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Unfiled September 8, 2006
New Age Balm for the Corporate Russian Soul
By Abram Magomedov Browse author

"The reasons for making this film are complex... It confronts and seeks to answer serious questions confronting humanity that I have began to seriously ponder myself in recent years...These are the most fundamental metaphysical questions... Questions on the meaning of life, why we were born, how we choose to live our lives, and whether our conscience can live with the decisions that we make in our lives. The film is something personal..." was how Pavel Lungin began his address at a prerelease screening of a new Russian film he directed called Ostrov.

If you had trouble making through that paragraph, don't bother watching his film. I endured 110 minutes of hardcore Russian spiritual masturbation so that you never have to.

The movie, into whose plot I won't delve too deeply, is about a Russian dude's spiritual journey from sin to forgiveness, which he achieves through his unrelenting repentance before the Lord...

Sound like crap? It is. But with Russians flocking in ever increasing numbers to the boring life of middle-classdom, they're becoming increasingly aware that the famed dusha Russians are so proud of is slowly wafting out of their warm and well-fed bodies.

Russians are struggling to be reassured that they've somehow retained their soulfull uniqueness butthe problem is that they're too late.

The Russian dusha is dead in Moscow and it's only a matter of time before the middle-class amoeba spreads across the land.

But what do Russians have without dusha? Not much. Without that defining character, Russians are reduced to the essentials... a backwards people desperately trying to catch up with the West. It's not exactly the stuff nation-building is made of.

Luckily, the Putin administration has got it under control. They're resurrecting Soviet-era propaganda and packaging it into an artsy film format that's easy to swallow for pseudo-intellectuals and peasants alike. It's called the tele-dusha. It's nothing too complicated. Just some movie/video entertainment that injects a connection between a the Church and citizen.

And that's were Ostrov comes in. It's the first of its kind, a test run organized by the government-run Rossiya TV Network.

But what kind of film will imbue a Russian with a sense of dusha?

Good question. Russian cinema hasn't created anything original since last great gangster movie Boomer in the late 1990's. Not coincidentally, that's right about the time when things starting looking up for the Russian economy and the Russian dusha began to die in Moscow.

What was killing it? Without suffering there is no dusha, and without the dusha, there is no Russia. That's why this movie, pretenses aside, is nothing more than cheap imitation and new-age mumbo-jumbo.

In his opening speech Lungin talked as if he was turning a new page in Russian cinema, something that has never been done before. But in reality, his film's aesthetic is a straight-up rip off of Tarkovsky. Ostrov's painfully composed shots, long drifting camera takes, tedious on-screen studies of natural scenes and minimalist dialogue were well produced and even had a European art house feel to it... But the crispy packaging was tacked on to complete garbage.

The story boiled down to a series of simple life lessons coming from a Russian Orthodox version of the Buddha, who became holy in the process of a life-long repentance for a murder he was forced to commit by Nazis. The old man teaches compassion and non-attachment to material possessions. He defines his every moment in life in relation to the Russian Orthodox Church. In between, he injects reactionary views on abortion and disdain for a purely material world, in a way that wouldn't seem out of place in a Soviet flick.

And Lungin might get away with it, too. The problem is that Russians still don't have a word for cheese. They don't get that a soul-searching accidental murderer forced into committing killing by Nazis is a bit over the top. Even the members of the elite at the screening were totally taken in by the bullshit.

A Rossiya executive was very clear about what they were aiming for. "We are presenting a new genre for Russian film, a preaching genre. We live in troubled times and people are ready to see films that are more wholesome than what's offered today by the film world. Make no mistake, this film has the potential to make a big profit. People will watch it."

So, on the one hand this wholesome movie's rejecting material possessions, while on the other it'll make a big profit? That, folks, is exactly why these people lost their dusha. Ostrov goes through the motions of soul-searching when, in fact, it's just out to make a buck.

Unfortunately, it fits so comfortably with the middle class' objectives that it probably will.

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