Apr 032009


Due to a Netflix accident, we’re watching Depuis qu’Otar est parti again. We’ve not dropped Netflix entirely, even though it’s gotten a lot more difficult to get Russian films from them. So many are now marked “short wait,” “very long wait,” and “unavailable.” We hung on to the subscription so Myra can get some English-language movies while I get Russian ones from Memocast. But the movies Myra had at the top of our queue were also unavailable, and somehow Otar was next in line. This is not at all a disappointment.

Myra enjoys watching a lot of the Russian or other non-English movies me, but usually only watches them one time. I watch them multiple times if they’re good for language-learning, but Myra usually finds something else to do the 2nd or 3rd time through. Occasionally she’ll watch one twice. This one she’s watching a 3rd time — perhaps a first for her. It’s that good.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I like it so much. In my mind I put it in the same category as Vozvrashcheniye. Anna Lawton in one of her books referred to “slice of life” films. Maybe this one and Vozvrashcheniye could be categorized that way.

Wikipedia says this about slice-of-life stories:

A slice of life story is a category for a story that portrays a “cut-out” sequence of events in a character’s life. It may or may not contain any plot progress and little character development, and often has no exposition, conflict, or denouement, with an open ending. It usually tries to depict the every-day life of ordinary people, sometimes with fantasy or science fiction elements involved. The term slice of life is actually a dead metaphor: it often seems as if the author had taken a knife and “cut out” a slice of the lives of some characters, without concern for narrative form.

But these films do have some plot progress, character development, conflict, etc. Maybe the thing is that they don’t try to do too much of any of these elements. They tell us about people and relationships, but don’t try to tell more than movies are capable of telling. Some of Tarkovsky’s work, great as it is, suffers from trying to do more than is possible to do with film, IMO. His work becomes overly symbolic, because how else can you use a camera to deal with such grand topics?

It’s not that the makers of Otar and Vozvrashcheniye were slackers. It’s obvious that an enormous amount of attention to detail and nuance went into them. The acting is excellent throughout. And because their reach does not exceed their grasp, they end up being great works of art.

[Sunday afternoon spelling correction]

Mar 192009


Not bad for a student film. How many students get a cast of thousands, or at least hundreds?

We watched Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Katok i skripka” (Steamroller and violin) some time back. I hadn’t known until now that it wasn’t his first student film. This one is “Sevodnya uvolnyeniya nye budyet” (Today There Will Be No Leave) and was produced in 1959, a couple of years before Steamroller.

I downloaded it from Memocast, and then found out it has French subtitles. The English subtitles from a .srt file overlay on top of them, making it kind of messy to read. I had sometimes wondered what it would like to watch a film with subtitles in both languages; now I’ve had no choice but to find out.

I’m not sure whether there is any great meaning to this film (I’m about 1/3 of the way through) but it keeps my attention.

It’s interesting that everybody in the city has to leave it in a mass evacuation, while the title of the film says NO leave. (That’s a play on words that doesn’t work in Russian, as far as I can tell.)

BTW, I kind of hate to say it, but it seems to me that Tarkovsky did better work in the Soviet Union than he did after he left it so he could have greater artistic freedom. However, some of the better work he did in the Soviet Union was also censored there, so the moral isn’t simply that repression is good for artists.

Feb 022008


Here’s a movie that goes Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris one better. Solaris itself was somewhat of a reaction against Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. 2001 featured gleaming high-tech on a massive scale. In Solaris, the space vehicle is somewhat run down and the protagonist goes around in a soiled shirt.

But that’s nothing compared to Kin-dza-dza, which came out in Russia in 1986. Two of the interplanetary space travelers are pictured above. (It’s a photo of the VHS cover. I cobbed it from Wikipedia.)


And here is their spacecraft. (Photo cobbed from the same source as the above one.) It’s a creaky rattle-trap rustbucket, but it does work.

This movie isn’t on Netflix. There is no official English-language subtitled version. But it’s on YouTube, with subtitles, in 14 parts. I happened upon it last night. I haven’t nearly finished watching.

I’m not a big science fiction fan, but small doses like this are great. It’s had me laughing. Wikipedia says it’s somewhat of an allegory of Soviet society, but somehow made it past the censors anyway. I don’t know about that — maybe it applies to tourist behavior and social relationships in general. Whatever it is, it’s fun to watch.

Here, for my convenience and that of anyone else who cares, are links to all 14 of the segments. It can be somewhat of a nuisance to find them in order using YouTube’s search.

  1. Part 1 (1 of 7)
  2. Part 1 (2 of 7)
  3. Part 1 (3 of 7)
  4. Part 1 (4 of 7)
  5. Part 1 (5 of 7)
  6. Part 1 (6 of 7)
  7. Part 1 (7 of 7)
  8. Part 2 (1 of 7)
  9. Part 2 (2 of 7)
  10. Part 2 (3 of 7)
  11. Part 2 (4 of 7)
  12. Part 2 (5 of 7)
  13. Part 2 (6 of 7)
  14. Part 2 (7 of 7)
Nov 072007


Today’s WSJ told about the new CCTV building now under construction in China. It will be the 2nd largest office building in the world, after the Pentagon.

I wonder if it will become a ubiquitous symbol of China. If so, that will be some interesting symbolism — a communications building as national symbol of a country that tries hard to restrict certain types of communication.


Another country with a ubiquitous building as national symbol is Russia. The Foreign Ministry Building is everywhere. This photo of it is from Wikipedia. It’s also in the standard intro scenes on Mosfilm DVDs:

Logo mosfilm

It’s shown on the background of some of RTR Planeta’s news broadcasts. Somewhere on my desk was a candy wrapper for one of the Red October brand of candies. It pictured the Foreign Ministry building. (The wrapper still may be on my desk, but I may never know for sure.) One sees it in movies whenever there’s an excuse to show it, such as in Tarkovsky’s graduation project, “Steamroller and Violin”.

It’s interesting that a country would use a foreign ministry building as such an important symbol. Here in the U.S. the State Department building gets no such status. For us, the U.S. Congress is more of a symbol.