Journal: The Twilight of a Woman’s Soul
Yevgeni Bau, a Russian filmmaker, known as the woman’s director, uses his film, The Twilight of a Woman’s Soul, to address the issues of rape, and societies urge to victim blame. Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, tackles the same theme in his film, Blackmail. Both films use similar tactics to depict the fate of the independent woman including set design, and forms of art.
Bau uses set design to show how Vera fits into her society. We first see her in her room confined by the layout of the bulky furniture. There is very little room to move around, and even a sheer drape, boxing her in even more. Her exterior space is also claustrophobic. Walls are created by large plants, and the area is crowded with members of high society. Not wanting to dance, already trying to reject being on display, she finds seclusion in the maze of plants. Partygoers gaze at her through the cracks in the plant wall. Unfazed, she dismisses two men suggesting she joins them in dancing. Soon though she if found by her mother, who chides her for not socializing at the party. She is stuck in this societal box of how a high stature woman should behave. She is an object in the world of the male gaze, and must perform accordingly. The male gaze soon encompasses her life even more when she is discovered my Maxim. He lures her to his home, which is filled with crates and visible box shapes. The bar shadowed light from the window consumes the room, creating a prison. Once he attacks her, Bau uses a jump cut to indicate Vera has been raped. Afterwards, Maxim falls asleep, and Vera takes the opportunity to stab her attacker to death. Disheveled, she covers her face with a dark viel and proceeds to her walk of shame. Vera battles with telling her Prince about her disgrace, and even attempts to send him a letter saying, “I’ve belonged to another”. She is projecting her own guilt for no longer fitting into the generic female role. The rape destroyed her purity. If her trauma was revealed to her social class the Prince’s beautiful wife will be tainted. Wherever she went, she would be followed around with a cloud of whispers. Her fears soon become her reality when she finally confesses to Prince Dolsky. He is only worried about the shame that will be associated with his name. He is disgusted with her, and is unable to see her as the victim.
Alice, similar to Vera tries to withdraw from the conventional role of a woman in society. When we first see Alice she informs her boyfriend, Frank, she had to wait on him to finish his work at Scotland Yard. Another officer whispers in her ear and they laugh at Frank’s expense. He takes her to an overly crowded restaurant, where they have to fight for their seats. Alice grabs a seat, but Frank is left standing until another table opens up. Frank tries to convince Alice to go to the pictures with him, to which she dismisses so she can meet Crew, a bohemian artist, in secret. Frank’s need to confine Alice to the role of the submissive woman is evident in his choice of the location for the couples date. When it is apparent he has no control over her, Frank storms off. He is confident she will follow, but instead witnesses her leaving with Crew. As Alice climbs the tower-like stairs to Crew’s apartment, she is in control of her social status. They enter the gothic apartment. Crew has Alice try on a costume with the promise of paint her. Instead, he drags her to his bed, hidden by a large curtain, and forces himself on her. Hitchcock uses the lack of visibility to suggest Alice is raped. With the curtain boxing in the entire bed she has fallen victim to the male gaze. This is her punishment for contradicting from Frank’s ideal for female behavior. She defends herself by stabbing Crew to death. In shock, she slowly makes her way home on the crowded streets. She sees a illuminant bar sign morph into a hand holding a knife stabbing over and over again. She has flashbacks of Crew’s lifeless hand. Her guilt is manifesting in her surroundings. Once in bed, Frank’s police photograph accusingly looms over Alice. Reiterating this is what happens when a female disobey the male’s authority.
Both films use forms of art to portray the female protagonist’s place in society. After leaving Prince Dolsky, Vera pursues acting. Prince Dolsky, heartbroken from the breakup, goes to the opera to raise his spirits. He sees Vera acting on stage. In the play Vera dies. Her death in the opera symbolizes the death of Vera as a submissive societal woman, and the birth of Vera, the independent woman recreating her social status. There is no room for Prince Dolsky, and his conventional need to maintain face in society. She rejects him and his misogynistic view that wives are objects used to enhance stature. Vera will no longer be forced to dance at societal functions. She instead will create her own expression of self. Realizes Vera is not acting on his behalf anymore, but rather her own, Prince Dolsky commits suicide.
Art is used to taunt Alice rather than to promote her independence. When Alice first walks into Crew’s apartment she is still confident with independence. She gazes upon a portrait of a jester pointing. She laughs along with the painting, clued into its joke. After the rape and murder she is confronted again with the jester. This time, however, the jester is pointing at her. The painting is now projecting judgment; you brought this upon yourself, Alice. She confronts the jester one last time as she tries to confess. Frank prevents her at the last moment, silencing her for good. Frank and the same officer Alice shared the inside joke with at the beginning of the film, laugh at the idea of a woman doing a man’s job. Alice, trying to fake a laugh, notices the jester pointing and laughing at her. She is now the joke. She has lost her voice.
Film Journal: Aelita, Queen of Mars
During the time Aelita, Queen of Mars was released Russian cinema had entered a new era of censorship. Under Stalin’s regime, the socialist party gained sole authoritative power over the standards of soviet cinema. The release of a film to the soviet public was determined by the film’s political attributions, and if censorship believed it was correctly showcasing the socialist lifestyle. All of soviet cinema was now geared towards socialist propaganda. The surface reading of Aelita, Queen of Mars promotes socialism, but a deeper reading can be interpreted as a warning against the great political terror that will soon become more apparent in Russia.
In the film, Los, an engineer, receives a message he believes is from mars. He begins planning strategies to construct a spaceship, which he refers to as his life’s work, and frequently daydreams about society on Mars. In his dreams Aelita is the humanlike queen, who is fascinated with earth life. A mars engineer creates a telescope, with a range that allows them to see life on earth. Aelita frequently sneaks to the telescope to spy on Los, and soon falls in love with him. She is caught by Tuskurb, the ruler of mars. Jealous she no longer giving him attention, Tuskurb locks Aelita away from the telescope. Back on earth, Los suspects his wife, Natasha, of cheating. In a fit of jealousy Los shoots Natasha, killing her. Guilt ridden, Los uses his life work to build a spaceship in order to escape earth. He hires a red army solider, Gusev, to accompany him to mars. Kravstov, a detective out to prove himself by solving Natasha’s murder, sneaks on board as the spaceship takes off. Once on mars, Los is confronted by Aelita. He imagines his wife in Aelita’s place. Turskurb and the elders attack them. Gusev helps the slaves of mars form a socialist revolution. The Queen claims her allegiance with the slaves, and proclaims she will lead them. Gusev is suspicious of the queen’s intentions for leading a rebellion on her own kingdom. Once the slaves defeat Tuskurb and the elders, Aelita tells her guards to drive the slaves back to the caves. She explains to Los her plan to reign alone. They struggle, Aelita transforms into Natasha as Los pushes her off the stairs to her death. Los wakes up out of his daydream and goes home to find his wife still alive. Natasha forgives him for shooting at her, and holds him in a motherly embrace.
The surface reading of the mars plot is that the slaves’ revolution over the elders represents the soviet movement towards socialism and away from a capitalist class driven society. Also, it promotes censorship-approved morals they considered suitable for soviet society. Los spends his time fantasizing about mars as a materialistic society. Once Aelita betrays him, his dream turns into a nightmare, and tricks him into murdering his wife for the second time. It’s suggesting nothing good comes from desiring the lavish lifestyle, associated with western society. Do not let your daydreams distract you from your socialist life. Woken up from his foolish dream Los burns his life’s work, and his bourgeois status. Natasha is punished for her materialism as well when she allows herself to be seduced by Viktor’s lifestyle. She allows him to feed her chocolates and take her dancing, which leads Los to misreading their relationship. She is almost killed for getting caught up in a world of privileges. Throughout the film we are shown Natasha is independent in the workforce, but submissive in her home life. She forgives Los without hesitation, serving the ideal of marriage as a irreversible union, held in a conservative society. The film salutes Natasha for taking initiative in the work world, but also suggest she must obey her husband, even though he is psychologically unwell. It is her duty to forgive him, so they both can get back on track with their modest lifestyle.
A different reading of the mars plotline acts as a warning against the oppressive leadership in Russia during the film’s release. Aelita, after convincing the rebels they are in her best interest, turns on them, forcing them back into slavery. Stalin and the socialist party became the only authoritative power in Russia. They controlled the manner in how media and information was presented to the public. Every film that did not uphold the taste of censorship was banned, even if it was already available to the public. Aelita, Queen of Mars was deemed unsuitable for the public, and was banned in Russia during the 1930s.
Sorry, I forgot to post this journal from week one. So this is out of order.
Journal: Burnt by the Sun
The film, Burnt by the Sun, focuses on the destruction that Stalin’s power had on Col Sergei Kotov’s family, and the people of Russia. The film takes place in Russia’s countryside. Immediately, we are drawn to the government’s lack of concern for the citizens. As tanks crush the town’s wheat fields, Kotov is introduced as the people’s champion. Due to his heroic military status, he is the only one in the town that can persuade the soldiers to leave. The people’s way of life is momentarily restored. Kotov’s utopia is soon disrupted by Mitia, his wife’s Marusia’s past lover.
Although the love triangle is prevalent, Nadia’s relationship with both male characters takes center stage. Nadia’s admiration for her father is reflected in her desire to join the Pioneers. Kotov’s devotion to his country is similar to the unconditional love Nadia has for her parents. He even preaches to his daughter to “respect your parents… and cherish your soviet motherland”. Nadia, being taught not to question authority, later steers the car that is driving her father to his ultimate death. Their love of Russia turns them into unsuspecting victims.
Contrastingly, Nadia’s and Mitia’s relationship is based on the comparison of innocents and darkness. From the first moment we see Nadia, she in dressed in white, and singing the dark lullaby, remaining naive to the content of the song. Our first view of Mitia, however, paints him as having villainous knowledge. He carries on a conversation, while unknowingly to the man he is talking to, plays Russian roulette. The audience is once again clued in to this comparison the first time Nadia and Mitia meet. Watching the Pioneers parade pass her with admiration, Nadia is suddenly confronted by the fear and uncertainty of a hovering dark old man, we learn to be Mitia in a disguise. The first moment Nadia is confronted by Mitia he feeds her lies, telling her he is the “Summer Santa”. Won overby his charm, Nadia invites him into her family’s home. Mitia alarms everyone momentarily, until revealing his prank. He hides his tainted agenda, again toying with death, that he is now bringing upon the family. Through out the film Mitia pursues Nadia’s affection, playing the piano, and tap dancing. He is creating the persona of Uncle Mitia. The only time Mitia reveals any resemblance of the truth to Nadia is when he tells the story of his life in the form of a fairytale. He discloses his dark past with Kotov and the loss of his true love Marusia. Mitia’s story summons the blazing fireball, which crashes through the house, breaking an old family picture. Mitia’s fear of the consequences for disobeying government orders, caused him to abandon Marusia. The fireball is the force that destroyed Mitia’s potential of having a family.
At the end of the film, the fireball appears once again, as Kotov’s fatal fate becomes apparent. Kotov, at first, still maintains his carefree mentality, and even sings a song. He informs his captors that he has Satlin’s direct line, believing his leader and personal friend will come to his aid. When they come upon the broken-down car blocking the road, he is recognized as Comrade Kotov, the people’s champion. He tries to come to the lost man’s rescue, as he did for the villagers in the field. This leads to an altercation with Mitia’s men. As Kotov is beaten and handcuffed, the rising of Stalin’s balloon consumes Mitia’s point of view of the wheat fields. After murdering the lost bystander, they drive towards the balloon. Kotov, defeated, realizes this is the end. This is the defining moment when the old way of life is dead, and the voice of Russia’s people is silenced. The fireball reappears as Mitia, having been manipulated by power, commits suicide. The fireball is Russia grim reaper, the bringer of fear, the destruction of family; it is Stalin.
Film Journal: The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolshevik
Lev Kuleshov’s film, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks, was successful with both Soviet and American audiences. Mr. West experiments with new techniques of editing during the silent cinema era, including soviet montage and creative geography, which would become the dominate editing strategies in both Soviet and American cinema. Kuleshov incorporated a more physical form of acting, utilizing circus performances. He appealed to American audiences using the techniques and themes of Hollywood, allowing him to promote the new Bolshevik lifestyles abroad.
Kuleshov, considered one of the first film theorists, discovered the ability to apply meaning through a combination of shots, which created a more elaborate form of editing. He incorporated this strategy, known as soviet montage, into Mr. West when the film cuts back and forth between Mr. West’s and the Countess’s conversation, and the fight between One Eye and Dandy in the hallway. Once One Eye and Dandy begin to shove each other into the walls of the hallway, it cuts to Mr. West and the Countess staring at the wall, which is shaking from the impact of the fight. This linear form of editing, incorporating close-ups of the actors, creates emotion and implies each character’s motivation. Kuleshov also incorporated his newly formed tactic, creative geography, to build the illusion that the locations where the police chase Jed are closer than they are in actuality. He did this by cutting according to body language and position to create a fluid flow of movement. These strategies introduced by Kuleshov have been utilized by Soviet and American cinema, becoming dominate methods of story telling in films.
The film utilizes Circus performances to create a more physical form of acting. Jed’s stunts during his chase scene with the police, incorporate tight rope acts and acrobatics, paying homage to Hollywood’s action genre. The film uses body contortion, such as the man sucking in and sticking out his stomach, adding to the Hollywood slapstick style, while showing the ridiculousness of Mr. West’s fears. Kuleshov incorporated Hollywood’s stereotypical characters to draw in the American Audience. Mr. West’s physical attributions are loosely based off of American comedian Harold Lloyd, popular in Russia during the 1920s. Mr. West, dressed in a long fur coat, and indiscriminately handing out his money, portrays the soviet stereotype for the average American. His materialism and gullible nature make him the perfect target for the hooligans. Mr. West’s overly enthusiastic patriotism for America, becomes a slapstick comedic trigger throughout the film, and adds to his gullibility. Mr. West is a victim of the international misinterpretations. When he realizes the image of the villainous Bolsheviks he believed to be the true society of Russia he saw in magazines, he has his wife burn the false American magazines, and hang a picture of Lenin in their study. Jed, the cowboy, is also based off of an American actor, Douglas Fairbanks, famous for his action films. In the beginning of the film, Jed inhabits the shoots first ask questions later mentality. He is shown as this outlandish character that lassoes innocent bystanders based on the stereotype he holds for Bolsheviks. It’s not until he learns what it truly means to be Bolshevik, before he himself breaks away from his cowboy stereotype. Mr. West and Jed are acting as mediators for the differences between American and Soviet politics.
Film Journal: Circus
Grigori Alesksandrov’s film, Circus, showcases Marion’s transformation from a defeated consumer driven American to a happy liberated Soviet. When we are first introduced to Marion, we see her photo in an American newspaper with the text “Marion Dixon, perpetrator of history’s biggest crime”. Wearing her dark wig, she clutches a bundle to her chest as she is chased out of the circus by an angry mob, consisting mainly of American men. Once she escapes on the train, she finds refuge in Kneishitz’s compartment. He immediately recognizes her from the newspaper, and is irritated by her disruptive entrance. She faints in his arms, and the bundle cries, revealing that Marion is a mother on the run. In America Marion’s femininity is prosecuted. The misogynistic and racial standards held by American society forces Marion off the stage, and demotes her to playing the role of damsel in distress. Marion’s female identity continues to be suppressed and demonized when she succumbs to Kneishitz’s blackmail and the capitalistic lifestyle. Working as a traveling American performer in Moskau, she unenthusiastically prepares herself for her act. During her preparation she is aided by a clown, who physical attributes are modeled after Charlie Chaplin. She self-accusingly gazes into the mirror Chaplin holds for her. She signs the cross, and solemnly walks onto stage as if the audience was the American mob.
In order for Marion’s femininity to be embraced in Moskau she must denounce her American lifestyle. Ludvig, the circus director, conspires to replace Marion’s act with more affordable Soviet performers, due to her lavish wages. Her consumerist lifestyle is reflected in her extravagant hotel suite and clothes. The blackmail is not the only reason why Marion has stayed with Kneishitz; he has maintained her capitalist lifestyle. Once she is wooed by Martinov and the socialist lifestyle she rejects capitalism. Kneishitz, aware Marion has been influenced by her love for Martinov, exclaims, “They (Soviets) do not marry women like you”. He throws her wardrobe at her, covering her in expensive clothes. He screams, “These things have all been bought for you”. Marion, no longer influenced by “things” says, “the Marry you bought these for is no more”. She stands firm, her child runs to her, reaffirming her womanhood. The boy cries, and Marion sings him a lullaby in both English and Russian.
She embraces soviet socialism even more when subbing in for Rayechka in the final performance. Ludvig asks her how much she expects to be paid, to which she excitedly proclaims nothing. For the first time she performs without her dark wig, and is wearing all white. She is her natural self. Unlike her other acts, her performance is not a job, it is a part of her. The parachute forms around her acting as a dress that encompasses the majority of the stage. Her femininity is embraced by Russia. This is reinforced when the Soviet audience defends her child from Kneishitz’s racist slanders. The Soviet crowd accepts Marion and her child, cementing Russia as their mothering country. Marion’s transformation to a liberated Soviet is complete as she happily marches in the parade singing “Song of the Motherland.
Film Journal: Daisies
Vera Chytilova’s film Daisies uses the gluttony induced coming of age story of two seventeen-year-old females to symbolize the careless destruction caused by socialist and capitalist governments Chytilova’s non-narrative film’s opening credits cuts back and forth from machine gears in movement and bomb explosions. The sound during the credits includes the looped beat of war drums that only play over the shots of machine gears. As the drumming ceases the image cuts to shots of the atomic bomb. Western and Soviet governments are the allied machines behind the bombing of Hiroshima.
Like the machine in the credits, the girls are the force that destroys their film environment. When we first are introduced to the girls their bodies creak with their movement, as if they were mechanical parts from the machine in the credits. The shot cuts to a building falling down incorporating the same outcome technique of the bomb destroyer shots in the credits. Similarly to how Western and Soviet governments have downplayed their own repressive acts against their citizens, such as Japanese interment camps and Stalin’s great purge, the girls first try to cover up their guilt. The blond girl puts a wreath of flowers over her head and proclaims she is now a virgin. They mutually decide that “since all (the world is) degenerate…we will be degenerate”. Throughout the film she wears the wreath as she and her friend spread chaos from location to location.
The girls main source of destruction is their gluttony and waste of food. They are often shown gorging themselves, taking bites of food and spitting it out, accumulating to their memorable food fight at the feast-like spread. These greedy girls are reflections of socialist and capitalist need to obtain appropriate art. Also the girls’ over consumption of food represents the Western and Soviet governments waste of Japanese civilian lives during the bombing. This is also shown through the girls’ obsession with death, rolling each other in blankets, as if wrapping dead bodies, and dismembering each others bodies with scissors. The girls are representations of the carelessness of both societies. The girls destroy the environments they encounter and, ultimately, themselves.
Film Journal: Stalker
Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker intertwines poetry and romanticism to create a neutral political aesthetic. Stalker escorts Writer and Professor on a quest through the zone, a feared and abandoned area, in order to obtain self-enlightenment. The occupied Russia is depicted through a dull colorless filter. Once passing the heavily guarded boarder to the zone, the landscape switches to color. The zone landscape is romanticized, showing overgrown fields and broken buildings. They seem to be the only humans in the zone, and the audience is informed that even their presence is threatening to this utopian world. The long romanticized shots interweave with the men’s quotes of poetry emphasizes the zone as being sacred and demotes the over-development of the modern Russia.
The film reflects on the contrast between Stalker’s and Monkey’s spiritual connections in the two film environments. We are first introduced to the town through Stalker’s perspective. It is colorless, but is portrayed through the same long poetic shots Tarkovsky uses to portray the zone. Stalker is portrayed as a spiritual crusader, whose only sense of hope derives from the tradition of the old utopian world. Despite his defeated sense of self in the town, his faith in the individual experience of the zone is that of a child’s. Writer and Professor constantly question Stalker’s direction, and even attempt to destroy “the room” where it is believed they will receive their most inner desires. Unlike the romanticized vision of Stalker, both the Writer and Professor see the room as a threat. A power that can fall into the wrong hands. Writer and Professor never enter the room, and leave Stalker in turmoil, forcing him to question his faith in the zone. Upon his return home, Stalker claims he will never guide anyone through the zone again, even his wife, afraid he will loose what is remaining of his faith. Writer and Professor only act as opposing ideas, and never disprove Stalker’s spirituality. The poetry the character’s recite acts as a debate, which never reaches a definitive answer, even if they momentarily cause Stalker to personal question his faith.
This is further proven when we are shown Monkey’s perspective for the first time. She is the only character whose perspective portrays the town in color. Her faith is projected through her supernatural power to move the glasses on the table with her mind. Monkey is on the opposite spectrum of her father’s faltering faith. She is at the peak of her child-like hope in Russia, and represents an optimistic merging of the modern world and the traditional utopia. Tarkovsky incorporates different point of views, enhancing them through romanticized shots and poetry. He acts as a neutral party, creating a film that focuses on Russian identities.
Film Journal: Adoption
Marta Meszaros’ film, Adoption, focuses on the relationship between Kata, a middle-aged factory worker who desires motherhood, and Anna, a teenager being raised by a state institution. Kata assists Anna in getting permission from her neglectful parents to marry Sanyi and leave the institution. Kata then abandons her desire to have a child with her married lover Joska, and adopts a baby from the orphanage that raised Anna. The film socially reflects on the state institution system and the institution of marriage.
The film uses Kata to depict gender roles in the working class and to show female solidarity as an alternative to marriage. The film only shows female workers at the factory where Kata works. The shots accentuate their working hands and rough elbows, which eludes to many years of working at the factory. It is not made aware that Joska works with Kata until the train ride at the end of the shift. Since the death of her husband and mother Kata has adjusted to her secluded lifestyle. She tells Anna that she had to learn how to cook after her mother died. She makes enough income to support a baby.
After Joska’ s refusal to have a child with Kata, she pursues a mother-like relationship with Anna. They soon come to depend on each other to play the roles of surrogate mother and daughter. Cooking her meals and cleaning up after her; Kata nurtures Anna. Kata becomes dependent on her company, seeking Anna at the institute to play house with her again. Their bond is strongest when it is not disrupted by their relationships with men. Sanyi’s visit momentarily threatens Kata’s relationship with Anna. When Kata comes home to the couple alone in her guest room, Anna immediately comes out wearing Kata’s robe. Kata asks to meet Sanyi, reflecting a parent’s need to meet their daughter’s boyfriend. She informs Kata they would like privacy in a way that suggests she is asking for Kata’s permission. Once the couple begins to have sex, Kata interrupts the intimate moment, asking for her robe. She assumes the role of the disapproving mother. After Sanyi leaves, Anna plays prank on Kata, by faking her tears. Once Kata sooths her, Anna laughs mocking her mothering nature. Kata slaps Anna, and their role-playing is disrupted. Their bond is strengthened once again when Kata is stood-up by Joska. Anna switches roles to the mother, consoling Kata, and giving her advice. A table of men watches the two as they eat dinner together. Once they approach their table, Kata and Anna reject two of the male suitors. Their seclusion away from the male identity strengthens their roles again. After Anna’s shower, Kata dries her hair and dresses her. A relationship with a mother figure Anna was denied as a toddler.
Instead of allowing Kata to continue her motherly role, Anna chooses to escape the institution through marriage. During the wedding children from the institute do not partake in the celebration. There are long unsettling shots of girls crying. The last shot we see of the newly wed couple together Sanyi aggressively grabs Anna, and she is left with the same melancholy expression as the rest of the girls from institution. The institution has failed them. Anna has left one institution and has entered another. She will have to live out her doomed marriage living with Sanyi’s family in a two-room apartment. The cycle will continue with the next generation.
Although Kata continues her relationship with Joska, she moves past her desire to bare his child once witnessing his wife’s role in their home. Joska dismisses his wife’s desire to pursue work outside of the home. She is denied the right to another identity besides the title of wife and mother. Kata decision to adopt and her mothering nature towards the older girls at the institution is one small change to the institution system. She leaves the audience Hopeful knowing the infant she adopted has truly escaped the system.
Film Journal: Repentance
Tengiz Abuladze’s Repentance is a prime representation of glasnost, depicting the corruption of Varlam Arvidze, a mayor of a Georgian town, and how his legacy is passed down through the generations. The film focuses on the necessity of Varlam’s family’s to seek out forgiveness for the unjust arrest and execution of Kati’s parents Ketevan and Nino Barateli. The entire film is constructed from Kati’s imagination, and her fantasy of revenge, in which she continual digs Varlam from his grave. She claims to do so until his family admits responsibility for Varlam’s unjust punishment of the citizens of the town, and their own guilt for justifying his actions.
Varlam is a symbol of fascist leadership, and conflicts with religious institutions.
Varlam sees himself as an idol and is threatened by the Christianity. The church has been overrun by laboratory equipment. The camera scans the ceiling showing how the equipment has compromised the structure of the church. A close-up of a partially decomposing portrait depicts a disciple of Christ sobbing, as a song about the fable of the Little Old Woman Who Lives in a Shoe plays. This shows Varlam’s need to scientifically discredit religion, and to promote self-enlightenment through political institutions. Ketevan and an elderly couple from the church plead with Varlam to protect the religious structure. During this meeting they appear to be outside. Music abruptly begins to play and the film cuts from a close-up of Varlam to a close-up of the older man, Mosse, looking around for the source of the music. The next shot reveals they are confined in a glass dome being patrolled by guards in medieval armor. Varlam’s reflection of Stalin’s need to control nature is later represented in his Tornike’s dream when he shoots at chirping birds with an imaginary gun.
The juxtaposition of Ketevan’s death references Christian beliefs. He walks through what appears to be catacombs of ancient church, and enters waist-high water; Christianity’s sign for rebirth in Christ. He cleanses his soul as a guard in a medieval armor reads him his last rights. Ketevan, hanging from his hands, and only clothed in a garment wrapped around his hips resembles Christ on the cross during his execution. His death overlaps with the destruction of the church.
The theme of religion is reiterated in Kati’s fantasy of the present. Keeping accordance to the three-day resurrection of Christ, Kati forces Varlam from his grave three times. Each time the body has continued decomposing. His Godlike memory has been discredited. Varlam’s corpse is even arrested; the present institution is still reinforcing the corrupt sense of justice he abused. The guards still dressed in the medieval armor during Kati’s trial also represent this lack of progression.
Abel, Varlam’s son, is a public symbol of the continuation of his father’s medieval system, through the validation of his crimes. The same actor, Avtandil Makharadze, plays Varlam and Abel showing how status continues to provide the family with a false sense of righteousness. Abel is at a crossroads, split between his father’s spirit, and his son, creating a distorted representation of the trinity. In order for the families’ sins to be forgiven, the son must be sacrificed. After Tornike’s suicide, Abel throws Valam’s corpse from a cliff, condemning him to eternal unrest. The film represents Soviet need to cleanse from the destruction of the stagnation period, and reflects the possible progression through repentance of administration.
Film Journal: Time of the Gypsies
Emir Kusturia’s film, Time of the Gypsies, depicts the tragic coming of age story of a Romanian boy, Perhan, who is lured away from his poor neighborhood with the prospect of wealth, in order to heal his crippled sister, and marry his love Azra, and subsequently enters a life of petty crime. The film infuses the audience in gypsy culture through mise-en-scene, religion, and surrealism creating sympathetic and relatable characters.
The film is primarily told through Perhan’s point of view. His sense of family makes his character easily relatable to the audience. His initial reasons for divulging in petty theft revolved around his desire to provide for his family. His optimistic fantasy of Italy is brought to light during the car ride to Milan. The woman lulls the babies asleep by singing “Bella Italia” in two different languages. This infusion of Romanian culture into a song proclaiming Italy’s beauty symbolizes Perhan’s belief that Italy will become his salvation. He sees Italy as the land of opportunity, the promise of wealth. This fantasy is soon contrasted to the gypsy camp on the abandoned rundown area that was once considered Italy. Once embracing the life of crime, Perhan tries to mimic the position of the painted man on the billboard, but isn’t shown ever getting it quite right. He is trying to embrace his fantasy, but the real Italy is not fully embracing the Romanian culture. They are exiled to the outskirts of Italy. This is also depicted through the Italian avoidance of the Ahmed’s crew on Italy’s streets. Since the film is solely told through the gypsies’ perspectives, this act also isolates the audience.
Milan architecture such as the Duomo symbolizes the disconnection between the Romanians and Italians. Fog, or the bodies of the gypsy beggars often block the view of the building. This signifies that they are not considered apart of Italian culture; in fact they are shown obstructing the view of the famous cathedral. In Perhan’s letter to his grandmother he mentions he would like a “painting with a great church”, expressing his desire to be take part in Milan’s culture, instead of being viewed as an outsider. Symbols of religion are also used as omens throughout the film. Before Perhan leaves for Milan, he tries to hang himself with the bell of the church because Azra’s mother won’t allow a poor half-gypsy to marry her daughter. It symbolizes how the structure of culture represented by both the Duomo and the town’s chapel will never fully accept Perhan. His reinforced belief that he needs to prove himself through status and wealth will lead to his ultimate death. The film’s surrealism is used similarly as well. During Perhan’s dream his grandmother is shown in front of the Duomo. This symbolizes Perhan’s future displacement. He will loose his sense of self, no longer considering himself gypsy or a part of Italy. Kusturia’s imagery persuades the audience to relate to Perhan, sympathetically depicting a culture that is often dismissed.
Film Journal: Window to Paris
Yuri Mamin’s film, Window to Paris, is an extension of Russia’s reformation after the dissolve of the Soviet Union. The film’s opening shot displays a sculptured monkey examining another figure of a monkey in its hands with a magnify glass. This reflects the idolization of western capitalism held in Russian culture after the country’s abandonment of communism. Mamin establishes this mentality through the leadership at the school where Nikolai works as a music teacher. His subject matter is devalued by the administration, claiming they ‘don’t prepare musicians, but businessmen’. Western currency hangs on the walls of the director’s office, reiterating the institutions desire to gear the students toward capitalist ideals. The student’s admiration for Nikolai establishes his deviation from capitalism as a greater threat to administration, resulting in his termination from the school.
The window connecting Petersburg to Paris allows Nikolai to further distinguish himself from the other characters in the film through his deviation from the both communist and capitalist ideals. Nikolai views the connection as a way to gain cultural knowledge. Nikolai’s two sets of neighbors that accompany him to Paris are divided by their separate ideologies. The neighbors that are remnants of the communist party spends the duration of their time in Paris lost, searching for the window back to Petersburg. The landmark they use as reference to the window’s location is a bar by the embankment, symbolizing the wall they construct between themselves and the potential of value gained through the exploration of Paris’s culture. Gorokhov’s family uses the window as an emulation device to European consumerism. The western property the family steals are lavish products used as comforts rather than as necessities of survival.
The continual glorification of capitalism, through the film’s Russian domestic and institutional figures, establishes Nikolai as the embodiment of folklore resistance to a greed driven community. He appears as the Pied Piper, luring his impressionable students away from western ideals with his hypnotic music. This first occurs when Nikolai’s pipe guides the students away from the slogan in hall of the school, stating, “time is money”. He leads the students into his classroom, where he tells the cautious story of Herman, a man driven mad with greed. His connection to the Pied Piper is drawn once again at the films end when he finds his students performing on the streets of Paris. The children’s synchronized dancing to the music introduced by Paris street dancers earlier in the film, demonstrates the western influence on their ideals. Nikolai must lead them back to Petersburg. Their generation is the potential for Russia’s future to construct a country that isn’t guided by the dismissal or obsession of profit, proven as flawed institutions in the former communist Soviet Union, and the presiding capitalist Europe. His lesson to the students conveys that Russia has the ability to form ideologies through the adaption of western and Soviet Union culture. The film ends with reappearance of window in the crack of a building in Petersburg, ending with the potential fulfillment of Nikolai’s hope that Russia will bridge the two cultures together.
Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe
The Revolution of 1989 marked a change in Hungarian cinema. Established filmmakers, whose work predated the fall of communism, were now allowed to integrate their own reflections on historical and contemporary Hungarian society, without the overbearing of censorship. Filmmaker Istavan Szabo’s prerevolutionary work was already pushing the boundaries of socialist censorship, and his assimilation into post revolutionary cinema reiterated his career theme controversial subject matter. His film Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe, released in 1992, focuses on the experiences of two female teachers in Budapest during the massive political transition.
Although the film reflects on the individual impacts on both of the female characters, the majority of the film is shot through Emma’s perspective. The film opens with Emma’s reoccurring dream, in which her naked body tumbles down an earthy cliff. The fall continually causes Emma to gasp for breath, and in a later sequence, she chokes on the sandy earth. This reflects her unfulfilled desire of unity in the community where she lives and the school where she works as a teacher. Emma and Bobe room together in the hostel in a neighborhood that shares the same lack of community as the school. This is strongly established by the authorities accusatory interrogation of Emma when she tries to report the sexual assault attempt on her during her usual walk from work. The faculty of the school creates an ensemble of ideals and insecurities. Emma wishes to be valued among her peers, but is met with constant disapproval. Like her over-exhausted nightmare, Emma’s lessons of the Russian language are now seen as unnecessary. She and Bobe are forced to learn English or German in order to maintain their positions at the school. Members of the faculty criticize Emma’s teaching skills, referring her stern grading as pathetic. The director, Stefanics, like many of the political figures, held his position during the reign of communism. Ironically he accuses the faculty of holding onto the old structure of teaching. He has grown tired of his affair with Emma. She proclaims her desire for him to be “really” hers. He responds saying his family wants the same thing. Emma desires the idea of love, a sense of being wanted, rather than her redundant unwanted dream.
The film exploits the insufficient income of the teachers and nurses, requiring them find additional employment. As means to earn extra income, Bobe auditions for a nude scene in an upcoming film. Emma, is both frightened and entranced by Bobe’s promiscuity. She says to Bobe, “I should be a whore if I were able to”. She sees Bobe’s sexuality as power; a means to be needed. Emma’s enchantment is lost when Bobe trades sex for fancy dinners with western tourist. Bobe desires in life differ from Emma’s desire of unity. Bobe merely seeks to obtain material worth. Once she is released from jail for prostitution, she wears Emma’s dress, in attempt to cleanse herself from her past. This transitioning society is unforgiving though, and Bobe jumps to her death. The last shot is of Emma selling newspapers in her dream, repeating the same mindless phrase over and over. Although her existence is redundant it is worth living.
Film Journal: Katyn
Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn, is the first film in Polish history to unpack not only the massacre of Katyn, but the Soviets attempt to mask their guilt for the crimes. The film could only be pursued after Russia acknowledged the massacre was a Soviet crime. When the film was released in 2007, the massacre was still not declared an act of genocide, and would remain undefined as so until 2010. Although Wajda follows the individual experiences of the characters, the main story of the film belongs to all of Poland. In the films opening scene Polish citizens crowd a bridge, fleeing in both directions, searching for refuge from the Nazi invasion in the west, and the advancing Red Army in the east. The bridge acts as the film’s dikovinka. It is an embodiment of Poland, caught between two totalitarian authorities. The sense of helplessness displayed on the bridge continues to manifest in Poland after the Katyn Massacre.
The film showcases the false notion of truth in propaganda through the incorporation of German and Soviet newsreels covering the Katyn Massacre, both versions blaming the deaths on the other party. In order to reinforce their version of the crimes, both parties attempt to force statements from the Polish characters. The acquisitions are met with acts of patriotic resistance against the authoritarian forces. Some of these acts, such as the woman returning Andrzej’s diary to his family and the tombstone Agnieszka has made for her brother revolve around the clarification of the date of the massacre occurring in 1940, when the territory was controlled by the Red Army. The significance of the placing the massacre in time is symbolized in Wajda’s intercutting of the officer’s experience at Katyn and the Soviet presence after the war. Wajda uses time like a bridge, connecting the audience to the truth. Only through the acts of resistance after the war will the truth of the events be revealed.
Wajda’s theme of liberation through the pursuit of truth is reflected in the film’s murky appearance. Although the film is shot in color, the image is consistently clouded by the mise-en-scene. The wardrobe of the characters are muted, and there is a consistent overcasting of the outside shots. The private spaces occupied by the family members’ of the Polish soldiers are as stale as the warehouse where the men are imprisoned. The film’s dominantly opaque imagery is offset by the opening image of the sunlit bridge, and the final image of the sun peering over the massive grave of Polish officers, as it is being filled by Soviet soldiers. These two images act as a silver lining for the Poland’s grim story. The Red Army cannot bury the truth of Katyn with the bodies of their victims. As long as there is presence of resistances, there is hope for a liberated Poland.
Russian Film Journal: Mongol
Sergei Bodrov’s film, Mongol, released in post Soviet Russia, humanizes Temudjin, merging fiction with historical facts of his early life, rather than focusing the plot on the brutality inflicted by the Mongolian army during his reign as Genghis Khan. Bodrov’s reworking of Temudjin’s ascension into the Great Khan is constructed to invoke the desire to erect unification in Russia after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
Bodrov incorporates the glamorized filming style associated with the Hollywood Blockbuster, but uses his framing to emphasize the authenticity of the film’s landscape. By filming in regions of China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan Bodrov romantically encapsulates 12th century Mongolian culture, in a way that could not be accomplished with Hollywood constructed sets. Bodrov uses Mountains and vast terrains as the backdrop for the film’s shots, making the characters seem minute in comparison to the landscape surrounding them. Once Temudjin is recognized as the Great Khan, the shots of the newly unified Mongolians are more balanced to the scale of the landscape.
Bodrov sets supernatural tactics against the landscape showcasing Temudjin’s transformation, providing him with the ability to obey Mongolian traditions without fear. Tengri the God of thunder is a continuous entity throughout the film, taking form as thunderstorms and a reappearing wolf. As a child Temudjin reacts with the same fear as the other Mongolians traveling with him. After his rough journey into manhood Temudjin encounters the wolf, but is now able to return Tengri’s gaze. His transformation is completed when the final battle determining the unification of all Mongolians is interrupted by an electric storm. Temudjin, the only Mongol able to conquer his fear of Tengri, establishes him as the rightful ruler.
Temudjin’s respect for his wife Borte goes beyond the traditional gender dynamics in his culture. Borte asserts herself as her husband’s advisor, directly guiding his decisions as Kahn. She even encourages him to enforce Mongolian rules of conduct, establishing clear consequences for the mistreatment of women and children. The film’s affirmation of Borte as a strong guiding force in Temudjin’s role as a leader stresses that past empires were not solely built by the hands of men. Bodrov’s film suggests that the New Russia should not be solely built on macho traditions, but rather strives to reconstruct social and military codes.
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