viewpoint-east starts the new year with a Ukrainian animated movie called Zlydni. Even if zlydni means trouble or misery we hope that the new year will only bring good news.
Yuri Kazakov at imdb.
Die Geige / A Violin made by Yuri Kazakov in Poland (winter 2005)
A memorial movie made by Sasha Glyadelov, Tanya Hodakovskaya, Olga Komissar, Konstantin Petrov, Andrey Toloshny, Anya Sorokolet, Alisa Zdorovetskaya and many many more. Edited by: Andrey Toloshnyy and Tanya Hodakovskaya
When I was in Kyiv in January and February I meet several that said they had identified one very important lack in the Ukrainian domestic debate and that is the lack of left wing intellectuals. I must say I agreed fully since we do need a criticisms of liberal values, capitalism as a guarantee of democracy, the concepts like democracy etc. I can’t value wheather it is the recipe on a “good debate climate” but at least I can see the world (Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern, in actually all directions) has been living in a sort of liberal “dictatorship” for far too long. It is possible that I have a very simplistic understanding of what Ukraine needs, but at least I can see that the country need something to make the debate more vivid and productive. Furthermore, when I was in Moscow a couple of months later I heard the same point of view, what Russia need is left wing intellectuals that stands in contrast towards Kremlin and the political establishment.
But it was not until the other week, when somebody wrote on my chat that Ukraine need left wing intellectuals like you have in Europe I started to feel that something was nagging me, because I answered Yeah, yeah. But this is Scandinavia, and tried to forget about it. But I couldn’t since I stumbled over my irritation over and over again. It was not until this morning, when I read a review of Burnt by the sun 2 by Nikita Mikhalkov in the independent, but rather left wing, weekly newspaper Fria Tidning that I understood how I was irritated. The newspaper is not said to be left wing, but most of the articles printed there have a rather left wing approach towards different issues. I think that is a good thing, even though the political consensus in it really can make me feel sick some times.
Back to the review. I must begin with giving the author, Per Leander, credits for making the effort to write a review that is not pointing in the same direction as all other previous reviews of the movie. Mikhalkov has gone from being the Western Europe’s favourite director (by Burnt by the sun in 1994), to become one of the least popular such during the last couple of years. Most critics uses the same kind of words about his latest work, such as a patriot and nationalistic director with simplistic rhetoric that uses the Kremlin to authorize his expensive and vulgar movies. The two first remarks is perhaps indisputable, which is perhaps the reason why it is not mentioned in the review. However, to criticize a Russian director, that was formally exalted hero, can provoke Swedish left wing because he is, yes, Russian and from the Former Soviet Union. The review in Fria Tidning is a very good example on just that.
There has been a debate in Sweden during the last year if we can regard the crimes of Stalin as brutal as those of Hitler. Many on the left wing has said that we can not, all of those on the right wing have said “yes we can”. And of course you can see the traces from this debate in the review about “Burnt by the sun 2” when the author writes that “[…]in the sequel [from ‘Brunt be the sun’], he [Mikhalkov] wants to give the image of the Nazi terror that hit Russia, after all, much worse [than the Stalins terror did]” (my translation). My first remark is actually that he writes “Russia” not “the People of Soviet Union” or something more appropriate. Secondly, we have not yet been able to identify the full scale of the Stalinist terror. We do not even know the figures of those dead. I also suspect it depends a bit on where you stand, if you think the second world war was worse than the Stalinist terror or not. If you are from in example Ukraine you might say that this picture is not entirely true, and it is not easy to tell if some of the sacrifices the people in Ukraine did there during the WW2 was because of, or connected to, Stalin decisions. (The famine, called Holodomor, is like an open wound in Ukraine’s history). I dislike how easy he make it for himself by sweeping away the victims of Stalin’s terror with words that the WW2 was worse. It was horrifying, but it does not make the Stalinist terror less worse! This is the kind of left wing rhetoric’s you often see in Sweden. (Stalin was bad yes, but look at Hitler, he was worse and see what the Americans do in…. etc etc)
An other point is that the author criticizes the Western movie critics because they are not able to understand everything in Russian culture history and cannot understand the all paraphrases. It is interesting to see once again that a Swedish left wing movie critics actually uses the exact way of mechanism to exclusion such as Russian nationalists do. “You will never understand this because you are not Russian”. But in what sense does this make it a better movie? In my mind many references does not make a movie better, that’s all. It could actually be very contra-productive!
The last point is perhaps a stupid remark form my side, but I just can’t let it be. It is about Nikita Mikhalkov’s “great knowledge in music”. The author bases on the fact that he is the son of Sergey Mikhalkov that wrote the Soviet Anthem (Eh, I feel lost already). Mikhalkov JR reveals this great knowledge in music in using the titel of a very popular tune from the 1930s, a Polish tango. That is like saying that I have a lot of knowledge in the 1960s because I can sing “She loves me, yeah, yeah”!
This review is merely an example that i wanted to take to illustrate what I find problematic with the stand point that many Swedish left wing intellectuals have. My point is that a left wing intellectual movement or group is perhaps needed, but if it embraces Soviet Union and Stalinism (which is shown in the above mentioned review), just to be on contrast toward liberalism and capitalism, well, then you have a problem. I think it is rather fair to criticizes Mikhalkov and his movies. He is using his power in the Russian Cinematographers’ Union as much as possible, by giving himself money and excluding others. This is not mentioned even by one word in the review, which is very odd since there were a big crisis in April 2010 when many directors and filmmakers left the union in protest against Mikhalkov’s way of ruling the union!
In some odd way many leftist intellectuals in Sweden have found it important to defend old power structures in Russia and countries in the former Soviet Union. I understand it is a way of criticizing liberalism, but from my point of view it is the wrong way!
I would like to conclude by saying that I am pretty sure that Swedish left wing intellectuals will change and stop trying to defend old nomenclatura, when they meet the newly born such movements in Ukraine and Russia. And I do hope this moment will come as soon as possible.
Melody for a Street Organ (2009) by Kira Muratova compensates for the 20 years-long absence of social cinema in Ukraine in a strikingly unexpected way. To capture the social reality of Ukrainian society is not an easy task, since, like any other post-Soviet society, it avoids a direct look at its basic manifestations (like marginalization of large social segments and dissolution of interpersonal links) by rendering them invisible for the mass media apparatuses. In order to assemble the mosaic of unrepresented society, Muratova has chosen the vantage point that is generally repressed in contemporary Ukraine. Her latest film is set in public spaces where taking pictures is usually prohibited for reasons that are neither explained nor questioned, in spite of availability of those spaces for the general public: the train station and the supermarket.
The first part of the film follows a couple of homeless kids through a railway station, where they are confronted with a series of unfavourable circumstances, while the second part takes them to a supermarket, where the penniless protagonists, hallucinating from hunger, are trying to get some food. Still, those areas – the railway station and the supermarket – are only seemingly excluded from democratic representation, since they are subjected to numerous surveillance apparatuses that not only passively collect information but also actively constitute the social relations at the observed territory, producing the subjectivities of those under surveillance. By entering this domain of monopolized representation with her camera, Muratova gets an opportunity to spy at the members of contemporary society reduced to their purely functional, mechanical identities – those of the train passengers or supermarket clients.
This reduction is obvious in numerous film scenes where the kids appeal to occasional strangers with a cry for help only to get a standardized, artificial, ‘cinematic’ reaction from the people who cannot transcend their prescribed social roles. In a crucial episode of the film, the kids occasionally witness the extrinsic child beggar telling their own numerously repeated story verbatim to a stranger and getting a generous reward. The shock that children experience in the course of the scene is quite similar to a shock of the viewer confronted with Muratova’s numerous episodic characters that despite of their constructed, unnatural behaviour (or, maybe, precisely owing to these features) are strikingly recognizable in their representation of post-Soviet social identities. Rather than reproduce “reality as it is”, Muratova focuses on fiction underlying the reality itself, a fiction that is deconstructed from an ‘impossible’ viewpoint of the camera sneaking after the people who unconsciously perform their prescribed identities.
Oleksiy Radynski is an essayist, editor and scholar of film theory. He is a postgraduate student at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and collaborator at Visual Culture Research Center at the same university.
How do you describe a suicide, what it implies in loses and sorrow for people close to you? How do you describe the devastating emptiness and hopelessness that the survivors need to live with? I would say that in many aspects it is not possible, but if you have an interest in understanding, without exploiting, there are a possibility that you will be able to describe both the cruelty in being left behind, and how survivors find their way out from the labyrinth of sorrow.
In the documentary Boris Ryzhy, about the poet with the same name, made by the dutch filmmaker Aliona van der Horst, you can actually feel the sorrow in your own breath while watching it. van der Horst has managed to find the special situations, when words has no use and life itself seems to be more grim than ever.
In the introduction we see a woman wondering around in a suburn district. She is trying to get a hold on somebody that knew Boris Ryzhy. After being reprimanded by a babushka, she finally finds somebody that wants to help her and let her enter a staircase in one of the houses. The woman explains that she and her brother lived in this house when they were small. She starts to ring the door bell to the first flat in the house. She does not present herself to the lady that opens the door, but tells her about the film that Ailona van der Horst is making. She says it is a film about her brother, the poet Boris Ryzhy. She asks the old lady if she remember him, and the old lady does not remember him. The woman, the sister of Ryzhy, starts to recite a poem that Boris Ryzhy wrote, but her voice cracks, and finally she starts to cry. The woman that opened the door starts immediately to ask her about why she is crying: “Is he dead? What happened to your brother?” she asks. “He is dead. He committed suicide”, answers the sister. I believe most spectators literary can feels the pain in her voice.
The trailer for the documentary by Boris Ryzhy by Aliona van der Horst.
The documentary then continues with, as it seems, an endless desire to try to understand why Boris Ryzhy decided to end his own life. Was it because many of his friends died already? Was it because he and all his friends lived in a violent world, with gangsters that lacked empathy for suffering? Did he feel alienated or was he just a mad genius that took suicide as a desperate wish to be accepted as a poet? Aliona van der Horst investigate and gets self-disclosure and fearless help from Boris Ryzhy’s family – the wife, son, sister and mother. But even so, she never comes close to explain why, except that it is necessary to accept the unacceptable. The death of somebody you love. This is however not a failure by van der Horst, but actually a strength to a story, that could have became extremely pathetic if it was made in a less intelligent way. To tell the truth, this is actually one of the best documentaries I have ever seen, and I have seen quite a few.
Boris Ryzhy, born in 1974, grow up in Yekaterinburg. His family was well-educated family and his father was a geologist, unknown what his mother did, though. When he was rather small his family moved to a rough area in Yekaterinburg. There Boris had to learn how to survive in the tough environment. He started to boxing in the same age as writing poems (14 years old) and violence and poetry seems to be utterly connected for him. Boris Ryzhy’s poems often depict and describe the neighbourhood that he and his sister grow up in. It seems like he never left the area in his soul. One of his very old friends, that Aliona van der Horst managed to track down, describes Boris as rootless and very lonely man, even though so many loved him.
Boris Ryzhy committed suicide by hanging in May 2001, 26 years old. It is impossible to tell how his talent would develop, because his poems mostly describe the Jelstin years during 1990s. How crime and gangesters are more usual than ordinary jobs and loving and caring situations. Even so, Boris Ryzhy was not a gangster all though, but was also a PhD in Geophysics.
The poem “Show me, Gypsy woman” read by Boris Ryzhy.
In the documentary it is perhaps Boris Ryzhy’s wife that says the most devastating words. She tells about her and Boris childhood, how they were encouraged to believe in the communist future, and they thought they lived in the perfect socialist society. But when they finish school in 1991, the Soviet Empire fell apart. It didn’t come as any surprise for them, but after the fall of the empire, the “first generation of perestroika” was abandoned by the society itself. The only way that far too many saw, was the road of criminality. “We are the generation of body guards”, she says when she stands at Boris grave at the cemetery, and around her we see hundreds of graves for young men born in the beginning of 70s that dead in the mid 90s.
It is obvious that Boris Ryzhy felt as a survivor, and to survive in this “war”, like one of his friends remarks in the documentary, is “a shameful business”. We can only hope that Boris Ryzhy’s legacy will survive, because his poems is not only violent but alos beautiful. And they are a legacy from a time that we all must try to prevent to return.
If you want to read Boris Ryzhy in English you can find some here.
In the beginning of February the award winning Armenian director Harutyun Khachatryans movie “Border” was shown on the Gothenburg Film festival. Border is set against the mountains of South Caucasus and the unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno Karabach in the south Caucasian mountains. This war stricken parts of the world has suffered greatly the last twenty years. In the centre of attention in this very slow and scarsly spoken movie is a small mountain village and its inhabitants. The camera is slowly capturing the change of season while the conflict is continuously present in the shape of barbed wire and sirens surpassing all other noises.
The war in Nagorno Karabach was yet another war that broke out in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union over territories that was close to impossible to pronounce for Western journalists. The war in Nagorno Karabach would however prove to be unusually bloody and drawn out. Between 1991 and 1994 over 35000 is believed to have been killed in the fighting’s and many times more were forced to leave their homes. The background of the conflict is found in historical antagonism, Stalin’s power play and the control vacuum opening after the dissolution of Soviet Union. Nagorno Karabach with an Armenian majority was 1921 by a direct decision from Stalin transferred from the Armenian SSR to the Azerbaijan SSK and consequently during the following years a large number of Azeris settled in the Nagorno Karabach area. During the highpoint of glasnost and perestroika the local parliament of Nagorno Karabach voted for the region to be transferred to the Armenian SSR which was highly opposed by Moscow, a resistance that was keep until the fall of the Soviet Union.
The independent Nagorno Karabach
Nagorno Karabach republic (NKR) or Mountainous Karabach as the area is also called, declared itself independent in 1994, the same year as the cease fire was brokered. Today the region is not recognized by any other state but still keeps its own parliament, president, currency the cease fire is still only a cease fire and retained by the several thousands of soldiers on both sides of the barb wires. Nagorno Karabach would not survive with out the economical, military and societal support from Armenia and the ties between the two are strong although combined with a sense of a distant and occasionally problematic and stubborn relative. The first decade of alleged independence have not been an easy path for Nagorno Karabach. Not unlike similar regions for example Transnistrien (Moldova), Adjarien (Georgia) the declared independence has brought with it a corrupt, sometimes straight out criminal, domestic politics.
Travelling in Nagorno Karabach means travelling through the landscape that H Khachatryans so precisely paints in the movie Border. The narrow road after turning left on the main road leading from Yerevan to Iran is ironically called a highway but could easily be taken for a village road. Climbing up the Caucasian mountains and further into the Nagorno Karabach area it is difficult to understand how two cars could ever meet. The incredible Caucasian mountain that has not only proven to be highly accommodating for beyond cruel guerrilla wars but also creates one of the most inaccessible areas in the region. The first impression of the landscape and reappearing in the movie is the lack of visible human lives and the breathtaking sights. Houses are randomly placed down the slopes of the mountains, coming closer it is visible that only a fraction of the houses are occupied while the majority of them still appears to have been left in a hurry under fire of hostile troops and often with snipers holes left on the house shells. Judging from the reconstruction process the cease fire could have taken place fifteen days ago, not fifteen years ago.
As in any war stricken society there are instances coming across as oddly out of place. In Nagorno Karabach it is the BMW cars trafficking the road in sharp contrast to the ladas and muscovite, the giant football stadium right in the centre of the city and the village Vank located a few miles outside of the main city Stepanakert. Vank contained as many others villages a mixed Armenian and Azeri population before the war but in the ethnical cleansing during the war all Azeris left the villages. A now Russian based oligarch was born in the village of Vank and has donated large sum of money to the reconstruction of the school which now must the only school in Nagorno Karabach with an adjoining swimming pool.
The slow moving film border capture both the harsh living conditions for the inhabitants left to the mercy and ever changing conditions of nature. It is cold, it is raw, it is tough and transfers a sense that the people are too preoccupied mere surviving to shed any time on unnecessary small talk. Ending with a devastating fire on the eve of a young couples wedding the movie communicate a message of hopelessness and resignation transcending from the unresolved conflict where the lack of permanent peace agreement is preventing financial and societal improvements. Until this can be accomplished the next fifteen years appear to be following the same track as the preceding fifteen.
Film stills from the movie Border.
You can also read a review of the movie Boarder at Kinokultura.
Gothenburg’s International Filmfestival will soon begin, from 29th of january to 9th of February. I will however not be in town since I will visit Kyiv instead to collect material and ideas for new articles for viewpoint-east and hopefully other journals/newspapers.
The annual filmfestival in Gothenburg is however one of the few events I really appreciate, so it could sound strange that I have decided to leave the city right during those days. But it is a matter of priorities and Kyiv won my mind battle this time. (I will however not focus that much on the Presidential election, but rather to take this as an opportunity to highlight other issues.)
Firstly, there are not even ONE Ukrainian movie this year in the programme, which is is a great disappointment. I thought we would at least find one, or to be more precise (and please DO correct me of I am wrong) that Las Meninas would be in the programme. It has never been shown in Sweden or at the festival. That is a movie that at least I would like to see.
Much more pleasing is that the festival has three movies from Georgia and at least five Russian movies. I am especially sad that I miss Russia 88 and Help Gone Mad. Help Gone Mad is probably a wonderful movie. I really enjoyed Boris Khlebnikov other movies (and especially “Free floating”).
And last and not the least, I am very sad I miss all four movies from Armenia, and then especially Border, which seems to be a very interesting documentary with a new approach. I do hope I will have the possibility to watch it in a not too distant future.
ps. and don’t forget to check out the blog!