Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Russian war film set to open amid controversy over accuracy of events - Panfilov’s 28

Directors: Kim Druzhinin, Andrey Shalopa
Writer: Andrey Shalopa
Stars: Aleksandr Ustyugov, Aleksey Morozov, Amadu Mamadakov

A still from Panfilov’s 28

Every Soviet schoolchild was taught about the heroic feats of the last 28 members of Ivan Panfilov’s division, which in late 1941 fought to the death to stop a Nazi tank assault on Moscow in one of the best known episodes of the Soviet war effort.

“Russia is vast, but there is nowhere to retreat – Moscow is behind us,” one of the Red Army soldiers, armed at the end with just Molotov cocktails and grenades, said as the attack was halted.

But as a film about the events, Panfilov’s 28, opens in Russia this week, controversy rumbles on over the fact that many of the details of that last stand – both in the film and versions pre-dating it – appear to have been invented.

Arguments over the upcoming film and the mythology around the episode in general began last spring, when Sergei Mironenko, the director of Russia’s state archive, gave an interview stating that while there had indeed been a bloody battle outside Moscow, not was all as many had understood it.

His words provoked such outrage that over the summer the archive posted online a 1948 internal Soviet military report into the events, which came to the conclusion that a journalist from the Red Army’s newspaper had made up the particulars of the story, inventing quotes and ignoring the fact that some of the soldiers had survived and one was believed to have surrendered to the Germans.

The legend was cooked up to fit in with the Soviet demand that soldiers should fight to the death rather than surrender.

Vladimir Medinsky, the culture minister, reacted furiously to the intervention, saying it was not the job of archivists to make historical evaluations, and if Mironenko wanted to change professions, he should do so. Shortly after, Mironenko was fired.

The nationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky said in recent weeks that he had called at a government meeting for Mironenko to be fired. He claimed his uncle had fought in Panfilov’s division and said those griping about the exact numbers were missing the point. “It’s unacceptable for someone from the archives to start telling the whole country that there were no Panfilov heroes,” he said.

Medinsky later went further in his defence of the film and his disgust for those who questioned the story.

“It’s my deep conviction that even if this story was invented from the start to the finish, even if Panfilov never existed, even if there was nothing at all, it’s a sacred legend which it’s simply impossible to besmirch. And people who try to do that are total scumbags.”

Medinsky said he would like to send such people, who “poked their dirty, greasy fingers into the history of 1941” back to the war period in a time machine and leave them in a trench to face Nazi tanks armed with just a hand grenade.

Panfilov’s division included many central Asians, and last month Putin and Kazakhstan’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev watched the film together.

Under Putin, victory in the second world war has become the main building block of modern Russian identity, and criticism of the Red Army or mentions of the darker sides of the war effort are unwelcome.


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Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sergey Snezhkin: Maringolds in Flower / Cvety kalenduly - Цветы календулы (1998)

movie poster

Director: Sergey Sniezhkin 
Cast:Era Ziganshina, Marina Solopchenko, Kseniya Rappoport,

Of all the national cinemas in the world, that of Russia has the most fruitful relationship with literature. This extends beyond the dull and plodding genre of the literary adaptation or the more general "book of the film" treatment to any novel whose widespread success uninspired directors want to cash in on. Russians filmmakers have managed to be inspired by literature in the artistic and spiritual sense rather than just finding a plot idea which will bring in the punters.

As such, literature is a point of departure for many Russian filmmakers and not something whose content merely can be replicated in another medium. This has produced a number of adaptations which seem to merit consideration independently of the text on which they were based, including Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg's Shinel' (The Overcoat, 1927), Andrei Tarkovsky's Soliaris (1969-72), Alexei German's Moi drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1983) and much of Alexandr Sokurov's oeuvre.

However, the influence of literature extends far beyond using books as a direct source. Sergei Sniezhkin's Cvety kalenduly (Marigolds in Flower, 1998) is a film which takes its inspiration from the great Russian dramatist and short-story writer Anton Chekhov without its plot being directly based on any of his published works.

The action takes place in a dacha just outside St Petersburg some time shortly after the collapse of Communism. The removal of the tyrannical regime has done nothing to relieve the ills of the Protazovs and it has if anything made them worse. Georgia Protazov was a poet who collaborated heavily with the Party and in return was feted as a national hero. However, with the coming of perestroika his reputation was re-evaluated and murky truths dug up from his past. What is more, the MTV generation now has little interest in poetry and literature, least of all Protazov.

This humiliating fall from grace is too much for Protazov's widow, Seraphima, who had her heart set on a place in posterity, rather than infamy, for her husband. If that wasn't bad enough, she has to battle with her family over what to do with the inherited dacha. She wants to create a museum to her late husband, while her three bitchy granddaughters would rather sell up and move to the city for a more adventurous life.

In the midst of this set of mutually antagonistic personalities, arrive two men who offer more money to spend the night in the spare room than can possibly be refused, even if it is the night of carnival-style family celebrations for Seraphima's birthday. However, they have more in mind than just staying the night in the dacha.

Sniezhkin, who co-wrote the screenplay with Mikhail Konvalchuk, certainly has the keen eye for the minutiae of human behaviour necessary to pull this kind of film off. With the action rarely extending beyond the walls of the dacha, Sniezhkin has to rope in all the attention to the details of character he can without going overboard and making his characters overly stylised. This he manages to achieve with only occasional lapses of judgement.

Not only that, Konvalchuk and Sniezhkin have attempted a brave plot which tackles both specific issues of the post-perestroika period and more timeless observations. As the production notes rightly say: "A century has passed [since Chekhov's time] and Russia hasn't changed much, despite revolutions and wars."

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Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Tatyana Lukashevich: The Foundling - Подкидыш (1939)

Foundling stills

Director: Tatyana Lukashevich
Cast: Veronika Lebedeva, Faina Ranevskaya, Pyotr Repnin

Кадр из фильма Подкидыш, 1939 год.jpg

Little Natasha went out and got lost in a big city. Her fate was attended by all whom she met in her fascinating, full of cheerful adventure travel. Everything, of course, ended well. And while Natasha was wandering around town, she made a lot of friends, among both adults and children.