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Thursday, 26 November 2009

The Imperial Trace

This last week I have spent reading Nancy Condee's recent book on recent Russian cinema. A real tour de force in that Russian cinema is seen in the context of larger theoretical concerns but it is done in such a cogent and convincing way that the references to Said, Jameson as well as a host of historians and theorists of nationalism and empire have their 'diegetic' logic. While the first chapter sets the theoretical scene and an account of recent history of the Russian film industry is given in the next chapter, the six chapters on the contemporary giants of Russian film - Mikhalkov, Muratova, Abdrashitov- Mindadze, Sokurov, German and Balabanov - are masterfully done, bringing out both a well-argued view of each director as well as a host of examples and evidence from their films. At times her writing excels and Condee discovers some succint gems to put her points across. Her thesis in the book is how the imperial identification accounts for a great deal in contemporary Russian cinema but this is not argued dogmatically. It illuminates many things that one feels when watching films by these directors. For me her best chapters were on Muratova and German. Her readings of the filmmakers are open-ended and she is one of the few scholars who really is open to the excellent Russian scholarship that is available.

There are perhaps too many points to make about the book - each chapter deserves a summary. I have a feeling that my preferences for Muratova and German in this group of six are more than justified. My scepticism over Sokurov has been confirmed (although tonight watching his 'Mournful Unconcern' if I have a critique it is not a critique of technique and atmosphere), as for Abdrashitov-Mindadze while wishing that they were more available outside Russia I recognize that they lack the universality of the others. Balabanov is, fascinating but Condee's concluding comments in the postscript are a powerful warning as to his right directed neomodernism and Mikhalkov's retro style is all too obviously hiding a deeply false ideology and commits the sin of 'glossy Stalinism'.

Anyway this blog is not able to do justice to the detailed argumentation present in the book but it is, I think, quite a revelation that is still all too rare in writing about Russian and Soviet cinema.

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