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Thursday, 22 April 2010

Burnt by the Sun 2 or Cranberry Soup. An early reaction.

This morning I finally had the chance to watch the sequel to Mikhalkov's 'Burnt by the Sun'. Apparently the relative dearth of reviews of this film in the printed press up until now has something to do with the fact that, according to theatre and film critic Ksenia Larina, a number of illustrious critics out of Nikita Sergeyevich's favour (Victor Matizen, Lidia Maslova, Iurii Bogomolov, Larisa Maliukova, Leonid Pavliuchik)were not invited to the pompous premiere at the Kremlin on the 17th April. Well, there is a lot to be said about the film (but little of it for the film) but after my first viewing there was little doubt that this film is represented perfectly well by the poster above. If Russians love to discover the 'cranberries' (absurd myths and obvious inaccuracies) in foreign films about Russia, here they have the head cranberry sower right in their midst.

This was no 'Great Film about the Great War' (as the pre-film publicity and official poster argued) but a film so full of cringe-inducing moments that Larina was spot on to call it a' great deception'. The budget of $65 million (the highest ever spent on a Russian film) must be seen in the context of a country which sells off its Cinema Museums to strip club and casino owners and denies some excellent art house film producers any hope of state funding.

The three-hour sequel was a morass of episodes without structure. There were salvagable scenes (the battle scene with the young elite corps and the penal battalio was not wholly without merit and the acting of Evgeny Mironov was generally fine)but those moments where one actually wished to follow the events were probably outweighed by moments of outrage. Outrage at the misuse of German and Klimov quotes, outrage at the scenes where one was being overtly indoctrinated with religious twaddle, outrage at historical and narrative inaccuracies which were not subtle but continuous to the point of nausea, outrage at the attempt to copy Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' when it was Spielberg himself who was imitating Klimov's 'Come and See'- the best film about World War Two (and the best film about this subject that will probably ever be made). Outrage that Mikhalkov's film drags Klimov's scene of a burning hut into a sickening (and Trofimenkov is right to use the term) an almost 'pornographic' parody. Well the criticisms that one may make about the film are pretty endless (the very resurrection of the characters in the first place is, of course, a further complaint that one may have about tampering with narrative continuity).

The film fails on many levels: it fails as myth, it fails as historical reconstruction, it fails as sequel, it fails as war film and as some commentators have pointed out it almost only succeeds as a loose string of comic-like episodes but the element of 'lubochnost' is only really there as a sum of the negative connotations of the word in Russian: after all, Mikhalkov is no Medvedkin.

Who indeed has Mikhalkov become? The Mikhalkov of 'An Unfinished Piece ...', of 'Five Evenings'? Mikhalkov has, it seems, progressively become an unhappy melange: Americanitis (or Hollywooditis) without the Kuleshov touch. It justifiably will all end in tears and in this film there is nothing more irritating than the fake tears that Mikhalkov and his daughter endlessly dish up for us. It reaches the point where it is not even bad sentimentalism but a clueless regurgitation of cliches from other works including his own (the gypsy scene is truly awful- what gypsy would start dancing after witnessing her whole family being gunned down?).

It is not just that there is no belief amongst the acting troupe (as Andrey Arkhangelsky notes) but that this film really has been encapsulated perfectly by the critic Mikhail Trofimenkov - this is pornography in the widest sense of the word and of the worst kind. A national patriotic pornography that even Khotinenko couldn't quite manage in his 'Pop' and which is a final insult to the brave veterans of the Soviet army (for reducing the courage of a whole generation to this pulp fiction). In fact the comments of veterans invited to the launch were often damning- one complained that Mikhalkov had spat in their faces with this dire film.

Reviews in Russian:

P.S. (23/4/10) Apart from one's first reaction of sheer horror of what Mikhalkov has done with $65 million and how a war film has been reduced to a film-comic there are probably a whole new series of considerations. It would be interesting to find out what two hours of this film were preserved for the Cannes festival and how Cannes actually accepted it for the main competition. Interesting to see the reaction of some of Mikhalkov's allies like Nikolai Burlyayev (a national patriot like Mikhalkov but the film can hardly be to his taste). But then there have been people speaking up for the film - Tatiana Moskvina has been one of them. She emphasised that Mikhalkov was a 'synthetic' artist and on the day of the showing Shakhnazarov also talked of it being a 'great film' but then he is the one who suggested to Mikhalkov at last years farcical Cinematographers' Congress at Gostinny Dvor to return to the Presidency of the Cinematographers' Union. Another article has appeared in today's Moscow Times suggesting that the reception at the Kremlin showing was pretty muted:
It highlights the Trofimenkov review which really manages to be both funny and a brilliant and well-directed rant.

P.P.S Lidia Maslova's (one of the critics banned from the Kremlin showing) is finally out in today's 'Kommersant'. She suggests that the film is a version of the after-life of the characters in hell. Here's the review in Russian:

Mikhalkov in an interview in Izvestia last week stated that the style of the film was hyper-realist. As this denomination usually pertains to the films of Alexei German Snr., this appears to be one of the biggest mistatements of all.

Here is the article in the Independent which rehashes much of the original Moscow Times article:


  1. Quote from Yuriy Norshteyn about this (my translation):

    n: And what do you think about our new live-action films?

    Norshteyn: I almost do not watch them.

    n: "How I Ended This Summer", "Melody for a Street Organ"...

    Norshteyn: A while ago, I spoke rather critically of our cinema, and people started asking me: "Have you seen this film?" and named films like this. Of course, I have seen Khrzhanovskiy's "A Room and a Half". But I can only make guesses as to what was done in "Burnt by the Sun 2"

    n: Everyone has already written about it.

    Norshteyn: Which is why Nikita Mikhalkov is acting the way he is. He is in hysterics about losing. He set out on some new paths, got some power, but in reality burned out from the inside, became charred and emptied, and so he wishes to transfer attention to external effects, to impress and shock... This always ends badly. Though Mikhalkov is a wonderful actor and a talented person, he did not comprehend something; something vital.

  2. Thanks - regarding Mikhalkov's I came across an interesting small article in Kommersant. Apparently the Public Prosecutor's office in Vladivostok is making enquiries into whether school schildren were made to watch Mikhalkov's film against their will after the Mayor's office gave out a command to school heads for the film to be compulsory viewing by schoolchildren. This has been denied by the Mayor's office (as one would expect). Here's the article link: