Cinema of Russia

Kak Ya Provyol Etim Letom (2010) (How I Ended This Summer)
Aleksei Popogrebsky


How I Ended This SummerAleksei Popogrebski’s How I Ended This Summer (2010) chronicles an unspecified number of days in the life of Sergei (Sergei Puskepalis), the sole operator of a meteorological survey unit on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean, and the younger, hipper Pavel (Grigoriy Dobrigin), an intern at the station. Popogrebski embellishes his widescreen canvas with breathtaking images of Chukotka, Russia, which appears as though it is the very edge of the earth. For Sergei, however, it is the very edge of his life, for confronting this seemingly limitless stretch of unpopulated, hostile and godforsaken terrain is like confronting the human condition itself. Faced with this predicament, Sergei holds-on to illusions that comfort him the most: work (however mechanized and pointless it may be) and family (both his real family that lives on the mainland and his newfound ‘son’ Pavel). Communication, or rather the inability to establish it, forms the prime motif of Popogrebski’s film. Be it between the island and the mainland or between two individuals in the same room (and, since we are in that realm, between man and God), meaningful communication seems to be a luxury. (The film abounds with radioactive emissions, short waves and SMS smileys while there are  only a few shots shots where we see two people together in the frame). Taking the idea of the lack of communication to a more tangible domain, How I Ended This Summer could be seen as a quasi Cold War allegory – a reading that’s quite plausible given that residual nuclear deposit on the island is what drives the plot – where an utter lack of understanding and introspection on the part of both the superpowers not only proved internecine, but has also left an indelible mark on generations to come. Popogrebski, of course, can’t propose a retroactive solution. He can, and does, only look forward to a renewed future, even if it means starting with a simple hug.

(Image Courtesy: BFI )

Les Enfants Jouent À La Russie
(The Kids Play Russian)

The Kids Play Russian employs the same (lack of) structure as Germany Year 90 Nine Zero and forms the last part of what I would call Godard’s Elegy Trilogy (wow! that rhymes!). This time it’s Russia, the head of the family, the massive Redwood tree that has fallen. Godard suffers a one-two slap with the fall of the USSR and his angst shows. The impressionist images are replaced by the mesmerizing surrealism of Dovzhenko and literature replaces the music of Germany 90. However, he does go a step further and probes what should be the future course of the country, still crying out “We will not change”.

The Kids Play Russian (1993)

The Kids Play Russian (1993)

Godard calls Russia the birthplace of fiction and emphasizes that a history of Russia would most definitely reflect the history of fiction itself. And hence, fall of the USSR (rather communism) means the fall of fiction. He traces back the history of image projection as the first Franco-Russian alliance and calls his relation to Russia as the last one surviving. In that sense, Godard himself is the Lemmy Caution of activist cinema – once a visionary, now undone. He employs the fictional figures of Anna Karenina and Prince Andrei to represent Russia and its plight hereafter. He imagines what they would be doing if they were alive during the collapse of their motherland. But again like all three films of the series, the film is one that is built on hope and promises.

The final image of the film captures a borderline-wild Godard continuing to work in his recording room, lit partially by the harsh light. More than “The show must go on” attitude, what shows here is “And miles to go before I sleep” mentality that has kept Godard afloat amidst his larger-than-life troubles in both his personal and professional life. A sexagenarian with fractured relationships, doomed ideologies and whose only redemption is in Cinema, pushing forward with more vigour than ever – only a few images can be more moving than this. The Idiot will go on. So will Cinema.

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