Aug 112008

This segment of Black Bim White Ear reminds me that I’ve been somewhat surprised by the portrayal of people’s interactions with police in movies from the Soviet era.

I wasn’t surprised that in Moskva slezam ne verit, Katerina tells her daughter that they shouldn’t call the police about some bullies who have been harassing her boyfriend, that they should handle the situation themselves. That’s kind of what I would expect in a police state. Even in the U.S. people sometimes have the idea that you should never talk to the police — which is not quite the same thing, but it’s not completely different, either.

But there are movies like Black Bim where people are quick to call the police (who seem to be always nearby, unlike in the U.S. where you can call 911 and sometimes wait a long time before anyone comes). And they are quick to berate the police for not doing their jobs.

Officer: “Who shouted?”

Man: “Why don’t you watch? Dogs at a street crossing of a regional center.”

I might think this was taking place in a Potemkin village, except the same sort of thing happens on planet Pluk in Kin-Dza-Dza.

There are of course people in the U.S. who will mouth off to the police. (I remember seeing the bumper sticker on a car that would tend to attract police attention even without it, “Bad cop. No Donut.”) But there are Russian movies in which “respectable” people do it, as happens on the street and at the police station in Belyy Bim.

So I wonder if that sort of thing was portrayed realistically, or if the sort of relationship in Moscow Has No Room for Tears was more realistic, or if both were realistic, depending on time and place.


  • Natan Kumanov

    I cannot answer your question, but I can tell you that in “Moscow…” no style of interaction with the police is shown. The idea is not that the police ought to be feared, the idea is that people (“товарищи”, i.e. “fellows”) ought to be brave. That’s an idea that is popular in the society (“ты же мужчина!”, they tell to the kids, and the kids agree) and occasionally makes it to the movies. I even wonder why you didn’t understand it the same way: don’t you have the same concept of “boyhood” in your schools? I thought it’s a universal thing (I personally do not really subscribe to it, but I see some truth in it).

    What has often made me wonder in your blogposts is the category system you take. Certainly it’s not a category system that Russians usually take (but it’s similar to what I see from Americans), and that provides a large room of misunderstanding, I think. For one oblique example, the category of “police state” is certainly good in political fight say before elections (“agitation and propaganda“, as it’s called), but it is definitely bad in science, because this world of the human mind, you know, is not only multi-dimensional, it has virtual dimensions that spring up and disappear…