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Saturday, 1 December 2012

Elektrichky in Russian and Soviet film.

In a number of recent films scenes in Russian and Ukrainian электрички (or local electric trains) have been fairly fundamental to the development of the plot. The function of these scenes in these films differ but they are often settings either of considerable violence as in Vasili Sigarev's film Жить (Living) where a murder takes place of the groom after a wedding:-
The elektrichka also sets the scene for another very Muratova's sad fairy tale of two children who run away from an orphanage in search of the father of one of these children. The journey in the train is interrupted by a seller of Christmas postcards, one of which portrays the massacre of the innocents (the theme of Muratova's Мелодия для Шарманки - Melody for a barrel organ, 2009). The two children have to leave to avoid the ticket collector (for they haven't paid for the ticket) -having left they are then robbed by other children in a derelict factory and make their way on foot to the main railway station where human indifference is detailed in grotesque detail.

Many believed the most shocking scenes of Pavel Bardin's Россия 88 (Russia 88, 2009) where the documentary scenes in the elektrichka where passengers were interviewed about their beliefs regarding the idea of Russia for the Russians - nearly all passengers seemed to agree with what were neo-fascist arguments. The played scenes were shocking but exaggerated but the scenes in the elektrichka due to their documentary nature seemed to confirm the worst suspicions of the liberal intelligentsia.



Another film in which scenes in the elektrichka were of fundamental significance was in Zviagintsev's Елена (Elena, 2011) where the main protaganist travels between two worlds - that of her affluent husband and that of her lumpen-proletarian family who appear, in the film, as parasitical on her goodwill. The journey between central Moscovian luxury and peripheral dereliction is repeated a number of times in the world precisely through this journey:


Other directors to have recently used the journey in the elektrichka to set the scene of a story has been Aleksei Fedorchenko who in his short film Chronoeye in the film almanac The Fourth Dimension has the bedraggled award winning scientist cum tramp almost persecuted by fellow passengers, ticket collector and finally a policeman in the forlorn small station for either looking in the wrong direction or simply not producing the correct train ticket (although he has bought the ticket- he simply refuses to care about linear time). Loznitsa wonderfully cinematographic documentary Полустанок (set in a small station at which only the local elektrichkas are likely to stop at is film that portrays the world of the waiting room at night.

One of the few documentaries to be made on the elektrichka was made by a Polish director Maciej Cuske in 2005. It portrays the microcosm of the local train in some detail- the seller, the sleepers, the beggars and the musicians, the beer drinkers- but steers clear of the drunks and the fights in the corridors between wagons known as тамборы in Russian, all too-common in the elektrichkas I travel in.


It's rather strange now to look back at Soviet era trains like the 1963 Утренние поезда (Early morning trains) which sang an elegy of the elektrichka would surely be out of place in contemporary Russia. A character in a film talking of their joy of travelling by elektrichka is unthinkable nowadays. The optimism and sociability of this film plays no part in early twenty-first century Russia.

 Nor would the hopelessly out of date and unrealistic lyrics by Andrei Petrov in the film Здесь наш дом (Here is our home) from 1973. The idea that nine friendly hands holding out a match as soon as you take out a cigarette from your packet would happen on elektrichkas today is rather laughable.

Rather people are rather more like the character played by Anna Sten whose angry reaction to the boots of the worker from the provinces in Barnet's Девушка с коробкой (Girl with a hatbox, 1927)
is fully in keeping with the irritation and indifference that most passengers have for each other.

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Interestingly at least two of the clips of the ongoing documentary film about Putin's third term as Russian President  Срок (The Term) have taking place in an elektrichka - the protagonists being Sergey Shoigoi and Ksenia Sochak. (Shoigu and Sobchak).

Literature, song and poetry have also been full of references to the elektrichka. The most obvious being Venedikt Yerofeev's alcoholic classic Москва-Петушки but also Victor Tsoy's song on the subject:

as well as the Russian chanson singer Mikhail Krug's song

The romanticism of the train and losing the last elektrichka was present in Vladimir Makarov's Последняя электричка:

 However, Andrei Voznesensky's poem of the same name was a much more serious and heavyweight work. Surely, the image of the elektrichka will continue to evolve in Russian film, poetry and literature in coming films, poems, songs and years.

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