All posts by Eugene Vasiliev

CAPSULE: ELENA (2011)

Heart of a Dog[1]

The Russian Revolution of 1917 and Michail Bulgakov gave birth to a new biological species: the “dog-man” Sharikov[2].  The Internet revolution of the 21st century gave birth to the “Anonymous Man.”  The Anonymous Man is a crafty creature who is almost as clever as a dog.  The Anonymous Man has neither fortune, nor any features.  Yet for all that, when herding together, Anonymous Men become omnipotent and invincible.  In ancient times the Anonymous Men used to have another name: “the People.”

The Anonymous Men throng the Internet step by step.  Then they crawl to the Tahrir and Manezhnaya Squares like zombies from a horror movie.  Africa’s colonels are trembling in fear.  The Persian Gulf’s sheiks are hiding out in corners.  The faces of the former masters of Europe are painfully pummeled by statuettes.

In Russia, Alexey Navalny[3] raises the Anonymous Men against the power of the “Thieves and Swindlers.”[4]

On the other hand, the fate of the present idols, the “people’s protectors”, is not much better.  As soon as you raise your head a little above the crowd of Anonymous Men and become a bit wealthier, smarter or luckier, you are punished.  You, Navalny, and you, Shevchuk[5]: once you’ve struck a pose—get a whack!  The anger of the Russian Anonymous Man finds its allegorical counterpart in left-wing and liberal cinema – the so-called Russian “New Wave”. Almost all important Russian movies of 2006-2010—Help Gone Mad, Wolfy, Wild Field, Yuri’s Day, School, Russia 88, The Revolution That Wasn’t and the quasi-national My Joy—look at reality from the little man’s position.  (Ilya Demichev’s Kakraki is a rare exception).  In Russia, a war between the power and the people, the aristocracy and the plebs, is looming.

And now, against the background of the egalitarian left-wing cinema, Andrei Zvyagintsev makes Elena, the most anti-populist film in 20 years.  In the context of current political life, this picture may become the Elite’s banner in its war against the underprivileged of all sorts.  We have seen nothing of the kind since Vladimir Bortko’s film adaptation of Heart of a Dog.

Still from Elena (2011)

If we discard the metaphors, the plot of Elena can be vulgarly described as a battle between relatives for a posh apartment in the center of Moscow: a typical sort of topic for the popular TV show “Time of Court.”  The “new aristocrats,” youngish pensioner Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov) and his heiress she-devil Katya (Yelena Lyadova), confront the “grassroots people.”  The Continue reading CAPSULE: ELENA (2011)

  1. The title of a 1925 novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, a biting satire of the New Soviet man. []
  2. The hero of “Heart of a Dog,” made by crossing a dog with a proletarian man []
  3. A Russian political and social activist who in recent years gained great prominence amongst Russian bloggers and mass media due to his social campaigning activity []
  4. A humorous nickname for the ruling party in Russia led by Prime-Minister Putin. []
  5. Yuri Shevchuk is a Russian singer/songwriter who leads the rock band DDT.  Shevchuk is highly critical of the undemocratic society that has developed in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. []

PROFESSOR GIBBERN’S PREPARATION: ANDREI ZVYAGINTSEV’S THE BANISHMENT (2007)

 Eugene Vasiliev is a Doctor of Philosophy and a member of the Russian Guild of Film Critics.  This detailed analysis of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Banishment was originally published (in Russian) at Ruskino.   

The Banishment, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s second feature-length motion picture after triumphing in Venice with The Return (2003), was received coldly by the audience.  After the first screenings, bewilderment reigned even among “advanced” cinema enthusiasts. Some applauded languidly, some grumbled discontentedly, and when cineastes read slashing reviews by renowned film experts, a torrent of criticism pounced on Zvyagintsev like tsunami on the province of Aceh. It seemed that curses and swearing would sweep yesterday’s favorite down to the ocean of oblivion, and Andrei would drown there along with Baluyev, Lavronenko, and Maria Bonnevie. Those who only yesterday had raved about The Return regretted their past admiration: as they said, “we were “bought” all for nothing at the time”. Those who had silently swallowed the success of The Return, felt relief at last by stating that “the movie is total shit”.

Still from The Banishment (2007)Yekaterina Barabash argued that Zvyagintsev had invented “spiritual glamor”: merciless in its form and meaningless in its content.  Yelena Ardabatskaya noted that it had been a difficult viewing experience since The Banishment has nothing at all in it: no people, no scents, only Emptiness.  Roman Volobuyev, who at first confined himself mostly to sneering, finally succumbed and began to speak his mind. According to him, even Mikhalkov, now an object of scorn, “is a complex personality, while Zvyagintsev is a single-layered structure; he is a good professional director, at the level of an average American TV series maker, who makes films about things he does not give a damn about – and out of mercenary motives at that, and because he works not in the world of  ‘My Perfect Nanny’ but in Russian, kind of, spirituality, his indifference and the fact that he knows nothing about those abstruse things that he depicts in his movies is the most terrible thing.”  Even peacefully disposed Sam Klebanov complained, “It seems as if it is repeatedly suggested that we should think about the meaning of all those religious parallels.  Perhaps, we did not think well enough, but somehow we have not thought up anything.”

I am not going to list all the complaints and accusations of displeased cinema experts and Continue reading PROFESSOR GIBBERN’S PREPARATION: ANDREI ZVYAGINTSEV’S THE BANISHMENT (2007)