Soviet cinema: an overview of two films

A break from the usual blog to do something entertainment based. I hope to get a series of interviews done in the next few months on one theme and publish them all together and write something regarding language points.

I got into soviet cinema when I was learning Russian, a fellow student in the Russian class described Soviet cinema as brilliantly weird, and there are several films in this category. In this blog, I am going to discuss two films. I will look at content, camera etc., concerning both movies. I will talk about the films with clips relating to what I discuss.

If you don’t want spoilers you might want to watch the films before reading the commentary. 

The first film is found here:

The second film is found here: 

The first movie is based on a classic of Russian literature which catalogues the transition of the old order dependent on birthright to a new communist society. The film is called the twelve chairs.

In the first clip (watch till the 10 min mark), we can make some observations; the camera on this scene is mainly focused on Bender, the focus on this character is evidence of where the power lies in this scene. Another thing of interest is that we are introduced to the priest figure in this scene who is supposed to be above material things; however we see that he is very interested in the story of the jewels in fact, one of the themes of the 12 chairs appears to be the hypocritical nature of religion embodied in the character of the priest. 

The second clip (watch till the 14 min mark) in this clip as in the clip above at a certain during the discussion with eachother one of the characters will turn to and involve the audience. This is called breaking the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall allows your audience to engage with the material slightly differently.

In the third clip at 17.26 we see more digs at religion. Watch the clip to 23mins mark. Also I feel the third clip embodies a rough and ready look which gives the film a ‘timeless’ feel; also if you look at the 18.09 and at 18.48 mark with the dodgy doors, the buildings have a feeling of being unreal, and I feel it gives more of surreal nature the film. More questioning of religion at 22.31 with a focus on the words есть ли бог (is there a god) on a poster in the street. 

From the start of the fourth clip to 1 hr 35 mins, we see the message of communism with its rejection of hierarchy; in this clip, the old ruling classes are seen as not being able to fend for themselves, and the commoner is the hero of the piece.

From the start of the fifth clip to 1 hr 51 mins, I love the use of mixed media and see it enhancing the absurdity of the situation that Bender describes.

From the start of the sixth clip to 2 hrs 20 mins, the screen is spinning this has a disorientating impact on the viewer. It mirrors the disorientation experienced by the priest character as he descends into madness.

The last clip shows how fruitless one of the main characters was in carrying out their mission and thus the futility of greed. The very parts show images related to the twelves chairs; therefore, the film is quite meta and references itself. It also shows people from the film, but the film was set in the 1970s and not in 1920s Russia, where the film starts. The film seems quite moral with the overarching message that it doesn’t pay to be greedy.

The next film Moscow doesn’t believe in tears, this film won the academy award for best foreign-language film in 1981. It is said that Ronald Regan watched this film 8 times to understand Russian culture better.

 “Moscow puts no faith in tears” or “Moscow is unmoved by tears“) is a Russian proverb meaning “don’t complain, solve your problems by yourself”.

The film follows three comrades who have different attitudes to approaching and getting through life. One of the women is a hard-working woman who ends up raising up the ranks; she is tough, and she raises a child on her own. The child is born as the result of a one-night stand, which to some degree, I feel, raises questions of consent. Indeed, Russian feminists flip the script included Moscow doesn’t believe in tears in one of their critics of underlying messages to women from Russian cinema. You can see the meme here:

I think it’s interesting that the film seems to gloss over whether there was appropriate consent. I feel that there is more of a focus on the fact that he disappears and doesn’t provide for child and that the woman has to struggle independently. It feels that there is a focus on the woman not being complete despite her career without a man in her life.

The clip below from the start to 1 hr 6 mins implies that a woman needs a man to make the decisions in her life and that she should acknowledge this fact.

The other characters are women who choose wisely when finding a husband and live happily ever after. A woman who wants the best choice and potentially chooses a man for the wrong reasons ends up in an unhappy relationship. I feel that the other paths are there to illustrate the ‘importance of a good man in one’s life.’

Having said that, I love the character development and seeing the relationship between the three comrades. The film is also interesting as it’s a product of its time and reminds us of attitudes at that point in Russia. It also has great Russian music.

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