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Monday, 31 January 2011

Otar Ioseliani, Inkizhnikov and the schism of emigration

The place of the emmigrant in Russian/ Soviet cinema (and Russian culture as a whole) is one of these painful subjects that seems rarely to go away. The schism between those who left and those who stayed is one that seems to repeat itself each generation. Perhaps one illustration of this is Ioseliani's recent critique of the state of Russian cinema published in Noviye Izsvetiye The showing of his latest film Chantrapas was the occasion for him to suggest that there is little point in working in Russian cinema nowadays. His critique of Russia's filmakers included both Konchalovsky and Sokurov (who he deemed commercialistic) as well as criticising the late Sergei Bondarchuk. He remarked that intellectuals had given up going to the cinema.Fortunately Ioseliani (in photo above) is one of those directors who has managed to reinvent himself and become an even more universal author after emigration (something that,arguably, Konchalovsky hasn't suceeded in).
Ioseliani's melancholic description of contemporary Russian cinema doesn't seem too far from the truth at times. The greats of late Soviet cinema like Norstein and German and others like Abdrashitov have been almost reduced to silence and it is a rare thing indeed to find a film that convinces one that Russian cinema is renewing itself.

Another visit to the excellent series of lectures at the Meyerhold Museum convinced me that this theme of emigration is no minor one for an understanding of Russian cinema. The lecture was not devoted to this but the presence of members of Valeri Inkizhnikov's family let in a new light on what emigration signified for Soviet cinema. The history of Soviet cinema can hardly be understood without a history of those who either emigrated or were exiled in the camps. The slow rediscovery of Fedor Otsep (and I really recommend an excellent post on the site NitrateVille about this director) is one of many stories to be told. Inkizhnikov is another- Inkizhinov was to star in one of Otsep's film 'Amok' and any accounts of their collaboration would, I'm sure, be a fascinating tale to hear. Mikhail Romm was to suggest that the emigration of Inkizhnikov was to mark his death as an actor- alas, this too suggests the inadequacy of vision that the subject of emigration caused even for attentive commentators like Romm.

Recognition of all the many talents that were lost to emigration (Anna Sten is another name that immediately springs to mind as well as that of Mozzhukin) and those exiled in labour camps (like Koval'-Samborsky and Zhzhenov) has been given some consideration in recent years in a number of studies. However, these studies are yet to have any full-English language accounts in their number.

The subject of emigration and immigration is one treated relatively little in Soviet cinema. Panfilov's 'Tema' comes to mind as being a rare exception. The 90s saw a return of the theme. However, contemporary Russia also has the new theme of immigration to deal with - a film like Gastarbeiter showing us that the social film in contemporary Russia is not altogether absent.

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