Dec 282009


When I first started watching Russian movies from the Soviet days, I was surprised by the prevalence of guns in civilian hands. Like in this 1970s movie, where some kids get a handgun, albeit with tragic results. Kids also get their hands on a gun in Balkon, but I’ve barely started watching that one, so I don’t know how it turns out.

I got to thinking of it because of a recent fuss over guns on the bicycle touring list. Every once in a while someone brings up the topic of packing a gun while touring. There are those who object to the idea, and I’m pretty much on their side as it applies to me. But others go a lot further than just giving all the reasons why it’s a bad idea for most people. One person doesn’t mind if other people do it, as long as they don’t ride with him. I would not discriminate on such grounds myself, though I’m a solo rider so it’s not an issue.

Others – some of them from other countries – think it reflects badly on the United States that we even talk about such things. But is the United States the only country with a gun culture, so called?

Somehow I once had the idea that there was not much private ownership of guns in the Soviet Union, except perhaps for some hunters in remote parts of Siberia. The Nazis took away civilian guns in Germany, and I had the idea that all authoritarian states did the same. In the United States I think there was some kind of gun control movement in the South in the early-mid 20th century because the people in power didn’t want African Americans to have guns. I don’t know the details, though, nor do I know where to find them.

But I also recall an earlier surprise from long before I started watching Russian movies. It may have been in January 1991 during the troubles in Lithuania. We heard reports that the government was broadcasting a demand that the people turn in their guns.

What? Civilians in a Soviet-bloc country have guns? That was news to me. Since then I’ve brought it up several times in debates when gun control advocates sneer at the idea that civilians can use them to protect themselves from an abusive government.

So maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised about gun ownership in the Soviet Union, too.

I suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise that in a big country like that, with a lot of forested and open spaces, that there would be a need for guns for hunting. But what about handguns? Are the handguns that we see in civilian hands in movies all legit? Or was private ownership of them officially prohibited? How prevalent was the ownership of guns in general, and handguns in particular, legal or otherwise?

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.

Dec 052009


Last week I tried washing our kitchen floor the way I’ve seen it done in Russian movies. It’s a way to do a good job of it, but it’s not that easy. I haven’t done enough of it to decide whether the method should help Russian women stay young and agile, or if it would age them prematurely.

Last fall I took a one-night-a-week class in conversational Russian at MSU. In a session when our teacher, a young woman from Ukraine, was teaching us how to describe some household activities, I asked her if Russian woman really washed floors the way it’s shown in the movies. She said they did. I never got around to blogging about it until now, though.

The scene above is from Proshu slova, which I just finished watching. Below is one from Vor. There is also a floor-washing scene in Komissar, in which Klavdia Vavilova, played by Nonna Mordukova, in the brief domestic phase in her life is down on the floor washing it with rags. But she is down on her knees, which is not quite the same thing. IMO it’s a lot easier that way. I would guess that the reason women would do it in in a squatting position is not because they’re trying to save their knees but because they’re trying to save their clothes. Also, they can move around a lot faster and get the job done more quickly, even though it requires more effort.


So now I have made a start on another category of scenes to collect: Floor washing scenes.

But I think the scene from Proshu Slova also fits another category that’s found in quite a few Russian movies. I’m not quite sure what to call it, but I’ll try to describe it in another post. There is a scene in Semnadcat’ mgnovenii vesny that I hope to find for the sake of comparison.