Mar 212009
 

vokzal1

The film Railway Station for Two begins and ends with a scene in a Siberian gulag. The above screenshot is from the opening scene. Excellent gulag photography in this film, btw. I love the above scene — not as a place to be, of course, but as an excellent portrayal of a northern winter in such a setting.

In Anna Lawton’s 1992 book, “Kinoglasnost: Soviet Cinema in our Time”, she says this about the movie:

Because of a car accident caused by his wife — a materialistic woman representative of the nouveau riche mentality — he is serving time in a labor camp, and is in fact hurrying back to prison after a brief leave.”

That’s not quite the way I understood it. I hesitate to say so, because Lawton speaks Russian and I don’t — certainly not enough to understand the parts of the movie where this is explained. But I can see what’s told in pictures.

My understanding is that most of the movie is a flashback. There are occasional flash-forward scenes to the gulag, but at the railway station, the character played by Oleg Basilashvili had not yet begun to serve his three year sentence. You can tell just from the haircut. At the railway station he still has the full head of hair appropriate to a concert pianist. In the prison it’s cut very short — there seems to be a standard-issue haircut for all Russian movie prisoners. It helps to make the point of how people in prison are dehumanized. (Though I think in some of the scenes they cheated a little and let him have a little more hair than most movie prisoners get.)

Reticulator

  • ///Thats not quite the way I understood it. I hesitate to say so, because Lawton speaks Russian and I dont certainly not enough to understand the parts of the movie where this is explained. But I can see whats told in pictures.///

    John,
    What the point would you like to clarify?
    Obviously, Basilashvili’s character got the incentive from the prison’s management for the good behaviour and labour – in form of the short leave.

    If I’m not mistaken, there is rule (law) to give a brief leave (with the definite regularity) to each prisoner to meet own wife/housband/close relatives…

    Has the American gulag really not such rule?

    ///…there seems to be a standard-issue haircut for all Russian movie prisoners. It helps to make the point of how people in prison are dehumanized. ///

    yes, like in army too

  • Reticulator

    Alexander,

    Yes, the Basilashvili character got a leave to go to village outside the gulag to get the accordion repaired, and also to have a visit with the woman identified as his wife. There are U.S. prisons that also allow conjugal visits, and there are other systems of leave, depending on the type of prison.

    But I thought Lawton was saying that the scenes at the railway station, which happened when he was going to visit his father, were on leave from the gulag. But the English subtitles explain it in terms of the judicial proceedings not even having completed at that point. He was on a type of leave at that point, but not a leave from the labor camp.

    Is that the way you understand it?

    As to the short hair, it’s also done that way in the U.S. military. I’m not sure about U.S. prisons.

    BTW, your question about U.S. prisons reminded me about a bike ride I took to a prison in Alabama. Julia Tutwiler Prison I learned about it because of a man who had been incarcerated there in the 1930s and 1940s. He was allowed to go home to his wife on weekends — a point that somewhat surprised me when I read it.

  • aha, as I have undertood, your question about the beginning movie…
    Perhaps, a misunderstanding has arisen because of you used a term “gulag” that confused everything.

    Firstly, a term “gulag” is not used in conformity with Soviet/Russian prisons since 1960s to 1990s and 2000s etc. Now it’s historical term. I think it is approximately as if you would to use term “guantanamo” or “abu ghraib” in conformity with the prisons in Alabama…

    By the way, such wrong using in Hollywood movies about Russia often brings to funny/curious misunderstandings that Russian name as “klyukva” (cranberry that means “tall story”).

    As for the beginning movie…
    If I remember truly, Basillashvili character was accuseted and, so, had injunction from the procurators in form of the restriction on travel. He had not right to abandon the city. As I understand the procurators a temporary leniency him, because of his father.

    So, in that period Basilashivili character was yet before the court.

    If I am mistaken, though… and before it Basilashvili character was in the prison of preliminary imprisonment (however, he was before the court – I always thought so way), so he could get the procurators resolution to visit his farther in another town – and only, and in short time.

  • As for the prison of preliminary imprisonment, as I know, there is no short hair “fashion”… as a rule.

  • Asya Pereltsvaig

    Regarding the train station parts of the movie, I think you got it right: it happens before he starts to serve his sentence. As for the short haircut in Russian prisons, I have one word for you: LICE.