Apr 152008

Michael commented on one of the Kalinovski Square posts, asking if I had seen the 6-part documentary, “A lesson of Belarusian,” that had been posted on YouTube by the same person. I hadn’t, but I just now watched the first part, even though I should really be working on other things.

Already it has helped fill in some gaps in my knowledge about Belorusia, such as the fact that there was a time of greater freedom before Lukashenko came to power. I’ll be watching the rest of it, even though I can’t kill two birds with one stone and learn some Russian while watching it. This documentary seems to be in the Belarusian language. I recognize some words that seem to be very similar in the two languages, and there are probably more that I miss because my Russian vocabulary is quite limited. But a lot of the Belarusian seems very different. (I had the same experience when listening to some Ukranian recently. It was more different from Russian than I had expected.) But it still is worth watching.
And I’d have to use the subtitles whether it was in Russian or Belarusian.

Apr 132008

When I used to teach a pre-confirmation class at our church, it seemed that young people (and old) wouldn’t easily buy Martin Luther’s words of explanation to the First Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Young people wouldn’t say much, but older ones would.

People think fear is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. There are any number of cliches that put fear in the same category with ignorance, superstition, and intolerance. (It was a discussion of Barak Obama’s bigotted remarks about bitter people and their religion and guns that got me thinking about it.) Somehow people don’t think it’s right that we should fear God.

It so happens I was just looking looking at the words of the famous Russian love song, “Dark Eyes,” trying to memorize it for language-learning purposes. I noticed that it talks about fear in a way that indicates a relationship that is perhaps complicated, but not a bad one.

Here’s a transliteration of the first verse, sort of from Wikipedia:

Ochi chyornye ochi strastnye
Ochi zhguchiye i prekrasniye
Kak lyublyu ya vas kak boyus ya vas
Znat’ uvidyel vas ya v nedobryii chas

And here is an English translation, from the same source:

Dark eyes, passionate eyes
Burning and splendid eyes
How I love you, how I fear you
For sure, I espied you in an ill-starred moment

You can hear the song on a whole bunch of utube clips, most of which don’t do it well. Perhaps it’s because it’s too familiar to most listeners. The best sung one I’ve found so far is a music video that’s slightly raunchy and violent. Maybe the video is of scenes from a movie. I’m not sure, but I think the singing is good. When the Red Army Chorus and most other groups do it, it’s too ponderous. Maybe famous singers who are too full of themselves shouldn’t be allowed to sing it.

I don’t think I’d play the one linked to above at church, though, if I want to make the point that fear can be part of a healthy relationship. I’ll keep looking.

And in case anyone is wondering, I don’t think the word for afraid (boyus) means anything very different from what we usually mean in English. As far as I know, it can have the same complicated meanings in Russian as in English. It’s the very same word I hear in wartime movies where someone might hear the the sound of distant guns and say, “I’m afraid.”

Apr 102008

I’ve been showing my parents some of the things one can find on YouTube and Internet television. Mostly it’s been Bach music clips of various kinds that I had been bookmarking in preparation for their visit– child keyboard prodigies, ancient organs, choral groups, etc. But Dad was also interested in foreign movies. He has macular degeneration such that he can’t read words on the screen unless they are very large, but he can recognize faces and seems to be able to make out a lot of other details. There are a few Russian movies on YouTube, but not much in the way of really good stuff. I have to read the subtitles to him, so it’s somewhat of a cacophony — people speaking Russian while I’m reading English subtitles as well as I can in a much less expressive voice. And then if I get a coughing fit that’s leftover from my recent bout with bronchitis and pneumonia, Myra steps in and reads for me.

I told Dad that one can’t watch the news on RTR Planeta for long without seeing Vladimir Putin, and indeed we did get to see him on the evening’s news. It seemed to be in a story connected to the Russian opposition to the U.S. and NATO. Then we watched some teevee from Hong Kong, and then I stumbled on a German television station that featured naked women dancing. Myra ordered me to close it quickly, though she found it somewhat amusing. After that I was more careful about not just picking stations randomly, but I was gunshy and didn’t find much.

Finally I remembered the documentary, Kalinovski Square. That was a success. It sustained everyone’s interest. We watched the first four parts tonight and will continue tomorrow. Myra and I had watched it together once, and I had watched all of it at least once more for the language-learning. Mom came and got interested, too. It has to be difficult trying to get the full meaning out of my reading of the subtitles, when even the subtitles are probably an inadequate translation of the original Russian. It’s a shame Dad can’t read them, because it’s very humorously done — in a dry, ironic fashion — even though it’s about a very serious subject. Just the same, everyone was fascinated (and appalled at Alexander Lukashenka).

One thing that’s disappointing is to see that some of those segments haven’t been viewed by more than 500 people — and I’m probably at least three of the 500 myself. The documentary is banned in Belarus. One can learn from it not only about Belarus but general principles about how democracy is suppressed.

Sep 062007

We finished watching it tonight. It’s an excellent film — one of the best. I’ll be watching this one again, and not just for the language lessons.

(So far I still rate Vozvrashcheniye as the best Russian language film I’ve seen. Not even Tarkovsky’s films top it, though I haven’t yet watched all of those.)

And there is a 3rd language in Since Otar left, and it is Georgian. The three main actresses all do wonderful work, but I would have thought that requiring fluency in French, Russian, AND Georgian would have constricted the pool of actresses considerably.

I found some good reviews at imdb.com that explain it. Esther Gorintin, who played the grandma, is Polish and already spoke French and Russian, but refused to learn any Georgian for the film. She was not one of those who spoke Georgian. The granddaughter apparently learned some Georgian, and the mother (Nino Khomasuridze) is a native Georgian.

The Georgian is all gibberish to me, and I have no way of knowing whether the French is good Parisian French or whether the Russian was French-accented. It was fun trying to follow what I could of it (and without subtitles, it would have been a lot less). Following them as they switched from French to Russian and back was interesting enough, but then to have Georgian thrown in as a wild card!

Just as interesting were the ordinary street scenes in both Tblisi and Paris, the home scenes — furnishings, life with intermittent electricity and water — in the apartment in Tbilisi, and the rundown dacha. I would watch it again just for that, but there is a lot more than that to watch.

Sep 052007

We started watching this one tonight. So far it’s a good movie no matter what language the characters are speaking — heading towards a Netflix rating of 5 from me — but are we sure the only two languages being spoken are French and Russian? So far it seems the granddaughter tends to speak French and the mother Russian. The grandma speaks French with her beloved son, and Russian with some of her friends/family. (The sweet grandma defends Stalin and her hard, antagonistic daughter calls him a murderer.) There’s a lot of Russian I don’t understand (French, too, for that matter) but there is some talk in this movie that’s complete gibberish to me. Is it Georgian? From the subtitles I’d expect to understand a few words of it if it was Russian or French, but I don’t follow any of those parts at all.