RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT – POSTSCRIPT – DIAMONDS AND ANNA KARAMAZOFF

Four years has passed since we published “Rustam Khamdamov: Impossible to Be Great…” What has happened to  since then? A new short film has appeared, Brilianty (Diamonds) [AKA Diamonds. Theft], the first film in a proposed “Jewelry” trilogy. It was presented at the 67th Venice International Film Festival in September 2010. The festival program describes the movie:

“This is a poetic film set in the times of Lenin’s NEP. A ballet dancer steals a brooch and gives it as a present to another dancer. This is a crime of passion. A mysterious black ball is after the heroine. She runs away from it and manages to give the brooch in an exquisite pirouette movement, as shiny as diamond facets. What gives a stone its dazzling luster are its polished facets. But the real gem is love, and it’s much harder to get than any diamond in the world.”[1]

The Russian premiere of Diamonds was held on 15 July 2011 at the International Film Festival in St. Petersburg.

Still from Diamonds. Theft.  (2010)The film is inspired by the ballet La Bayadère by Marius Petipa. This picture is intended as part of a series of three shorts with the common title “The Jewels,” which the director wants to shoot with Anna Mikhalkov (“Emeralds. Murder”) and Tatiana Doronina (“Rubies. No Price”)[2].

In one of his interviews, Khamdamov said that the third movie will be dedicated to Russian piano genius Maria Yudina: “There was a woman named Yudina, a completely crazy woman, a great pianist who did not have either a piano or an apartment. She lived with cats and dogs on the street. She was homeless, a clochard.” Tatiana Doronina is to play the  role. The action takes place in Tashkent, the director’s native city.

Here are Diamonds’ art director Dmitri Alekseev thoughts on the movie: “In general, the film consists of the personal experiences of Rustam about all that he has ever seen in his life. In the episode with Renata Litvinova, which opens the film, the decoration consists entirely of angles: a rectangular table covered with a white cloth, and on it the radio set, resembling the Empire State Building. Renata makes a nose out of a paper cup, it pierces the radio set, and ‘La Bayadere’ plays. Litvinova is immersed in the music, and the story with [actress Diana] Vishnevaya, the ballet dancer, begins. Renata brings together the entire movie, but she will have her own story. Hers we will also shoot in St. Petersburg, but it’s unclear when.”

Ballet critic Julia Yakovleva points out numerous ballet references[3]: for example, the name “Diamonds” is also the name of George Balanchine’s homage to Tchaikovsky, the third part of his triptych “Jewels,” and Vishnevaya’s character is reminiscent of Olga Spesivtseva – “a hungry diva of Petrograd, dilapidated, dangerous city of the 1920s, from which Balanchine fled to Europe.”

Lidia Maslova (from the journal “Kommersant”) described the film as “very mannered and drenched with symbolism,” in which “all members of the team are rigidly constrained by the spectacle of the author’s most important formal task. And it is so, with the utmost aestheticism to convey to the viewer the idea that true art is impersonal and impartial.”[4]

The director is also a painter. The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow has exhibited his graphics and watercolors. He also works with different theater companies as a costume designer… it’s the everyday life of a working artist.

But what about his masterpiece (according to those like me who have luckily managed to see the movie): Anna Karamazoff, still held up by the copyright owners in France? Serge Silberman, the movie’s producer (and according to himself, the copyright holder) now reposes with the Lord. Will the world never see this movie? It was now shot twenty-five years ago! Khamdamov is a genius with an unhappy fate for his creations.

There was a moment when a hope arose as once a copy (whether legally obtained or not is the question) was brought to light by Russian officials and exhibited to a very limited number of people. Meanwhile, the copyright is still challenged by Mosfilm, the Russian co-producer.

What is so special about Anna Karamazoff?

As I wrote in “Rustam Khamdamov: Impossible to Be Great…,” for Khamdamov is of no importance WHAT he is talking about, but HOW he shows it. The cinematic language he uses is his major concern in each and every of his movies. He stresses that everything has been said and written already: books, music, films, etc. etc. No new themes can be produced.

As he said in his interview “About the Time and about Oneself” to the Paris-based paper “Russkaja mysl’” (“The Russian Idea”) ten years ago in October 23, 2003: “The past gives one a sort of aloofness, allowing one to detach oneself from dull, boring realism …” Earlier, in another interview he expressed the same idea, saying that he understood while being a student that he would never shoot any realistic film in which “boys fight in school corridors” or something of the kind. For him a realistic movie is of no meaning.

Anna Karamazoff is no doubt a post-modernist, non-narrative film. The imagery brings us back to Luchino Visconti’s movies with his rich castles, parties, etc, etc. But it is a post-modernist movie with all that beauty in decline, rotten, in ruins.

“The world to which [Anna] returns is picturesquely bleak” suggests Vincent Canby in his 1991 New York Times piece[5], the only more or less decent review mentioning the movie. And a long silence after that… no one dared to put in a good word for the film and the director against the will of Serge Silberman, its producer, and , the female lead. Moreau was indignant due to the fact that Khamdamov dared to insert a piece with two unknown young Russian movie beauties, Elena Solovey and Natalya Leble, and was so upset by this addition that she stuck her nails into Khamdamov’s hand during the screening and left scars on it.

This footage was from the movie Nechayannye Radosti (“The Unexpected Joys”) (1972)[6], which was once banned and almost completely destroyed, but partially survived and was unexpectedly found! What a double UNEXPECTED JOY! This film had an aim to show pure female beauty, and featured Khamdamov’s discovery Solovey and her counterpart Leble clad in Khamdamov’s trademark hats and dresses, all designed and stitched by his own hands.

Khamdamov inserted the rediscovered sequences in the style of a silent movie, but with sound.[7] Anna goes to see the film in a theater, although actually she enters for a nap, tired of all her seemingly useless wandering down the city streets on high stilettos. This insert gave rise to the long-lasting animosity and hostile actions between the director, Moreau, and Silberman.

As a result of this hostility the movie spent more than twenty years closed on the shelves, arrested by the producer, and only some time ago appeared in Russia without any hype, shown to a limited audience. The film, after nearly twenty years, went almost unnoticed, except for a handful of fans and connoisseurs of Rustam Khamdamov’s talents as a film director, artist and costume designer.

Now all that seems to be past. Khamdamov said in a February, 2013 Zasekin TV interview in the Russian city of Samara[8] that in France and in Cannes voices are heard about the need to rescue the film, to finish it with Moreau, now already 85.

He said he is seeking funds to buy out the film and complete it: “An old woman (Jeanne Moreau) is sitting in a Paris street cafe with a cup of coffee. A drunken bum walks up to her and asks permission to sit down. She allows him to. He sits down and asks: – Who are you? – I am Anna Karamazoff …. – You? – asks the clochard with astonishment. And they begin talking…”

As Mike Haberfelner writes in his review[9], “the film’s plot is episodic at best.” Really one may hardly find any coherent story while watching the film. Yet, we may say few words on it. (Just one linguistic remark about “plot”. In Russian, the word pronounced “plot’” in English means “flesh.” It seems to me that this “plot” quite fits Anna Karamazoff, and we may talk of the “flesh” of the movie).

Jeanne Moreau in Anna Karamazoff (1991)An unidentified women (Jeanne Moreau as Anna Karamazoff) arrives in a city (some reviewers suggest it to be Leningrad or St. Petersburg after WWII , but it could be any city on earth). Some suggest that she is returning from a Stalinist concentration camp in Siberia, though Khamdamov strongly objected to this interpretation of the story. And I fully agree with him. Why? The way she is dressed; she couldn’t wear these clothes in any of the camps, whether German or Siberian. Therefore, she comes back to her native city to find out what happened to her mother, her and her mother’s apartments, and probably to stay for good in her home.

Some anonymous Russian film critic, however, suggests that “she is looking for a man, whose denunciation was the basis for her arrest, and she arrived to avenge him, but on killing him she realizes that any revenge is pointless, because evil begets new evil, and this chain is infinite. The only way out, now she sees for herself is to withdraw from life.”[10]

She finds her old room occupied by an Uzbek family. There, she learns that her mother died. Nor is her mother’s apartment vacant when she visits it. Her belongings and papers are all lost in a fire. Anna walks around the city absolutely forlorn. She tries to find her mother’s grave; meets a strange woman in the Underground; meets a “bunny boy.” Both the woman and the boy appear and disappear unexpectedly.  She discovers a once rich, now decayed house where lives a strange family: an old granny, obviously insane, and two kids–a girl of ten or eleven, and her younger brother. The residence is full of extravagant objects and Russian vanguard paintings, a few apparently by Malevich.[11]

There is a very strange conversation with the girl, who informs Anna about how she killed her grandfather, who became an alcoholic.[12]. The beautiful girl (with stone tears) unemotionally and coldly tells how they killed their grandfather (in the manner described in “Hamlet”) as he slept with a volume of Shakespeare. She also tells about her decision to withdraw from society and school, taking her younger brother with her, because education is useless. The girl behaves and expresses her thoughts like an adult, at the same time repeatedly saying with a childish voice “I’m little, I’m little” in contradiction to her conduct and expression, thus denying any responsibility for the crime. From her, Anna learns the reason of her granny’s madness (the role is fantastically performed by an old and perfect actress Mariya Kapnist). Anna learns that the girl’s mother came to them, insisting that the children going to school, and how the girl didn’t let her in from the cold weather, after which poor woman caught cold and died. Anna learns the approximate burial place of her own mother from this girl.

She goes to the cemetery, followed by the woman from the Underground, still spying on her. She stays there using a marble gravestone as a cushion for the night. She is awakened by a ceremony – a school-boy in the coffin who looks much more alive than his school-mates, skinny, pale boys who misbehave during the ceremony, and a monk who eats an apple while looking at Anna lustfully. The boys and assembled army officers wear old pre-Revolutionary Russian uniforms, which suggests that Anna is dreaming. Later, Anna meets a musician there, much younger than her. They go to his home and Anna plays piano, teaching him how to play it with his buttocks; later they go to bed together. The young man tells her about an opera diva he accompanied on piano, and gives her the singer’s address.

Anna disappears. Then, surprisingly, she gets involved in the murder of a rich man and stealing the dresses of his wife, who turns out to be the opera diva. She manages to escape from the apartment even though the diva unexpectedly returns just after the murder, and finds Anna there with her luggage bag full of the stolen dresses.

Before leaving the city Anna attends a soiree in the Opera House where the diva sings; Anna is wearing the singer’s dress and diamond necklace. Anna sense the police are after her when she hears them entering the theater. She hurries off and gets rid of the jewels, giving them to the elderly woman who cleans the ladies’ room, who tries them on herself looking in the mirror with a crazy smile. Anna leaves the theater and the city.

So does the young musician, but before that he leaves milk for his cat in the doll house. He hurries to leave his apartment but a candle falls down and the apartment catches fire.

The woman played by Jeanne Moreau is probably is not Anna Karamazoff: her victim screamed that she was not Anna before his death. It makes us ponder, and wonder whether he might have known the real Anna Karamazoff. But if she is not Anna, then who is she? Anna’s friend, who possibly killed her before she arrived to the city; or her cellmate; or someone who stole Anna’s addresses and used her stories? A woman from a Nazi officer’s brothel who met the real Anna? Why would someone impersonate Anna? To disappear forever and be reborn with a new name, becoming Anna Karamazoff? The answer is not available and will never be. The film says nothing about that, as it remained unfinished.

For Khamdamov Anna Karamazoff is the manifestation of his aesthetic views, rather than ordinary cinema. And it is not absolutely necessary to the film that Anna is returning from a concentration camp, as producer Silberman insisted. Khamdamov stated that he was not interested in politics or any allusions or references to it. His film was not made to blame the rulers and the times. His aim was to show the era and the human beings in it, a WOMAN in those times though what Polina Baskovah calls his “obsessive aestheticization.”[13].

Khamdamov didn’t want politics interfering with his movies, with the inner world of his protagonists, yet there are few sequences hinting on the time and the situation in his country. The first is the behavior of the childlike Uzbek beauties (in lavishly decorated traditional dresses made by Khamdamov, like all the costumes and decorations in the film). The girls do not know how to deal with a gas stove in the kitchen. The spellbound children watch and listen to the rumble-grumble of the trains going past the window, as if hearing and seeing them for the first time in their lives. Thus Khamdamov hints on the problem of citizens of the former Russian Empire’s colonies remaining underdeveloped and neglected by the Soviets.

The second time a slight reference to the political situation emerges is in the figures of the two sons of Anna’s dead mother’s neighbor (one of them was perfectly performed by Pyotr Mamonov from the cult rock-group Zvuki Mu[“Moo Sounds”]). Both are typical agents of the state security bodies, silently moving behind the doors when Anna rings the bell. Even inside the apartment they wear long coats and hats, typical of the secret police, and are suspicious and cowardly when Anna demands a response about the belongings and documents of her dead mother. They are entirely irresponsible and dependent on their mother’s opinion. She is a hideous yet not elderly woman, an incarnation of “the Soviet Motherland,” keeping her eye on each and every of her “sons” – the Soviet citizens.

Meanwhile, I’m not sure for Khamdamov himself this was of any importance. It was important for him to show women, their beauty (Anna, the Uzbeki girls, the girl living with her brother and insane granny, who is old and ruined by her madness yet still beautiful, even the “Motherland” neighbor, and a woman in cemetery – they are all beautiful!), to show the ETERNAL FEMININITY of the cruel world, the world so similar to nightmare. And the film is nightmarish. According to Khamadamov in his interview with the French newspaper, the characters live in a “cauchemar” without God!

Anna Karamazoff is full of personal references and reminiscences of the director. The film is filled with his dreams, the gorgeous dreamlike imagery of an artist, an intellectual who saw a lot in his life, read much, a connoisseur of fine arts, paintings, photography, cinema.  The harmony of sounds and images: the piano keys and the “key” steps on which Anna descends to the city, either real, or the city of her dreams. Or a grand white marble staircase down which she leaves the theater (Sergey Eisenstein’s Potemkin stairs?). Khamadamov fought with the editor for each and every sequence, and for the stairs, in particular. He defended it, insisting on its presence in the film.

Once a journalist asked Khamdamov what were the sources for his images, what artists, writers, etc., influenced him? His answer was: “There are a lot of things. Today you see one thing and tomorrow another.” Yet in another interview he said: “Let’s have a look at Brodsky. His verse is internally quite full of images, it’s delightful, and thick and strong, his literary thinking does not discourage you. You do not understand the set of images and thoughts at first, but they are guessable, because you have been through the same books and images. We took them from off one shelf.”

Still from Anna KaramazoffWe may say the same about Khamdamov’s film. At the very beginning you see the “Archer” of Bourdelle, or you see paintings by de Chirico, Miro, or Malevich, or a scene of feathered grass under rain and wind brings you memories of some photos. Viewing an elegant table with abundance of crockery and a porcelain swan and thin glasses for wine reminds you of Dutch paintings of the 15th- 16th centuries, dinners in Visconti’s films, or old Russian paintings of feasts with fried swans decorating the table.

I could mention many more impressive sequences full of beauty and elegance.

But I would like to focus on two. The first is Anna repairing her stockings, putting her impeccably feminine foot in a stiletto shoe on an old wooden stool, the kitchen littered with old aluminum utensils and rickety wooden furniture in front of a window with rotten frames. This contrast underlines the beauty of the female leg in fishnet stockings. Ladies’ stockings may be considered Khamdamov’s fetish, as you see them on a balcony rail in V gorakh moyo serdtse [My Heart’s in the Highlands] (1967) and his other movies.

The second one is the face of a girl with tears on her face made of precious stones, a direct quote to Man Ray’s photo. (One should keep in mind that the film was shot in late 1980s or early 1990s, when this name meant nothing to the USSR public, who had never seen Man Ray’s pictures and never heard his name).

The “silent” footage from Anna Karamazoff
  1. http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/archive/67th-festival/lineup/off-sel/orizzonti/brilianty.html []
  2. http://renatalitvinova.ru/%D0%B1%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%BB%D0%B8%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D1%8B-2011/ [in Russian] []
  3. http://seance.ru/blog/dance/ [in Russian] []
  4. http://www.kommersant.ru/doc-y/1776488 [in Russian] []
  5. http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9E05EED7123AF935A15756C0A967958260 []
  6. This film has its own history, as the footage was later unscrupulously used by Nikita Mikhalkov in the film Raba Lyubvi, (1975) (“A Slave of Love”), with a script by Andrey Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky  and Fridrikh Gorenshtein. The recycled footage now bore political overtones, which was totally unacceptable to Khamdamov. Being uninvolved in political squabbles, Khamdamov nevertheless did not want the film he worked so hard om to fade into oblivion. See Rustam Khamdamov: Impossible to Be Great… for more on “Raba Lyubvi”/“The Slave of Love”. []
  7. A perplexed Vincent Canby: “This seems to be out of an old silent film, except that the material is not silent.” []
  8. http://youtu.be/IofrXcQguDs [in Russian] []
  9. http://www.searchmytrash.com/cgi-bin/creditsb.pl?annakaramazoff(1991) []
  10. http://www.kino-teatr.ru/kino/movie/sov/244/annot/ [in Russian] []
  11. In his television interview Khamdamov said that normally he took the originals from the Russian Fine Arts Museum. []
  12. Khamdamov stresses in the same interview that the reason were those vanguard paintings was to place it in the Stalinist era when murder was commonplace []
  13. In her review of Vocal Parallels: http://www.kinokultura.com/2006/11r-vocalpara.shtml []

5 thoughts on “RUSTAM KHAMDAMOV: IMPOSSIBLE TO BE GREAT – POSTSCRIPT – DIAMONDS AND ANNA KARAMAZOFF”

  1. Прекрасное эссе. Спасибо автору! Написано с любовью к материалу и знанием дела. Еще раз спасибо!

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