10 August 2005


As I was reading the ton of fiction I usually try to gobble up on vacation to make
up for time lost otherwise, I came across a statement, which suggested that people in the south speak (live) faster than people in the north. For example, Eeeeeeeestooooooooooooooniiiiiaaaaaaaaaaans speak slower than Italians and the Spanish. (Where does this leave us?!) This was right up the alley of linguistic games that I often play in my head (example: monstro -> demonstrate, dico -> indictment) and therefore had to be noted for further observation.

The above was probably one of the only memorable aspects of the combined reading I had done, excepting Voinovich's Fur Hat (the collection, not the short story alone), some of which I had already read, I soon realized. (A nice change from the usual sense of doom in terms of the inability to grasp an "adequate" amount of literary culture.)

In contrast, I've watched a whole bunch of Russian films, THREE (!!) of which were EXCELLENT: (Unfortunately, both recent movies based on Akunin's novels were sub par - too Hollywoodized and trivialized; even some of the acting by the stellar cast (i.e.
Menshikov) plainly sucked.) Dreaming of Space (literally: Cosmos as a Premonition),
Harvest Time, and Koktebel. All three were quite recent - released between 2003-2005, and as I'm just now finding out, all three expectedly are prestigious award winners. (Note to self: I should really do the English subtitles for these festivals. ;-)

The 1950's must be a popular subject nowadays, since the first two dealt with this decade. Dreaming of Space covered the period between the launching of the first sputnik(s) to Gagarin's pioneering voyage into space, while Harvest Time focused on a family living in a small village/kolkhoz. The plot in both cases was overtly subjugated to impressive cinematography and implied narrative interweaving: in the first film, the trope of space was remarkably emphasized by remaining on the periphery of the majority of the plot.

A naive young cook nicknamed Konyok ("Horsey"), who lives in a town on the USSR/Norwegian border, meets and becomes enthralled with German (Herman), who listens to forbidden Western radio stations, studies languages, and boxes. This almost turns into an innocent version of Single White Female (!).

German dreams of escaping the country and as part of his multiple audacious plans, which include seducing Konyok's girlfriend ("...He kissed me....DOWN THERE!"),
he disguises them by informing Konyok, who at this point even dresses like German, that he is involved in top-secret spaceship pilot testing. German soon attempts to swim after a docked Western ship and fails to catch up. Konyok decides to try his luck at space exploration and heads to Kustanay. During the train ride, he makes a brief acquaintance with a young military man with a warm smile named Yuri.

The film concludes with documentary footage of the Red Square parade in Yuri Gagarin's honor soon after his historic flight in space and flips back to fiction as it shows Konyok running after Yuri's car.

This fusion of documentary/fictional visual interweaving creates the tension between
the assumed factuality or lack thereof of each kind of film and raises further implications in regards to such fusion - its seamless, rather than collage patchwork-like nature. This fusion as well as German's myth-turned reality along with Konyok's own mythologizing (with German standing in as the mythic, non-existent
symbol of his desire) should be considered against the background of stagnant Soviet social realism and its rotten comic modernity.

Because it deals with the same decade, Harvest Time cannot help but raise a number of similar issues found in Dreaming of Space. On its own, the cinematography makes this film a masterpiece. It is narrated from the point of view of the deceased (as we later find out) son, who speaks about his award-winning combine-operating mother, his WWII crippled father, and his slightly older ~7 year old brother.

The entire project is disguised as "home video" (for this reason many photographs are included) - a skillfully shot documentary; consequently, there is little-to-none dialogue between the characters, and the film largely relies on visual factors. The boy's mother is the only female combine-driver in the region; her excellent performance always gets her the first annual farming prize - the exceedingly symbolic red Marx/Engels/Lenin flag, while her dream is to win a little bit of fabric - second and third prizes. Due to the presence of mice, mending and resewing the flag become her obsession. Her husband, who lost both of his legs in the war, slips into nothingness from alcoholism - not from the lack of work or his disability, but from the lack of love.

Idols - communist (the flag), christian (prayer), and pagan (bird sacrifice) define and dominate the simple, extreme poverty-ridden life of this average kolkhoz family. Similar to the documentary inclusion of Gagarin in Dreaming of Space, Harvest Time's format enhances the presupposed documentary truthfulness of the film, not unlike the living myths at the end of the Stalinist era, while the high quality of the cinematography continues to undermine this gained factuality. However, the cycle is not continuous - the film is concluded with a scene where the flag, or what is now left of it, is employed as a bandana by a teenage girl who sports cut-off jean shorts and a trendy USSR tshirt. The myth is finally dead.

Yay, I ran out of steam before even getting to Koktebel, and lo' and behold - another excellent movie seen tonight!! Who would've thought that the life of old women in a forgotten, electricity-lacking village would be so damn interesting?!

Since when am I writing so many half-assed film reviews? It's okay though, I'll make up for this by watching nothing and sticking to occasional CSI for the next many months.

I know, I know, I wouldn't read all this either...

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