Mar 132012

You can run from yourself, but not from the militia.

It’s not a spoiler to tell about the ending of a 37-year-old movie, is it?

I don’t know if this is one of those movie lines that made its way into popular culture in Russia, but it’s certainly one that has stuck in my mind (after doing a LOL the first time I heard it).

Afonya is being questioned by a nice young militia (police) officer.   He had been sleeping in the grass, and his passport and plane ticket showed that he was picking destinations almost at random.    “From what we running?” asks the nice young officer.   “From myself,” mumbles Afonya.

Which is a true enough answer, even if it’s psychobabble.   The reply:  “From yourself you can run, but not from the militia.   Come with me.”

I suppose you had to have been there.


Mar 122012

Afonya - collective labor discipline

Judging by the films Afonya (1975) and Autumn Marathon (1979), Georgi Daneliya had not yet broken free of the constraints of socialist realism in 1975.   He was still working within that box, mostly, but on the other hand the box was not boxing him in.   The values of collective society are explicitly stressed over those the individual, but the story is about an individual, Borshev, and is at least as much about his self-destructive behavior as his society-destructive behavior.

In fact, the scenes in which he is put in front of the collective for some labor discipline elicit more sympathy for Borshev, the individual, than for the collective.  And this is even though we’ve seen what kind of slacker and self-server he can be.   Most of the workers are portrayed as being bored or tired of these proceedings, and are inclined to make a joke of them.  The box is a pretty battered container by the time Daneliya is done with it.

Autumn Marathon - Keeping the intellectuals in line

There are only the faintest echoes of the theme of collective over the individual in Autumn Marathon.  There is no labor discipline, but there is a scene (pictured here) that demonstrates how intellectuals were kept under control.    (Some might say the method in this scene is not all that different from the way conformity is maintained within the American university system, or even that it’s a more subtle technique than we have.)   But this scene just demonstrates another way in which the main character, Buzykin, is helpless to change his life.    He can not bring himself to do anything to resolve the conflicting demands of his wife and girlfriend, and cannot do anything to make himself stand up for right treatment of his colleagues, or even avoid complicity in ill-treatment.

In Afony the individual does manage to reform himself, or get reformed by others, although there is some ambiguity on that point.   In Autumn Marathon, nothing changes in the end.  There are attempts, but to no avail.   But in Marathon, reform for an individual would not have much to do with conformity to society.   If you’d want to make the point that Buzykin should get his life in order for the good of society, you’d have to make up that part of the story for yourself.   The movie isn’t going to do it for you.

I suppose all of this is debatable.   As usual, I probably miss a lot of subtleties and cultural allusions, given that it’s not my country and not my language.   I also wish I could find an overview on what was happening to the whole concept of socialist realism in Russia the 1970s.    Unfortunately, all of the English-language materials on the subject that I’ve found so far seem to deal with it only through the 1960s, if even that.     So I’m still looking for reading material on the Decline and Fall of socialist realism in Russia.

Mar 122012

It bugs me that I can’t remember where else I’ve seen the actor in the white jacket in Afonya.   It was some bit part in a film, just like in this one.

It was good to see another Georgi Daneliya film.   So far I’ve seen:

  • I Step Through Moscow (1964)
  • Afonya (1975)
  • Mimino (1977)
  • Autumn Marathon (1979)
  • Kin-Dza-Dza (1985)

One of these is not like the other four.     The last four have good character studies and have elements of “sad comedy,”  a term most often used for Autumn Marathon.    It’s pretty hard to see that in the first one.  Of course there were eleven years between I Step through Moscow and Afonya.  One wouldn’t expect the full range of talent from a 34-year-old director that would develop later.   But now I’m interested in watching some of the films from that period between 1964 to 1975 to look for clues as to how that talent developed.

By the time Afonya was made it was there.   Good film.  I expect it will bear much re-watching.  

Feb 052012

A few weeks ago I learned about the Georgiy Daneliya film, “I Walk Through Moscow”.    In some places it’s spoken of as reminiscent of the French New Wave films of its time.   It was interesting enough to re-watch, and it’ll bear further re-watching.

I’d say it’s a very good film except for one thing:  I had already seen “I am Twenty,” a work by Martin Khutsiev.  It also features young people on the streets of Moscow, and it, too, has been described as reminiscent of the French New Wave films.

I am Twenty“I Walk Through Moscow” is very superficial in comparison.  The characters are interesting but shallow in comparison.   And its camera work, while fun to watch, is nothing compared to “I Am Twenty.”

The Khutsiev film was begun in 1959, but not released until 1965 or 1966.   Khrushchev had denounced it, revisions were made, and still it was not released for wide distribution for several years.  In the meantime “I Walk Through Moscow” came out.

It makes me wonder if Danieliya’s film was a politically correct version that was made in response to Khutsiev’s film.   I have tried using Google to find out, but have not been very successful in finding any articles that compare the two.

Sep 122010


This scene from Osenniy Marafon has stayed with me ever since I first saw it a few years ago, and has led to some of my recent reading. Oleg Basilashvili’s character (seated) has been informed that his just completed work of translation will not be published. The publisher explains: “…Simon just published an article with racist overtones. The progressives are putting up a hell of stink about it. It’s hardly the moment to puff him up by printing his work.”

It struck me as a plausible sort of scene, if repeated many times over and in many different variations, that could have constituted the state of affairs that provoked Alexander Solzhenitsyn to write his famous letter to the Fourth National Congress of Soviet Writers in May, 1967, twelve years before this film came out. Among many other things Solzhenitsyn had to say in that letter was the following description of how his own work was handled:

For three years now an irresponsible campaign of slander is being conducted against me, who fought all through the war as a battery commander and received military decorations. It is being said that I served time as a criminal, or surrendered to the enemy (I was never a prisoner of war), that I “betrayed” my country, “served the Germans.” That is the interpretation now being put on the 11 years I spent in camps and exile for having criticized Stalin. This slander is being spread in secret instructions and meetings by people holding official positions. I vainly tried to stop the slander by appealing to the board of the Writers Union of the R.S.F.R. [Russian Republic] and to the press. The board did not even retract, and not a single paper printed my reply to the slanderers. On the contrary, slander against me from rostrums has intensified and become more vicious within the last year, making use of distorted material from my confiscated files, and I have no way of replying.

My interest in this state of censorship is heightened by the increasing centralization of funding and control over research and publication in our own country, and the increasingly loud and high-placed calls for even greater central control. We haven’t yet progressed nearly to the state of affairs described by Solzhenitsyn, but just the same I thought there might be some practical utility in understanding the social relationships that constitute this type of system. It’s more insidious than the way Anna Politkovskaya was handled, and possibly has a more corrupting effect on the participants.

I presume Georgi Daneliya was very intentional in putting this kind of scene in the film. It’s a great fit with the whole theme of the film — of a person caught up in a system of deceit that he will not be able to resist.

With all this in mind, I found and read the book Nomenklatura (1984) by Michael Voslensky. That was a fascinating read, but one thing I learned from it is that contrary to what I had imagined, the movie scene is not showing the direct workings of the nomenklatura. The nomenklatura were a different stratum of society, I guess. Voslensky knew about the nomenklatura, having been part of it himself, but he did not have anything to say about careerism and social relations in, say, literary fields like the one portrayed in the film.

Now, if only I could think of a movie that would give me an excuse to talk about what I learned from Volensky’s book. Gray Wolves, maybe?


Back to Osenniy Marafon. I can now affirm that it stands up very well to repeated watching. I’ve put it on my Droid X after having learned that my AVS software has a built-in profile for converting to the .mp4 format that’s needed.

All the actors in the film did excellent work — including all three of the women who are complicating Andrei Pavlovich’s life. But the more I watch Natalya Gundareva (the wife) the more impressed I am with what she did. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play the wronged wife the way she played it — but it’s a very believable, nuanced character. It would be interesting to read an analysis of her work, but I haven’t found much information about her in English other than a comment saying she played a wide variety of roles. She would be my age if she was still alive, but she died five years ago. I guess I’ll have to watch some of her other films and try to learn more for myself.

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)