Director: Aleksei Fedorchenko
Cast: Dar’ia Ekamasova, Pavel Basov, Georgii Iobadze, Konstantin Balakirev, Oleg Iagodin, Aleksei Solonchev
Prize Cine-Club Federation of Russia Moscow International Film Festival (MIFF), Moscow (Russia), 2015
Best directing Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2015
Guilde of Russian Director Prize Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Sochi (Russia), 2015
In 1934, Red Army soldiers and NKVD agents bloodily suppressed an uprising in Kazym, a town of Khanty and Nentsy in a newly established autonomous region of Western Siberia. It was the culmination of a series of actions by the state against local native populations who had protested the imposition of recent collectivization measures. The event, for decades unwelcome in the Soviet historical narrative of course, finally found its dramatic commemoration in Oleg Fesenko’s Red Ice. The Saga of the Khanty of Iugra (Krasnyi led. Saga o khantakh Iugry, 2009), an adaptation of Eremei Aipin’s story The Virgin Mary in Bloody Snows (Bozh’ia Mater’ v krovavykh snegakh, 2002). Fesenko offers an engaging, if quite traditional, treatment of the historical event as a clash of civilizations, replete with a doomed love affair between a Khanty girl and a Soviet political “missionary.” The didactically transparent message is relayed by the director’s sudden cut from rich and colorful scenes of local rites and rituals in a Khanty village to the brute arrival on screen of a “steel monster,” an agit-train, signaling a shift in the state’s approach to a more intrusive and unforgiving encounter with the locals. The civilization of the “noble savages” inexorably draws the recent parvenus into friendly relations, and the latter end up defending them against the Red Army and NKVD that were sent from Ekaterinburg to crush the rebellion. The spiritually rich Khanty culture is contrasted with the weak (in some scenes, physically weaker) Soviet culture, which is only able to prevail by using the overwhelming brutalities available in the modern age. The Soviet response is incommensurate with the actual Khanty threat, the film tells us, as an airplane is sent to bomb the Khanty rebel outpost back to the (ice)-age. In an especially heavy-handed metaphor, the airplane strafes innocent wolf-cubs trailing their mother in the snow.
Like Fesenko’s film, Aleksei Fedorchenko’s Angels of the Revolution draws inspiration from the Kazym rebellion, but easy comparison and pat moralizing stop there. Fedorchenko had initially intended to adapt for screen Denis Osokin’s enigmatic cycle of tales Angels and Revolution (Angely i revoliutsiia. Viatka 1923, 2001), but was dissatisfied with his initial screenplay attempt, entitled Notes of a Chekist (Zapiski chekista). He finally decided to combine the two works in a film about the Kazym rebellion “in which individuals will speak in the magical language of Denis’ heroes” (Kichin 2015). With his earlier First on the Moon (Pervye na lune, 2005), Fedorchenko sought to reclaim some of the utopian spirit of the imaginative avant-garde projects of the 1920s (Prokhorov 2006). In Angels of the Revolution, he returns to this theme explicitly, creating a realm of often ineffably surreal and magical moments that seek to capture the essence of the two civilizations that exist alongside each other for this short period in the early 1930s. The Khanty myth of the cat goddess and the fantastic tales that inform their beliefs are set alongside the Bolshevik fairytales the avant-gardists tell themselves. These scenes often have a Wes Anderson-esque visual and acoustic whimsy about them, and create images that linger in the mind’s eye well after the scene: dogs in angel wings suspended above a red dirigible or floating Bolsheviks watched by white-winged angels.
Read more >>>