Sunday, 17 July 2011

Aleksey Fedorchenko: The First on the Moon - Первые на Луне (2005)

Director:Aleksei Fedorchenko
Writers: Ramil Yamaleyev (screenplay), Aleksandr Gonorovsky (screenplay)
Stars: Aleksei Anisimov, Viktoriya Ilyinskaya, Viktor Kotov

Awards

2005—Cottbus Film Festival of Young East European Cinema: First Work Award of the Student Jury and Special Prize
2005—Flanders International Film Festival: Grand Prix
2005—Venice Film Festival: Venice Horizons Documentary Award
2005—Warsaw International Film Festival: Special Mention
2005—Zagreb Film Festival: "Golden Pram" award
2005— "The best debut" prize, Kinotaur festival, Sochi, Russia
2006—Eurocon: Best performance



“The element of irony is very small, perhaps around five percent. The rest is something of an homage to the generation of our fathers and grandfathers, including their honesty, their genuine belief in an ideal.” [1] Thus the Ekaterinburg filmmaker Aleksei Fedorchenko summarizes the narrative stance of his mock-documentary First on the Moon. Fedorchenko’s career in Russian cinema is the story of survival. Survival defines the themes and aesthetic choices in his films as well. Fedorchenko started his filmmaking career at the documentary unit of Sverdlovsk Film Studio in 1990 when Soviet cinema was in its final hour. He describes his work in the 1990s as the struggle for the survival of the studio, including skirmishes with the local mafia. In 2000 Fedorchenko moved to Moscow and made two documentaries: David (2002), about a Jewish survivor of Nazi and Gulag camps, and Children of the White Grave (2003), about the survival of ethnic groups exiled by Stalin to Kazakhstan.

First on the Moon is also a story of survival. The filmmaker chose the genre of mock-documentary to tell a story of the “unknown” Soviet space program, which launched the first man to the moon in 1938. The film begins in Chile where the Soviet spacecraft apparently landed after its return from the moon and traces the fate of the first Soviet “cosmopilot,” Ivan Kharlamov (Boris Vlasov). This Zelig-like character travels from Chile across the Pacific, and then across China to Mongolia until he is finally captured by the NKVD and sent to a psychiatric ward. Eventually, he miraculously escapes from his cell and assumes a series of identities that allow him to hide from the secret police and to survive in the hostile and erratic environment of Soviet Russia.

In his interview with Viktor Matizen, Fedorchenko notes: “Viewers should have to figure out for themselves the rules of the game and decide whether they want to play according to them or not.” [2] The filmmaker’s perception of himself and the viewer as homo ludens provides one interpretive key to his new picture. Fedorchenko tries to return to Russian cinema the ludic spirit lost since the famous avant-garde projects of the 1920s. He seeks the path to such a playful mode of filmmaking via the genre of the mock-documentary. While the mock-documentary is well established in the British and American traditions, the genre is pretty much nascent in Russia. The novelty of Fedorchenko’s First on the Moon evinces itself in domestic critics’ exasperation when faced with a film refusing to fit inherited genre niches. Trying to evoke Western genre memory and to compare the film with its Western genre relatives, critics coined all kind of neologisms—such as nasmeshka nad dokumentom, literally “mockery of the document” (Matizen, ibid.); dokumental'naia drama (postmodernistskaia mistifikatsiia) “documentary drama (postmodernist mystification)” (film poster); poddel'naia dokumentalistika (“counterfeit documentary film”) [3] —all awkward calques or borrowings from English.

Arguably the important precursors of Fedorchenko’s film include the mockumentary-style newsreel footage in Sergei Livnev’s Hammer and Sickle (Serp i molot, 1993) and Vitalii Manskii’s project Private Chronicles: Monologue (Chastnye khroniki: Monolog, 1999). [4] While Livnev’s experimental work tested the possibilities of the mockumentary as an aesthetic practice, Manskii’s film offered a new mode of filmmaking—a communal visual game. Both playfulness and self-reflexivity are essential for Fedorchenko’s film.

Reviewed by Alexander Prokhorov© 2006 in Kinokultura

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