Saturday, 23 October 2010

Nikolai Dostal:Petya on the Road to the Kingdom of Heaven - Петя по дороге в Царствие Небесное (2009)

Director:Nikolai Dostal
Writer:Mikhail Kurayev
Stars:Egor Pavlov, Aleksandr Korshunov, Roman Madyanov

Awards : First prize Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF), Russia, 2009
Best actor Egor PAVLOV , Honfleur Russian Film Festival, France, 2009
Best music Aleksey SHELYGIN , "NIKA" Prizes, Russia, 2009
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Roman MADIANOV ,
"NIKA" Prizes, Russia, 2009

Review by Alexander Jakobidze-Gitman

Since the glasnost years the Stalin era has become a popular topic in Russian cinema, and has also helped to draw attention to Russian film abroad. At the last Moscow Film Festival (2009), the Grand-Prix was once again conferred on a picture about the Stalin era, Nikolai Dostal's Petya on the Road to the Kingdom of Heaven [Petya po doroge v Tsarstvie Nebesnoe]. However, unlike Dmitry Meskhiev's Us [Svoi] (2004), which was distinguished not only by high cinematic quality but also by an innovative ideological approach, and whose triumph at the festival 5 years ago came as strong evidence of Russian cinema's revival, the success of Petya was somewhat puzzling, and was not followed by any significant public or critical acclaim. It seems that the film's awkward status and rather ambiguous messages (that will be examined below) reflect not only a rather baffling course of the development in Russian cinema, but also, somewhat indirectly, the painful hesitations in the Russian cultural establishment regarding its attitude towards Stalinism. As a matter of fact, these hesitations were revealed a bit later, when, first, Stalin's biography was published in the famous “Lives of Remarkable People” book series, and then followed the formal condemnation of the Katyn massacre.
Since the early 2000s, interest in the screen image of the Stalin era started to shift from the recent past to the more distant historical past (such as the eras of Peter the Great or the Decembrists). It is not that any terrifying aspects of Soviet history were obscured; on the contrary, the violence and starvation in prison camps and the blood-thirstiness of NKVD executioners were shown in a more elaborate manner than ever before. Many of these new films and TV series were based on works by writers such as Solzhenitsyn or Shalamov, whose subject, means of expression, and history made them essentially oppositional to official Soviet culture. These works suddenly became source material for a production line of costume dramas, complete with a standard set of clichés and produced primarily by the state-run Channel One; one may say that the Soviet past has thereby undergone a “secondary processing.”
This phenomenon also coincides with a new wave in architecture that imitates the Stalinist Empire style and a fad for reprints of postcards and posters of the 1920-1950s, whose propagandist messages can now be perceived as merely funny or even cute. One might easily determine that the Stalin era is being transformed from a painful topic in national memory into an object of mass consumption, a commodity brand with which one can “sell” both terrifying and curious phenomena with equal success.
At least on the surface, however, Petya and a few other recent films—such as A Gift to Stalin [Podarok Stalinu] (Rustem Abdrashev, 2008) and Kind People [Lyudi dobrye] (Alexei Karelin, 2009)—show something of a counter-tendency. They demonstrate a revival of the trend in the post-Soviet cinema of the 1990s that was concerned with depicting out-of-the-way locations during the postwar years, where people of different backgrounds were forced to live close to one another in communal apartments and barracks. Many of these films--such as Pyotr Todorovsky's Encore, Once More Encore! (1992) and What a Wonderful Game (1996), Savva Kulish's The Iron Curtain (1994), Lev Kulidzhanov's Forget-me-nots (1994), Leonid Maryagin's The 101st Kilometer (2001), and Pavel Chukhray's celebrated The Thief [1997]--were autobiographical, since the youth of the filmmakers occurred in the postwar period and they could therefore be considered to be products of “primary processing.” ...

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