Review: Russian films/Russian literature
“Do you still feel connected to life on Earth?”
“Your question is banal!”
Coming straight from watching Tarkovsky’s sci-fi masterpiece*/interminable drivel** Solaris at the fascist NFT (no popcorn, no ads, no trailers, people who sit through the entire credits), I can confirm once and for all that Russians are pleasantly mental. Does Vladimir want a cup of tea? No he does not, for his very soul is on fire. Could Svetlana quickly pop to the shops for a bag of flour? Don’t be ridiculous: she’s upstairs finishing an epic poem on the subject of religious war.
Any country that has cornered the market on novels, suffering and vodka shots is all right by me. Imagine another version of history, in which Hollywood had somehow sprung up in Moscow instead of LA. Your local Odeon would offer a Sunday night choice between a road movie (an alcoholic philosopher travels across an endless autumnal wasteland in search a series of doppelgangers of his late mother: 175 minutes), and a sci-fi blockbuster (a coruscating analysis of the destructive power of greed set in a dystopian future populated by silent women in heavy eye make-up: 234 minutes).
Tolstoy, widely considered highbrow, was in fact writing the 19th century Russian equivalent of the WHSmith bonkbuster. Had they had the technology, his name would have been embossed in gold on the covers of his books. If, in the process, he touches on the nature of love and the meaning of existence, it just goes to show the level of effortless profundity that your average famous Russian novelist can reach. Dan Brown has much to learn. Russian poet Anna Akhmatova famously (bear with me) wrote Requiem after a conversation at the gates of Leningrad prison, where her son was incarcerated. A woman recognised her and asked her, “Can you describe this?” Leaving aside the historical context, OK, because I’m not qualified to comment, can you imagine anywhere else where someone would (a) recognise a poet in the street, and (b) care? No you cannot. That’s why Russians are ace.
*Ingmar Bergman, director
**Geoff Andrew, criticRussian films/literature: All happy countries are alike; each unhappy country is unhappy in its own way. 9 out of 10.
Putting irony and facetiousness to one side for a moment, which is very hard for me: God, aren’t other people great? What would I do without them? I’d be bored witless. I’m always surprised by how few people break down on Desert Island Discs during Sue Lawley’s interrogation and confess that actually, left on a desert island with only an aria from The Marriage of Figaro and the complete works of Shakespeare for company, they'd commit suicide using the complimentary Bible. Like in the film Saw,* only with a Bible instead of a saw.
Even when other people are perplexing, which is often, or when they ask me to do things I don’t know how to do – “could you PDF the screenshot over to the motherboard?” they ask me, and I look at them blankly, adoringly – they still provide endless material for analysis, angst, interpretation and spite. The world would be naught but an unvisited zoo without them.
*No, I haven't seen it. It sounds extremely distressing. If I wanted to feel extremely distressed, I would force myself to look at spiders instead of going to the cinema.
Other people: Look at you all, with your little faces! 10 out of 10.