The Anatomy of the Soviet Past in Contemporary Russian Cinema
One can look back at the footprints left in the sand
and see them as a road.
Zygmunt Bauman, From Pilgrim to Tourist
From a growing temporal distance, the Soviet historical “episode” seems to entail an emphatic beginning and a somewhat less spectacular but equally distinguishable end. The present article sets out to review the films of the last twenty years dealing with the Soviet period. Despite the declared break with the past, characteristic of transitional societies, a closer look at the social and cultural fabric of “post-Communism” reveals that the simplistic opposition of “before” versus “after” is subverted by recurrent long-term intellectual frameworks, narrative devices, and visual imagery, employed to make sense of the world “here and now” as well as ”there and then.”
The liberated post-Soviet film market seemed to promise the emergence of a “new Bombay” for the film producers.1 The first units of film production and distribution organizations independent of the state appeared as early as the autumn of 1988, at the same time as non-state investment in cinema was allowed.2 The consequences turned out to be contradictory: initially mounting, production figures plummeted within a few years; Russian films disappeared from the shrinking distribution network, and a new chapter in the debate on the “crisis of cinema” unfolded. The market-oriented rationality that had just arrived faced a long tradition of approaching cinema as art, shared by filmmakers and functionaries alike. The opposition of “money” to “culture” sometimes took the form of op-
1 Sergei Lavrientiev, “Tuman posle peizazha” [Fog after the landscape], Iskusstvo Kino 10
2 Daniil Dondurei, “Kinodelo: na puti k rynky” [Film business: On the way to the market]
in Rossiiskoe kino: paradoksy obnovlenia [Russian cinema: Paradoxes of renewal]
(Moscow: Materik, 1995), 126-40.