughts
Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By the Sun (1994) struck me with its ability to blend genre. It begins as a family drama, with colonel Kotov’s (Nikita Mikhalkov) world turning upside down as the mysterious Dmitriy (Oleg Menshikov) comes to visit his dacha one beautiful summer day. Tension builds when we discover that Dmitriy once had relations with Kotov’s young wife, Marusya (Ingeborga Dapkunaite), and it reaches an apex when we learn that Dmitriy is actually part of Lenin’s secret police and was sent to Kotov’s house to take him away, presumably for execution.
While we gradually learn that Dmitriy is not as good as we would like to believe, it’s apparent from the start of the film that things aren’t so right, both with the character and the world he inhabits. The CGI sun floating around him at times is one tell of this, and the cinematography is another. The sun is apparently a metaphor for the Russian Revolution, and a particularly apt one at that. The real sun, not the computer generated one, shines on all of the characters. The computer generated one also shines on all of the characters, but it’s so close that you would expect them to be burned. While they’re not physically burnt, it’s still possible that it has an ill effect on their psyche, although characters do get physically wounded because of this “sun” of the revolution. Kotov ends up dying, after all, and he was probably the closest one to the revolution (the sun) than any of the other characters portrayed in the film. However, I was confused when the sun leaves the house and burnt the tree. I take this to mean that this revolution didn’t have isolated effects, as the sun was primarily floating around the interior of the house originally, but it effected the entire outside world as well, sometimes with more explosive results as seen by the explosion when it connects with the tree.
In terms of cinematography, I noticed that Mikhalkov used lingering camera movements to make a point about his characters. Specifically, in the opening scene, Dmitriy is cleaning up. He dons his white suit (a start contrast to his character) and shaves. He leaves the bathroom to pick up the phone, but the camera doesn’t follow him. Instead, it slowly pushes into the razor blade that he was using to shave with. Even if one were to look at this scene without any sound, it would be apparent that Dmitriy was not to be trusted because of the comparison of him to a razor blade.
Personally, my favorite part of the film was witnessing the dynamic within the family, and the subtle struggle for power that colonel Kotov and Dmitriy undergo during the supposedly pleasant reunion. My favorite scene was when Dmitriy was playing the piano for Nadya (Nadezhda Mikhalkova) while Kotov stubbornly sat at the dining table awaiting the rest of the family. While they both want the attention of the family, it is actually Marusya that commands the family which person to flock to, making me question if either of the two men had the most power in the family at all. There’s also another one of those lingering shots I mentioned in the previous paragraph at this point, where Dmitriy stops playing the piano. There’s no more action at that point, and you can’t even see his expression because of the gas mask he’s wearing, but for some reason you can tell that there was an intense emotional shift. Normally, he looked pretty freaky with the gas mask, but the music was pleasant and we don’t think about his looks, but he immediately takes on a sinister persona when the music stops and the family isn’t around him anymore.
Twilight of a Woman’s Soul
Flowers pervade the set of Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (Yevgeni Bauer, 1913). Not only are they around when Vera is unhappily alone in her room, shrouded by her bed curtain, but they are present in both polite social situations and when Vera is alone in the end after we’ve witnessed her shift into an independent woman. When we don’t see them is when we’re following the prince by himself, or when we’re among the ranks of the lower class men. Is this symbolism a product of gender, class, or both?
We could look at them as a metaphor for the fragility of the feminine, but I think it’s more than that, as obviously Vera has become quite strong by the end of the film. They could stand for her isolation, as well. This is a stronger case because even when people surround Vera, she is largely unhappy and confined within her own mind, usually framed by the flowers.
Take the scene where Vera sees the prince as a zombified version of the rapist she killed earlier in the film. Despite the fact that she’s with a man who loves her, she’s trapped within her own guilt and fear… And the flowers. I see them as an extension of the character Vera herself. In that scene, “A Declaration of Love,” the palm fronds (I think that’s what they are) shift around as Vera jumps back after her hallucination, moving as much as she does, contributing to her expression. In the following scene, when she is bedridden, the flowers that Bauer sets up are the same color as her outfit and sheets, exemplifying the sickness (or fragility) that that color represents.
In conclusion of the flower analysis, I think it’s a metaphor for the change that women are capable of. Not only do they shift around as the protagonist does, but the flowers themselves are, by nature, changing and organic beings. How does this impact Bauer’s representation of class?
When Vera visits the poor folk with her mother, the head of the philanthropic society, the audience is met with an abrupt shift in tone and character. If the scenes in high society were lavish and mirthful, these scenes amongst the poor were bleak and empty. The settings in the slums consist of dirty wood or concrete or brick along with low lighting and a distinct lack of flowers to frame any of the characters. When the characters move around, there is no movement of any of the props in the background. In other words, the setting is unchanging. This implies that the setting will not change, at least not for the better. By the end of Vera’s visit to the poor, the only “fluid” organic material on the screen is that of the corpse of the man she had just killed. If anything, Bauer sees the lower class as something that can change, but that change is the decay of a corpse rather than the bloom of a flower.
Aelita Queen of Mars
I see some influences from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Robert Wiene) within Aelita Queen of Mars (1924, Yakov Protazanov). The scenes that take place in Mars are defined by jagged set pieces, divisive shadows, and rigid blocking. Even the costuming has this dreamlike nature to it that pervades Dr. Caligari, which, as we know, was a dream itself. I also see a contrast in the number of people that make up the scenes on the two planets. Within the first ten minutes, Earth is portrayed as a bustling landscape full of confusion and movement. People crowd each other in train stations, and major cities have constant traffic flow. Life on Mars seems eerily quiet, with only one or two characters moving on screen at a time.
Los (Nikolai Tsereteli) is an engineer working on a vessel that will be able to take a crew to Mars. Meanwhile, Aelita (Yuliya Solntseva) is spying on him and the rest of earth through a sophisticated Martian telescope. Within the first fifteen minutes, the themes of the film are lain out. Earth wants to go to Mars, and Mars is silently looking on. What do these two locations represent for 1920s Russia?
Earth, as I said, is portrayed as a bustling planet. It is also dirty. The trains are crowded and smoky, and at one point passengers are shown being sick or otherwise uncomfortable as they await their arrival. I assume this means that we’re looking at the earthlings as metaphors for the working class people. We learn that the Martians freeze their workers until they are needed, which could be a metaphor for the early czarist regimes. The two worlds have to collide somehow, and it happens When Los’s wife is murdered and he assumes the role of his partner to fly out to Mars.
Personally, I feel like a half hour or so out of the middle could have been shaved off. It meanders around, very slowly building the relationship of husband and wife and very slowly building the murder plot up. Regardless, the film shines and substance abound when Los visits Mars. He sets up a Proletariat revolution up with Aelita, and here the politics become clear if they were not so before.
We see footage of a man hammering out a scythe with words explicitly calling the Martians to create a soviet like the one in Russia, followed by footage of box headed workers literally hammering their oppressors. The plot moves quickly within the last ten minutes, walking through the revolution in a matter of seconds. We can see how quickly power is exchanged through this film, as Aelita turns on Los and has the rebels shot immediately after they declare victory. However, it is all right, as it turns out, also like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, everything was just a dream. We recognize this early on as images of Aelita are interspersed with images of his wife, who it turns out was never killed at all, negating the plot for the past hour or so.
Perhaps this is what a communist nightmare is, with a revolution occurring but the leader taking over turning out to be a ruthless dictator and killing everyone. Though the message was a little muddled, it was nice seeing the Russians getting their political message across using Mise en Scene rather than montage for once.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks
Even before the film starts, we’re given a good idea of the themes we’re going to be covering in… Take a deep breath… The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks (Lev Kuleshov). Mr. West is a metaphor for Mr. America and the land of the Bolsheviks title speaks for itself. Mr. West himself represents a kind of caricature of the American naivety towards the Russian way of life. His bodyguard is even more of a caricature, like something I would expect out of a parody of Russian propaganda cinema. Decked out in full cowboy gear and wielding a six shooter with unlimited bullets, the bodyguard goes through hapless misadventures all over the city trying to save his employer.
I’m curious as to why they gave him such elaborate stunts and why he was able to elude authority so easily. It seems in my mind that this makes the Americans look powerful, but this could be a nod of respect and these silly representations are just for fun’s sake, an idea I have a hard time wrapping my head around in the midst of a Russian civil war. The representations of different kinds of Russians are worthy of note as well. This is different from Aelita Queen of Mars in that we see a separation between good and bad Bolsheviks, rather than a separation between the good Bolsheviks and the bad bourgeoisie.
It’s not until the last moments of the film do we see examples of what the good Russians are. Most of the film follows these amateur conmen and their attempts to extort money out of Mr. West. This seems to me a plea from the director, telling western audiences that, “Yes, there are some of us who will kidnap you and extort money out of you, but I promise that we’re not all bad!”
I love the anti Russian “Propaganda” at the beginning of the film, where Mr. West is reading the newspaper talking about the savagery that these barbarians have committed. It’s so over the top that it’s impossible for anyone to take seriously, and I wasn’t sure it was possible for a sense of humor like this to be around then. Although I can’t tell how seriously the filmmakers were taking the message Mr. West sends to his wife at the end of the film to put up a picture of Lenin in their study. While this is funny today, I have no idea if this was used to be played for laughs at the time of release or whether they expected audiences to glow with pride at this statement.
We can see how Grigori Aleksandrov was influenced by American cinema in Tsirk, (1936) as well as how international politics influenced his choice of antagonist. This film was released eight years after Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, (1928) and we see a nod to the comedian in the form of a Charlie Chaplin impersonator that acts as one of the many breaths of fresh air in the drama that permeates the plot.
Tsirk follows an American actress that comes to Russia as a land of opportunity after committing “the worst of all crimes” back in America. We later learn that this “crime” was having a child from an African American. The head of the circus, a mean ol’ racist German, threatens to reveal her secret to the public unless she marries him. The issue is, she’s fallen in love with another man, the male performer of an extravagant new cannon routine.
I was surprised for the most part because I didn’t see very explicit propaganda for the vast majority of the film. Yes, the actress comes to Russia to escape her racially charged oppression, but I don’t recall her glorifying this land of the free. The transition from America to Russia is done with a clever spin of a globe and a circus ball, not with anyone explicitly stating “Let’s go to Russia! It’s better there!” However, Aleksandrov’s Russian pride floods through within the last two minutes after the actress’s secret is revealed.
The German shows the baby to the Russian circus audience. They look on in confusion, saying things like “So what?” or “Who cares?” They then go on to shout in unison about how Russia is a free country and anyone is allowed to have whatever kind of child they want there. They then, as a crowd, sing the baby to sleep. Then, out of nowhere, the film cuts to every character that was ever present, besides the evil German, wearing white uniforms marching down the street and singing the Russian praises with a backdrop of flags showing Lenin’s and Stalin’s faces.
I wonder what the importance of using a circus is to promote pride in one’s country. It’s a place for lower class people to gather and be entertained together, so it has those feelings of unity already in place. In terms of the performers, I think the circus also represents opportunity to make a living no matter who you are. The title of the film, Circus, doesn’t have any kind of political tinge to it, so I feel that the director feels equal amounts of pride to this institution as he does with the Russian government. Either that, or he was so moved by watching Chaplin’s film that he just had to remake it in a more palatable form for Russian audiences. This makes sense, because we can look at Charlie Chaplin as one of the poster boys of American ideology, and the Russian government wouldn’t want that being shown in their country.
I just read a review talking about how it made a mockery of Americans. This could be so because of the actress’s fear that Russian people would judge her for having a child from an African American, but if anything I see that more as a sympathetic rather than mocking portrayal. If anything, the representation of Charlie Chaplin is a mockery to Americans, but even then I think it’s more of a nod to the influence of the director. In all, it’s a breath of fresh air to follow a film that wasn’t one hundred percent propaganda.
It was difficult at first for me to see where the critique of communism came in for this film. At first, I was thinking the men that the two girls were taking advantage of were the establishment that was meant to be toppled down. Then, I thought that the two girls were representative of the oppressive establishment, but that’s not so, they just wanted to have fun, especially after they don’t do anything to take advantage of the farmers and other old men near the end of the film. I was finally able to come to a conclusion when I looked at the girls without politicizing them, but politicizing the world around them.
To me, I think the girls were representative of a character trait. It was a difficult decision, but I landed on glut as the trait of choice. Don’t get me wrong, these girls are peppy, interesting, and fun-loving, but most of their fun revolved around eating excess amounts of food at the cost of their relationships with various men and women. I can see where this could be construed as a feminist film because it appears that the older men are trying to goad them into sex after buying a meal and the two girls end up getting the best of them, but they also end up robbing an older woman while one of the girls and the other absent mindedly ignores a potential lover. The ignoring is acceptable, but the robbing sets this as more of a human issue than a gender issue I think. Yes, the situations these girls are put in where they are open to being taken advantage of by older men could be construed as gender specific problems, but it’s just as possible for young homosexual men to be shown in the same kind of creepy situation.
Anyway, these girls are gluttonous in a world where they’re more or less left alone. These points where the two girls are sitting in their room not doing much of anything leads me to think that these are less characters as they are metaphors for an idea, because neither of them have any real motivation to do anything besides eat. Also, when the girls are not noticed by the farmer or the other poor looking older men, they ask each other if they even exist, which leads me to believe that they are more concepts than people at this point.
The point I’m trying to get at is that within the communist system that this Czech director is showing off, gluttony prey on the elite and ultimately leads to the system’s self destruction. The girls, gluttony, take advantage of older men for their food, yes, but there is also the final scene where they eat this massive meal, trash everything, and try to put it back together is representative of what communism does to these satellite countries.
The monochrome colouring of the girls’ costuming leaves their personalities very open to interpretation, not to mention the fact that their bare skin is constantly showing, providing a template for the audience to project what they think their personalities represent rather than any message being crafted out of their clothing. The girls eat a lot, this is gluttony. Gluttony is inside this corrupt communist system, which ultimately leads to its destruction and makes it impossible to put back together in any meaningful way.
Stalker is lauded by many as a piece of poetry put on celluloid. From what I saw in class, I understand where these critics are coming from. There are several long takes on characters’ faces that don’t seem to have as much to do with progressing the plot as they are methods of getting the audience to emotionally connect with the moment. There is one shot that stands out to me in particular, when the writer is sitting in the back of the stalker’s vehicle looking at the lush forest that hastily flickers by in a blur. This moment is not concerned with showing ordeals or conflict in the voyage of the three characters. Instead, we get a glimpse into real humanity in this writer. Hints of boredom, apprehension, fear and excitement could be seen fluttering across his face. I could be totally off, but this is also the point. By using such space dialogue and plot along with very lengthy shots, Tarkovsky, with an uncontested patience, allows us to stare at the situation he has set up for us and imprint our own experiences on the screen, where normally other films are spouting their ideology at us. Poetry is a written extension of life itself, and in Stalker we have the audiovisual narrative extension.
This film was also an entry into a period of Russian film marked by the term “Stagnation.” If we step away from this film as apolitical poetry and instead look at it as a commentary on the state of Russia, the ideology is clear. Russia is dank, and not in the sense of “cool” used in the slang used in the second decade of the twenty first century.
One doesn’t need to look hard at the film to see how Russia is portrayed as grainy, or at least civilization itself. The film stock in the first hour of the film looks as though someone has dunked it into a seedy public toilet, throwing the sets and characters into a dirty sepia nightmare. Not to mention the soldiers on every corner trying to kill characters looking for the answers to life. No, two minutes in, you can sense some bitterness towards the society Stalker was created within. But the wonderful thing here is that we’re able to look past this and get to meditating on what we think are the important mysteries of the universe to be found in that room.
Foster care and the adoption process are tough issues politically, because the disenfranchised members of this system have arguably the least political sway despite dealing with agents of government on a more regular basis than you or I. How can you expect to enact change in a government that has just isolated you with repressive and abusive foster parents?
Fortunately, films like Adoption have been released to bring the troubles of these heavily repressed youth into the mainstream consciousness. It shows how hurt a girl is within the foster care system and to what extent a sympathetic woman has to go to adopt, and even then the situation seems perilous at best for the girl because of the shaky foundations of her new family.
The issue with this film is that it doesn’t provide a solution to the issues that are still present today, and not just in Russia. However, I have to only wish I knew what to do, because I think the integrity of the narrative would be compromised if they were to put up information of government officials you can call to rectify this awful situation at the end of the film.
Adoption has also been looked at as a feminist film. This is a just idea because it portrays two women struggling for their independence. However, I do not see a struggle against a patriarchy as much as I see a struggle against a universally oppressive system. Just as many barriers are place on men as they are on women here, with the primary love interest of the older woman being held back by his marriage, and the primary love interest of the younger woman being held back by bureaucratic red tape in the form of a suspicious father figure as well as the hospital. Granted, a man is the director, but there are women that function as authority figures as well.
Does the portrayal of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest make a misogynistic film? As much as the portrayal of the director in Adoption, and I think the gender speaks less than the asexual system that these humans are operating in.
After weeks of thought, the first viewing of Repentance is still an enigma to me. The scene structure, from what could recognize, felt nightmarish with its ceaseless repetitions, giving the audience only fractional insights into the plot and characters as we see a section for what seems to be the twelfth time in a row. I still can’t fathom which was a flaw in the form of the streaming service or what was actually intended to be screened. Rather than go at length on my confusion of this, I will instead talk about something I did understand from watching the film, the representation of the grandfather and what kind of commentary he provided audiences about Lenin and other fierce authority figures of the era.
After reading about Georgia briefly, it’s apparent that Varlam was also a representation of Lavrentiy Beria, one of Stalin’s chief staff members who himself was a murderer and sexual predator as well as being a member of the ruthless regime.
Rather than just being a copy of born Lenin, Varlam appears to be a combination of many morally repugnant dictators of the era. He has the build of Mussolini, a facial construction reminiscent of Lenin himself, and a mustache resembling that of Adolf Hitler. Lavrentiy Beria was the person that Varlam was modeled on the most, apparently. He was Georgia born himself and was one of the most ruthless killers in Lenin’s regime, on top of being a murderer and sexual predator in his free time. Using this ruthless murderer is a perfect example for the film because it deals with the two-facedness of politics.
On the one hand, Varlam is a grandfather. He looks over two generations of his family and must feel some sort of obligation to look after them. On the other hand, he is looking after his political interests as wellas balancing a healthy public appearance with the fact that he is absolutely insane. At his core, however, he is simply evil. This is shown in the scene where Abel, Varlam’s son, is talking to the devil who is another incarnation of Varlam. It is also of note that the actor that played Abel is the same person that played Varlam, showing further how those two generations were in cahoots with each other.
The film touches on this internal conflict, and it touches on conflict between generations. Like I said earlier, the middle generation is almost as much at fault as the last and most evil generation because Abel is trying to cover up for Varlam’s mistakes so his name isn’t tarnished. The innocent generation that really suffers from the uncovering of the truth of the past is the youngest generation, who had no say over what had happened because they were not alive. This results in the only way to completely relieve the young generation’s guilt: suicide.
Communism is portrayed as a nasty mistake from the past that ought not to be forgotten. Few are blameless, and those who are end up suffering equally to those with the blame. In connection with Georgian society, I read that they place a special emphasis on death and its implications. Apparently the act of digging up a body is especially offensive in Georgia, although I need to find more scholarly sources to back that claim up. Abel throwing the bones off of the cliff certainly shows that the middling generation at this time should be working to remember the sins of the past and attempt to wash them away by foregoing tradition in favor of shaming evil deeds.
The Time of the Gypsies
Magical realism is a genre term I have only very recently discovered. I’m glad I did, because it is everything I aspire to embody as a filmmaker. I love the nonchalant use of magic throughout this film. By doing so, it makes the audience believe that such things could possibly happen in real life; the film radically shifts how people can look at the normal world after seeing a film. Using this magic with the Romani peoples was a good choice, then, as not only will we come to appreciate the magic in our every day lives, but we’ll be able to accept another group of people that have lived for so long on the fringe of every static society.
This film captures the essence of filmmaking as an empathetic medium. Some of the imagery with the children being taken advantage of reminded me of the more modern Slumdog Millionaire, yet it was shot in a whimsical style reminiscent of Amelie or Delicatessen with people presented as caricatures more than anything else. For example, the mother of the lover is presented as only caring about the financial security of her daughter, while the protagonist is only focused on acquiring the love of the daughter and thus goes on an international journey to secure that money.
By characterizing everyone so simply, The Time of the Gypsies shows the universally human traits exhibited by the Romani people, eliciting empathy in an international audience who, like the international community as a whole, is notorious for being prejudiced against these people. While it does get me to care about them, it still portrays Romani life as bleak and depressing despite the great effort of the people to live a life contrary to the hate and bad luck put against them. We see this clearly in the final shot with the cross toppling over. These are people of great faith, and yet even in their time of greatest need, there is no God to help them.
Another section that appealed to me personally was the use of music to alleviate the woes of the characters. The son is able to soothe his grandmother by playing the song on the accordion that she always likes hearing. The dream sequence is punctuated by “Ederlezi,” a traditional Romani song. The music plays along with the idea of magic. Though there is no geographical home for these people, the fact that there is a common magic, both from the standpoint of levitating objects, and a music is enough to tie the Romani people across a gap of hundreds of thousands of miles.
The film is not only a critique on the societies that spurn the Romani people, but it feels like a critique of the fundamental ways of life that differentiate them from their more technologically advanced neighbors in places like Italy. This film feels like a meditation on how capitalism can corrupt the magic of nature or a life without technology. The main character only really starts to suffer when he goes out and seeks money to be able to marry the love of his life. Dark themes were present throughout this film, but the idea of magic made it bearable, like how comedies allow us to be able to critique ourselves.
“Window to Paris”
In what was my favorite film in the class so far, Window to Paris (Yuri Mamin, 1993) provided the magical realism that I’ve quickly come to love and perhaps the most in-your-face critique thus far in our class period.
Within the school, it’s obvious that the arts are failing in favor of more straightforward studies like mathematics and business when the protagonist Nikolai (Sergei Dontsov) gets fired from his music and dancing teacher’s job. We follow him through his life after this and witness how his presence brings, quite literally, magic into the lives of the family he moves in with when they discover that titular window to Paris that somehow bends space time. This is probably through magic, especially considering the characters are so adamant about keeping scientists away from the window at one point.
What follows is a humorous collection of vignettes following the lives of the various tenants of the apartment building as they split off from each other and discover Paris for themselves. I can imagine why Paris was chosen, as the popular consensus is that it is the cultural hub of the world, or at least one of the biggest cultural hubs of the world, as seen through several shots of the Louvre and the artists living in the building adjacent to the window.
The critique of Russia comes from many of the characters in their attempts to stay in Paris despite the fact that the wall is going to close permanently at some point in time. Though the teacher is able to nimbly tread the two worlds despite his love for the artist whose house he shatters during his first excursion into the city, most everybody else doesn’t want to go back to Russia. At the finale, when he takes all of his students on a field trip to the Eiffel Tower, they explicitly state how bad Russia is to live in, and at the very end of the film, we see citizens of Russia trying to bust through another wall so that they can get back to Paris or some other such city.
The use of music was duplicitous to me. On the one hand, it provided a distraction from the bad lives that everyone was living, like when the students were dancing through the halls of an otherwise dreary school, but it also didn’t serve to affect the world they were living in. It was a purely temporary pleasure that I only saw as a distraction from any kind of political or economic progress. Perhaps talking about economic progress here was the point, because I think part of the message was that there was too much focus on economic progress and that if we only focus on the music, we’ll be able to lead more content lives.
There’s also an image of a beautiful family within this film. They’re loud, and on more than one occasion their French neighbors yell at them and threaten to call the police due to their noise, but they are so independent and funny that it’s hard to be annoyed by them. Beyond the music, I think the message was that one should stick with your family and try to enact change in your local community rather than find escapism through music or a magical window. Still, I wish I could jump to Paris whenever I felt like it.
First thing I’ll talk about with this film is the connection between the church and state. It is only through an appeal to the god of thunder, Tengri, that Temudgin is able to overtake Jamukha and win over the Mongols that do not wish to side with him. Temudgin is shown to have the closest relationship with this god. Not only is he the only Mongol shown repeatedly praying, but he is referred to as a wolf by his enemy, Targutai. As Temudgin prays to the god, a wolf is repeatedly shown watching over him. While Targutai obviously doesn’t know about this happening, the epigram, wolf, is implicitly referring to Temudgin as one connected with a higher power.
This tie with religion leads Temudgin to connect with the Buddhist monk. While their belief systems are disparate, as Temudgin’s religion is based off of verbal prayer and actions like fleeing to show respect to the thunder, and the Buddhists lays importance on texts as he begs Temudgin to spare these books in the monastery. This connection with the monk is what helps to reconnect Temudgin with his wife, Borte, and which eventually leads to his freedom and subsequent unification of the Mongols.
This could be commentary from the director as to not only how the Mongols were unified, but how the USSR was formed. I do not know the director’s personal religious beliefs, but it does seem like he places a lot of emphasis on God, whether or not it’s the Christian God or Mongolian God or Buddhist Universe, in giving people power. This could be a mirror with the soviet state not in terms of religion, but in terms of how the leaders themselves are deified, like Stalin.
There is a clash between traditional values and customs in favor of a revolutionary unification of people for the common good. While I was watching the film, I was trying to force a connection between this and a critique of communism, but now that I think about it, it’s obviously a laudation of it, despite me thinking the contrary when the professor emphasized that this was made in a POST soviet world, which it was, but I can see how it would be possible to not want to let go of those sentiments.
I made a few connections to other specific films that I’ve seen in and outside of this class. There was one specific shot where the Merkits are attacking Borte’s village that stood out to me. There is all blackness, and then four out of focus balls of fire pop in frame, which are revealed to be the Merkits’ torches. This reminded me vaguely of Burnt By the Sun in terms of a ball of fire representing corrupted power. The Merkits were the most powerful tribe at this point, and not only were they corrupted metaphorically by the fire, but they were also dehumanized by the masks that they wore.
The many action sequences that dotted the film reminded me of Red Cliff, a Chinese film that also included these revolutionary ideals and the unification of several states. However, Red Cliff came out a year after Mongol, so it would make sense to say that this film was a direct influence on that, as Red Cliff takes similar tactics but draws them out over five hours, rather than the two hour length of this film.
Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe
From the first few frames, this can be seen as a feminist film. A nude woman tumbling down a sandy hill as she gasps for breath, struggling to maintain her balance seems to represent some kind of feminine struggle, or perhaps I’m reaching. This is revealed to be a dream, which carries more of an impact because this image is shown to be ingrained in the feminine psyche, as the protagonist is a woman dressed in all white, which I could take to be standing in for all women.
She wakes up, and pieces together a photograph of an old man and an old woman, and the old man is split in half. I would assume these are her parents. So the woman character has a fractured family life, if the first assumption is correct that these are indeed her parents, and then it’s revealed that she’s a teacher who can’t afford her own place. The first conflict is revealed where she is revealed to be in love with another teacher who doesn’t seem to show much interest in her, then there’s another problem on a much bigger scale revealed when we find that the school is no longer teaching Russian.
Already there seems to be a connection between a fractured family (love) and a fractured government. As this was made shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, this makes sense. Many people tear Emma in several different directions sexually, and none of these romantic leads seem to go anywhere, as evidenced by her recurring nightmare that I described in the first paragraph.
On top of this sexual frustration, Emma is forced to learn English to keep herself marketable as a teacher after Russian is done for in the school system. One particular scene that stuck out to me was when Emma was taking the bus home after the first time we see her in an English lesson, and a group of punk rock teenagers are standing behind her. One of them is describing what they are going to do to someone else; describing how they’re going to beat someone up. Emma listens to their conversation, and exits the bus after hearing “He is what he is, he’s only 16, fuck you.”
Taken out of the context of the conversation, this statement carries some universal weight. The country is entering into a new age, and with it there are bound to be flaws, as evidenced by Emma’s struggle for the duration of the film. I don’t believe this film to be a condemnation of these flaws, but rather simply observing the effects of them on a person who we wouldn’t normally consider when studying the impact of a regime shift of this size.
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