Dec 072009


I still don’t know what to call the 2nd category into which I’d put this scene. Up to this point Inna Churikova’s character has always been dressed in 1970s business atire. She has a family life as well as a public life as town mayor, but she has never before put on a housedress. But in this scene she does, puts some stirring traditional music on the turntable and goes to work washing floors. I take it as a sort of getting herself back to the peasant roots of Mother Russia, to inspire some patriotic/nationalistic feeling in herself in order to steel herself for the big task that lies ahead, which is to raise her voice in favor of the building of better apartments for the people of her town.

Without subtitles I wasn’t able to understand nearly as much of this film as I had hoped. But just before this scene, I think I heard her tell her son that “the people need apartments.” And that understanding seems to be supported by some of the other scenes, e.g. where she is on an inspection tour of some of the dangerously defective apartments that people are living in.


I can’t make out Russian cursive writing very well, but I’m guessing the 2nd line of her note her is the title of the movie, which means something like “I wish to speak.”


And this is where she wishes to speak. This may also have been a scene in Siberiade, btw. It seems to be some big plenary session or congress. I presume it would really have taken some courage for a small-town mayor to speak up in that setting.

I’m not really sure about the “peasant” part, btw. Given that a concerted effort was made to eliminate traditional peasants in favor of communal farms during Stalin’s time, I’m not sure if peasant origins were really supposed to represent the traditional nation in the same way that American farms and small towns used to do for us, at least before a lot of people decided they didn’t like Sarah Palin talking about it.


Here is Stirlitz doing something similar in Semnadcat’ mgnovenii vesny. He has been living undercover in Germany for many years, living as a suave and sophisticated German. I’d say he had been eating German food and drinking German beer, but I don’t think any of the tavern scenes shows him with a beer stein. Cognac or wine, maybe. But at this point, one-third of the way through the series, he seems to be steeling himself for the very dangerous work ahead, by inspiring in himself a feeling of nationalism and patriotism. He does it by putting on traditional Russian music, drinking vodka and eating roasted potatoes straight from the ashes of his fireplace, getting his face sooty in the process. I would guess that that, too, takes him back to the peasant origins of Mother Russia, or something like that.

As an outsider it’s easy for me not to understand this very precisely, but it seems that in both films something of the sort is taking place.


  • // I can’t make out Russian cursive writing very well, but I’m guessing the 2nd line of her note her is the title of the movie, which means something like “I wish to speak.” //

    In principle, you guessed 🙂
    This note approximately means “To presidium. Let me speak” or another version – “May I speak?” (in Russian: “V prezidium. Proshu slova”).

    Before a scene of floor washing, she (her heroine) went to Moscow in some Ministry – probably, she tried to lobby the building of a bridge across the river in her town. It was her idea fixe initially, yet before she became the mayor. She planed the building new catchment area on another bank of the river.
    Interesting is that old mayor had the same idea…
    Alas, Churikova’s heroine didn’t get a finance subsidy/investment grant for this ambition plan.

    I don’t know what the sense colour you put in the words: “back to the peasant roots of Mother Russia, to inspire some patriotic/nationalistic feeling”, – as I know US media often call Vladimir Putin as a nationalist, so I get caught up in conjecture this title has “good” or “bad” shadow… Nevertheless, I think your intuition is right.

    I’d describe her motivation: it is a peculiar clearing from psychological cargo and social problems. Is it return to roots? Hmm… Maybe… But, I think, there is no national content (anyway, in conscious meaning).

    Of course, there is high probability that her heroine have peasant roots as many Soviet people her generation.

    Judging by the hall (Georgievsky Hall in Kremlin Palace of Assamleys, if I’m not mistaken), it is a session of Suprene Council (Verkhovny Sovet) of RSFSR (Russia). I doubt that she was so afraid her execution for forthcoming speaking on tribune that before she did the floor washing in her flat ;)))

    // I’m not sure if peasant origins were really supposed to represent the traditional nation //

    On contrary, it was usual practice transformed into social career system (if I understand your idea truly). In the movie, we don’t see what the roots Churikova’s heroine has. But I think she belongs to first “town” generation (in her family) i.e. she rather abandoned a countyside (a collective farm, indeed) being very young and went to town to start own career, to be received in university etc. Because she has very enterprising and well-disciplined character, probably, she was recognized by a local Komsomol committee (and then Communist Party, I think). So she was supported on social level.

    As for Stirlitz, you are rihgt…
    I’d say so: when Stirlitz sits near the fire-place and eats the hot potatoes, he, probably, remember how he was doing the same being little boy somewhere on river Volga bank, near a stepp. I believe it was a picture very like to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn did the same at the Mississippi ;))

    I think Herr Stirlitz (a.k.a. Soviet Colonel Isaev) well knew the Mark Twain’s book 🙂 It is very popular in Russia.

  • Reticulator


    I was trying to be neutral in my use of the word “nationalist,” but you’re right in it’s a word that can get one in a lot of trouble! I meant it as a term to describe, not a nation-state, but how people like to identify ethnically and culturally with others. That in itself is not a bad thing in my view. In fact it can be a good thing. But like most good things, it can take a bad turn. The best things can take the worst turns. Nationalistic feelings can turn into racism, for example. But that’s not how I meant it. Nationalistic feelings can also motivate the best kind of patriotism.

    As to the courage of Churikova’s character, I didn’t think she feared execution — not in the 1970s. But sometimes it can take more courage to risk one’s career than to risk one’s life.

    I must confess that I did not think of Huck Finn at all when I saw the potato-eating scene. Nor did I have any idea that Mark Twain’s work is popular in Russia.

  • Asya Pereltsvaig

    Actually Stirlitz is doing a lot of “Russian” (read: “nostalgic”) things throughout the film, besides drinking vodka and eating roasted potatoes from the fireplace. In the very opening scene, he is smelling tree buds. I don’t remember if this is in the film, but in the book this is specifically characterized as such a nostalgic activity (and one a German would not engage in, apparently). In the scene where Stirlitz takes the Pastor over the Swiss border, he then washes his face with snow—another “Russian” thing. I am not sure it’s a search for peasant roots specifically, as Stirlitz does not really have peasant roots (his father was a university professor). It’s meant to be something that brings him mentally back to Russia. BTW, the potato eating scene takes place on February 23, Red Army day, which is what Stirlitz is celebrating in this fashion.