Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Plastic films about plastic patriotism raise nothing but plastic feelings

It seems the Russian authorities are seriously set to revive the genre of Russian military patriotic films. Impressive amounts of money and best directors are always available, but for some reason, when these motion pictures finally hit cinemas, people do not experience patriotic euphoria. Why is this happening? Maybe it's just not the right time?

Russian mass cinema has been trying to do a lot to express patriotic motives during the recent years. The making of such films, as a rule, is generously sponsored from the state budget. After the stagnation of the 1990s, when the country was drifting in the ocean of anarchy, the very concepts of statehood and patriotism were compromised. Nowadays, the federal government is trying to collect and put together the things that were lost.

The stories portrayed in a modern war movie are not peculiar for their diversity. They give you an impression that all scripts are penned by one and the same person. It would seem that the goal is to shoot an inspirational film, contributing to the consolidation of the people around core values. However, for some reason, many film stories are based not so much around the confrontation of  soldiers and invaders, but rather around the conflict between a soldier and the repressive machine of the Soviet state. Near the main character, there is always a vicious officer, whose lifetime goal is to destroy this soldier. It just so happens that all the fighting, trenches, bombing, flying debris and injuries - all of that is  just a frame for the main conflict of man against the state.

Producers, apparently, want to once again emphasize the heroism of Russian soldiers: they always fight, even under such heavy political pressure. Apparently, there are very strong liberal sentiments among the creative intelligentsia. From one film to another, Stalin is portrayed only as a vicious tyrant, military chiefs are shown as idiots, and all the Soviet state - as a huge concentration camp. 

A lot war films have been made in Russia during the recent several years. Some are better, some are worse, but only two of them can be called special. First of all, they can be referred to as such because of their budget. It goes about "Burnt by the Sun 2" by Nikita Mikhalkov and "Stalingrad" by Fyodor Bondarchuk.

Mikhalkov's epic creation has become the most expensive film in the history of Russian cinematography. However, the picture was a total box office flop. Only 20 percent of the film's budget was collected. Why didn't people want to go to see this movie? Here are a few comments from the Internet: " ... a lot of blood and dead bodies, but I didn't feel sorry for anyone." The quote from one of our critics is, perhaps, very true. People die, and we do not feel sorry for them. The biggest flaw in this film is the lack of humanity, soul and the total disregard for the Soviet Union and our "leader."

Here is another comment: "For some reason, we get to see a lot of drunken generals, cowards, traitors, etc. I'm not saying that there were no such people back then, but this is a "Great film about the Great war" not a "great movie about great rubbish."

The majority of viewers were outraged about the director's move to show Russian soldiers as eternally drunken ragamuffins and criminals. Is there a place for patriotism against such a background?

The last war blockbuster, Bondarchuk's "Stalingrad," revealed another characteristic feature of modern Russian cinema: excessive melodrama. 

Many contemporary filmmakers and screenwriters are apparently led to believe that history per se is quite boring. Therefore, it should be "diluted" with a story of romance. Obviously, people have always done that in movies, but they would create a drama, rather than a soap opera. It would be a drama filled with deep sense that would move viewers, touch the very depth of human soul.

The Japanese have a saying - "satori." It means inner personal experience of understanding the true human nature through one single thought. In principle, this is a perfect wording to express the essence of art as such. After all, a work of art is like a focus of a solar beam, when multifaceted, comprehensive sense finds expression through a simple form, waking deep layers of spiritual associations in human soul.

Modern culture lacks satori. Outwardly, all seems believable, artists use a huge arsenal of technical means of expression, but technology can not replace target.

Artists go further in their attempt to create a work of art; there are rivers of blood and gaping wounds on the screen, special effects are blinding, but what they make is incredibly dull and uninteresting - bright, but meaningless.

Film director Karen Shakhnazarov told Pravda.Ru:

"We must understand that people may like or dislike films - they can never like all films. During the Soviet era, there were different films made as well. Now we remember 100-150 films of that period, but there were thousands of them made. There were many bad war films - stamped, formulaic and not very interesting ones. Only the most prominent ones remain in our memory. Failures outnumber success. Maybe in another 30 years people will remember this period, remember 10-15 films and they will assume that this was the best period in the history of cinema."

It is hard to disagree with Shakhnazarov.  Of course, in the era of Blok and Mayakovsky, there certainly were plenty of mediocre poets, who were entirely forgotten a long-long time ago. Undoubtedly, Russian filmmakers create wonderful films nowadays. Russian art cinema, for example, is one of the best in the world. It is so-called "blockbusters" that Russia does not get along with yet.

Maybe the problem is that in this area, Russian filmmakers can not find an authentic style. They try to copy Hollywood movies, but can not make the best of it, making specific Russian mentality wear someone's else clothes. The result is a non-viable hybrid. Maybe that's the case?

People's Artist of Russia, the winner of the Prize of the State Award of the USSR, Boris Shcherbakov, believes that the reason is nothing but time.

"Every time has its own films, and it is our crazy time that dictates the principles of cinematography. Hopefully, everything will return to normal, and we will get back to good cinema. Still, these pictures saturated with technical innovations also evoke feelings, albeit less profound. People admire technical effects a lot more today than the psychological essence of films, but that's the fault of the transience of our time."

Yes, time has changed, and its main feature today is indirect perception. Too much information and the availability of information has generated tremendous defensive response of human psyche: everything is now perceived "not seriously," indirectly. Information is perceived the way it is given out. In the end we get a plastic, "anesthetized" culture.

Nadezhda Alexeeva


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