Directors: Aleksandr Zarkhi and Iosif Kheifits
Cast: Bari Khaidarov, Aleksandr Melnikov, Ianina Zheimo, Gennadii Michurin, Konstantin Nazarenko, Oleg Zhakov, Iui Fa-Shou
My Motherland is the first film in Soviet cinema history to be banned personally by Stalin. After a private screening, the Great Leader reportedly uttered: "This film was not made by Soviet people." On 3 April 1933, Pravda included in its "khronika" section the brief official announcement: "The screening of the picture My Motherland is forbidden in all of the USSR as harmful."
One review, attacking the film's use of caricature, reveals in greater detail why the film was deemed to be inappropriate for Soviet people. Within the genre defined by Zarkhi and Kheifits as "historical realism," caricature was too low-brow for the more serious matter at hand: to portray properly and realistically on screen an important moment of the Soviet past. Chinese and Red Army soldiers alike are depicted as ridiculous: they maintain poor hygiene, their clothes are ill-fitting, and they speak and behave without a sense of political consciousness. In a Soviet rising-to-consciousness narrative set during the Soviet campaign in Manchuria, it is problematic for the imperial center to be shown as achieving consciousness simultaneously with the "uncivilized" Chinese ragamuffins it seeks to colonize. To add insult to injury, the film's opening credits make a dedication to the 15th anniversary of the Peasant-Worker Red Army.
Apart from meddling with the order of imperial relationships and destabilizing the strong Soviet center, another major—then unspoken—element would have made the film unpalatable to Stalin and the film's lesser critics. My Motherland is rife with eroticism. The first Russian-speaking characters to appear on screen are prostitutes and expatriates. At one point early in the film, the Chinese hero Van the Tramp returns from work late at night. The only other person awake is a Russian prostitute. Van lies in bed watching her as she stands scantily clad and eats a piece of fruit. Then, in a surprising reversal, the woman suddenly tosses Van the fruit and buttons her blouse. Still prostrate, Van now takes a bite of the fruit, and becomes the object of the erotic gaze. Van's character remains eroticized and becomes increasingly feminized throughout the film.
Though Van is recruited to serve in the army, he is an atypical soldier and far from a masculine ideal. He is physically slight and afraid of battle. He often wears hats that appear like a long mane of hair. In one scene, he primps in front of a mirror trying on distinctly feminine objects as accessories, before engaging in a wild, dance-like spectacle before the camera. Van literally becomes Edward Said's "Other," the exotic "Oriental," feminized and performing on a stage for a Soviet audience.
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