Insiders and Outsiders in Russian Cinema

Insiders and Outsiders in Russian Cinema

Insiders and Outsiders in Russian Cinema

Insiders and Outsiders in Russian Cinema

Synopsis

Identifying who was "inside" and who was "outside" the Soviet/Russian body politic has been a matter of intense and violent urgency, especially in the high Stalinist and post-Soviet periods. It is a theme encountered prominently in film. Employing a range of interpretive methods practiced in Russian/Soviet film studies, Insiders and Outsiders in Russian Cinema highlights the varied ways that Russian and Soviet cinema constructed otherness and foreignness. While the essays explore the "us versus them" binary well known to students of Russian culture and the ways in which Russian films depicted these distinctions, the book demonstrates just how impossible maintaining this binary proved to be.

Contributors are Anthony Anemone, Julian Graffy, Peter Kenez, Joan Neuberger, Stephen M. Norris, Oleg Sulkin, Yuri Tsivian, Emma Widdis, and Josephine Woll.

Excerpt

Introduction
Insiders and Outsiders in Russian Cinema

Stephen M. Norris

At the 26th Moscow International Film Festival in 2004, Dmitrii Meskhiev’s World War II dramA Our Own (Svoi) captured the grand prize. The film explores one of the central issues of wartime—the way in which populations are divided into “ours” and “theirs.” Meskhiev does not settle for simple definitions of these terms. He sets his film in a town occupied by the Nazis, a place where the local population must choose between resistance and collaboration, passivity or action, life and death. These choices force the characters in the film to confront the issue of who exactly is “our own.” In the case of the village headman (played by Bogdan Stupka) this choice divides his family.

Svoi opens with a Nazi attack on an unnamed Red Army post. Two of the main characters, one a Russian NKVD officer (Sergei Garmash), the other a Jewish commissar (Konstantin Khabenskii), escape the attack by changing out of their uniforms and into peasant clothes. They are captured by the Germans and forced to march in a prisoner column. Because of their change of clothes they are spared the fate of fellow NKVD members and Jews in the USSR, the specific targets of the Nazi war of extermination launched in the east. Clothing in this instance becomes a means by which Soviet citizens can lay claim to different identities, switching not just garments but meanings of “us” and “them.” In the case of the two protagonists, these boundaries are crossed in two senses. For those living under occupation, they have become more like Russian villagers and less like Soviet oppressors; while in the eyes of the occupiers they have become less “Jewish” and more “Slavic.”

The two fall in with a fellow survivor of the attack, a sniper named Mit’ka (Mikhail Evlanov). As they march in a prisoner column, the young soldier lets them know that his village is nearby. When the column turns a bend in the road, the three escape. Once they reach the village, they meet . . .

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