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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A RUSSIAN FILM FESTIVAL AT HOME

vladimir mayakovsky museum

I catch myself griping in my mind about how things oughta be and what's wrong. It's like by now I know so much of what is wrong with the world we live in, I've come to a place the new wrongs are old wrongs, just reworded by a new generation. I ask self, When are you going to get it? There is no end to the wrongs. It's a subject I already have the equivalent of a PhD in, working on my post-doc. The news every hour on the hour, on the half hour, continues the daily serial of pseudo-events created for the news from an endless variety of agendas selling points of view. And I pay attention like there is something real about it. I feel like I have an idea of what is going on in the world, yet it's based in misinformation such that reality is fiction. Not only is there absence of a dividing line between the two, they have become one. All the more interesting. A few years ago, a friend said to me, "I don't know the difference between fiction and non-fiction." He wasn't talking about the news. He meant he didn't know which one never happened and which one did. I chose not to take the opening to explain, because it doesn't matter, and I don't believe fiction is false and don't believe non-fiction is true. I'm not the one to ask about distinctions having to do with the seeming of a line not there. It's good for categorizing in book stores and libraries. I had a professor of an Eastern European history course, who assigned a novel from the region studied. He was Hungarian, had been in Soviet prison six years. He and family fled Budapest, came to USA, and languished in a place with no intellectual culture, until he learned to live without it. He was a great professor in the classroom. He showed me that good fiction can illustrate history books by giving life to the time and place.  

mayakovsky museum

I'm in the beginnings of a Russian film festival by way of netflix that, thankfully, has a large variety of Russian films. Already, I've seen several of Tarkovsky's films, will see three of them again next week. His films are unforgettable. They live in my mind. Andrei Rublev is the most haunting film of my life. Four hours that seem like two. The Mirror, the most enigmatic. The Sacrifice, among the very most beautiful. Yes, Tarkovsky's next. Ran these titles to the top of the Q. Now I'm itching to see them. Three of my life's favorite films. I wanted to see Kozintsev's King Lear again, but it's no longer available. It's a powerful film, rag and bones Lear. Russian Lear. My favorite of the ones I've seen in the last couple weeks is Silent Souls, by Alexei Fedorchenko, the first one I saw in this festival. A powerful, quiet story of two men saying goodbye to the tail end of their fading traditional culture along the Volga River. The original Russian title translates, the Buntings. It would be hard to follow. Next, How I Ended the Summer, by Alexei Popogrebski, was equally fine a film, and strangely, by coincidence, both involved two men. First one, two men prepare the dead wife of one of them to be burned with a pyre of stacked wood on a riverbank on the Volga. Second one, two men at a weather station on an Arctic island as close to the pole as Trondheim, Norway. It's cold. A simple story turned complex real fast around one ignorant decision. I liked both of them so much, both beautifully made films, I felt like they were the door opening the way into my weeks and months of films from a new mind, a new world. I've read much Tolstoy and several biographies of him, my top favorite writer on earth, ever. He represents Russia now like William Faulkner represents America now. Not at all in one way, and a whole lot in another way.  

mayakovsky museum

I've watched foreign films since age 23, first opportunity. Other cultures have been of interest from my beginnings. Since childhood I've liked to know people of cultures different from mine. I've read writers from all around the globe, enjoy them as peep-holes into how people live in certain parts of the world. I keep the Atlas nearby. A clue to the location the story is taking place, I pause the film, and look in the Atlas. I like to see landscape in the film and locate it on the map. I learned in Rome that Fellini films, though they happened in Rome, prepared me for Rome not at all. I got it early that films don't represent their culture but symbolically. In a city, like Moscow, I look at the faces of people passing by, pay attention to their clothes, how they walk, look at the architecture, interiors, the roads, the vehicles, landscapes. It's my way of low budget world travel. In film, I see a representation of how people live in certain places and times, and see the places. I didn't realize until I saw a Norwegian film that St Petersburg is on a latitude with the Scandinavian cities. And Moscow is not far south of St Petersburg. It's cold up there. I've read of Moscow winters, but never connected with how far north Moscow is. I'd rather learn about Russia without the politics of television. I've already learned that Russia has ancient ethnic regions everywhere. It is not one big culture. I'm seeing that Russia is a gathering of a large number of cultures. The old ways are fading in Russia like they are fading everywhere on earth. And then there is Siberia, east of the Ural Mountains, the part that makes Russia the biggest country on earth, Asia. I want to find films in the Asian part of Russia as well as the European.  

mayakovsky museum

Today's film was the dark side, Cargo 200. At the end, script comes up that says the story actually happened in 1984. A good film. I liked the way scenes skipped around following different characters, some directly engaged, some only peripherally involved, who don't see what's going on with the ones doing the deeds. Big surprise when this creepy guy blasted somebody with a shotgun, advancing the story to a new level. A true crime story that was bad. It brought to mind the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, though not nearly so hard to watch, and not nearly so bad. I take it for a Russian version of teenage horror movies the guys like to take chicks to see. It had a criminal mind different from any I've ever heard of. The crazy man was seriously crazy and good at getting away with his deeds. I appreciated that it did not have Hollywood cheeziness about it. It was simply a story well told. And yesterday's film was Taxi Blues, which I'd seen soon after it was new in 1991. Good to see it again. I remembered almost nothing from it except a jazz saxophone player. It, too, another beautifully made film, and from a culture totally new to me. I am seeing that Russian culture, intellectual Russia, the culture of the writers and filmmakers is so uniquely itself in relation to European cultures, as I see them in film. It's like east of Finland and Poland is another world. I had no idea it was there. I feel like I'm getting some insight into the divide in Ukraine, Europe on one side, Russia on the other. Two different worlds. I thought I was aware of Russia to some degree. I see human beings living their lives, doing the best they know how in their circumstances. Some are comfortable circumstances and some are not. I'm refreshed from the start of the film festival to see that Russian movies do not always have to have a happy ending. 

frida kahlo and vladimir mayakovsky



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