September 20, 2007

Two Films

So last night I watched two films.

The first was The Color of Pomegranates, by director Sergei Paradjanov. I picked it up from Netflix, intrigued by the blurb:
Paradjanov's acclaimed poetic masterpiece was banned by Soviet censors who feared it was a nationalist parable.The story depicts the life and spiritual odyssey of the medieval Armenian poet and troubadour Sayat Nova, and his rise from carpet weaver to archbishop and martyr.

And reviewers/viewers had good things to say about it. It sounded interesting.


If you like art for art's sake, self-conscious creations of imagery and poor production quality, sure, this can't be beat. But I could not stick it out. I guess I should have read further down the reviewers' page, where a helpful soul put down:

Poetic masterpiece? Oh maybe, if you like a nonstop procession of catatonic actors holding strange items in front of the camera, while the camera performs little tricks (slows down, speeds up, overlaps the image, never really tells a story...) Insufferable.

So then I turned to my second movie, Alix Lambert's documentary, The Mark of Cain. It is about life in Russian prisons and, more specifically, about the cult of tattooing that prisoners have employed over the decades to mark and identify themselves. I was put onto the film after hearing Viggo Mortensen talk about how he viewed it as part of his preparation to play a Russian "Thief in Law" in London, in the new film, Eastern Promises.

Lambert's film came out a few years back, was shown on Nightline, and has won an Independent Spirit Award. It does not have US distribution, but should. If you are interested you can probably order a copy directly from Lambert on her website.

I will save my full review for our print edition, but will say here that this is quite possibly one of the best, most revealing documentaries on Russia produced in the last 15 years. As I am sitting there, watching it with my son (15), he turns and says, "This is now? This is not the Gulags?"

Actually, it is the Gulags, and it is still going on. As someone once said (or am I paraphrasing?), you can judge a country by the condition of its prisons and its orphanages - how it takes care of its least fortunate, its underclasses. Well, oil-rich Russia comes out pretty poorly in this film. But it is not one to miss.

Btw, if you are interested in how Lambert got the incredible access she did to these prisons, you can read a bit about it in this interview.

Finally, this is something I stumbled across today. I won't say how, even though it is interesting. You really need to understand Russian to get the full impact. But if you don't, basically it is a Russian guy saying he wants to go out to the bar tonight, and his wife offering, well, counterarguments.


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