The 2007 Russian Film Symposium | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

In Russia, there is no longer a mandate that films incorporate state ideology. And yet even as contemporary Russian filmmakers produce works that more closely resemble typical genre films, the ghosts of politicized ideology remain.

Examining the political embedded within a slate of recent Russian melodramas is the task of this year's Russian Film Symposium. The six-day symposium, co-presented by the University of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Filmmakers, begins Mon., April 30, and offers a dozen films, to be shown on the Oakland campus and at the Melwood Screening Room, in North Oakland. Additionally, there will be discussions and visiting speakers.

A melodrama is a work that is neither tragic nor comic, "and the focus is on the private," says symposium organizer Vladimir Padunov, an associate professor of Slavic language and literature and an associate director of film studies program at the University of Pittsburgh.

"The most important thing that has occurred in [the films we're presenting] is the direct unlinking of the represented private life from the agenda of the state," says Padunov, a founder of the eight-year-old festival. But while these filmmakers are shifting the focus to the private, Padunov continues, "They're producing something that's slightly different [from] a Western encounter with the melodrama."

Under the Soviet system, genre films, such as melodramas, were vilified as "bourgeoisie"; today Russian directors dismiss them as "Hollywood." Nonetheless, contemporary directors are making genre films. But, explains Padunov, "They don't understand genre conventions, and what you have is a peculiar way within the melodramas of still talking about matters that are ideological. ... What is Transit about if not about the structure of the state under socialism?"

The World War II-set Transit, from Aleksandr Rogozhkin (The Cuckoo), is among the four films screening in the evening at the Melwood Screening Room; all four except for Euphoria were box-office hits in Russia, though some were not without controversy.

Padunov says that there is continuing discussion in Russia about whether Alive, which depicts an injured Chechen war vet's re-entry into society as a nightmarish odyssey, is pro- or anti-war. For Russians, he adds, Alive can't simply be a film; it must be read as taking some position on the war. "The society is still so politicized that it sees the ideology there."

While Euphoria, which depicts a marriage in crisis, comes closest to what we'd consider a melodrama, Padunov argues that it is still ideologically charged. "It can be read as a vision of Russia as an abandoned, forsaken, inarticulate wasteland, with no speech, extreme circumstances, alcoholism, etc. If one looks at that as an anti-Russian film, it really screams at you as a critique of what that system has brought about."

As always, the symposium offers a rare opportunity to see films unlikely to screen here again. Says Padunov: "What we're showing in those four films are probably the four most interesting films made in 2006 in the Russian Federation."

The following films screen at the Melwood Screening Room. (See box for complete schedule.)

TRANSIT. Set during World War II at a Soviet airfield in remote Chukotka, Aleksandr Rogozhkin's sprawling Altman-esque dramedy facilely shifts plotlines, tones and even genres. Trifling wartime romances bump against treatises on national duty; the perils of a pregnant housekeeper are entwined with the comic mishaps of a pig; and finally, a love triangle dissolves into a murder-mystery episode.

click to enlarge It Doesn't Hurt
It Doesn't Hurt
IT DOESN'T HURT. In contemporary St. Petersburg, a trio of upstart interior designers finds a savior of sorts in Tata, a beautiful young woman who is well connected to the city's upwardly mobile. But Tata's glamorous insouciance hides sad secrets, revealed in her love affair with one of the designers. Aleksei Balabanov's film offers wry commentary on ambitious and restless youth, but remains remarkably cool in its depiction of a life-altering romance.

ALIVE. After losing a leg in Chechnya, a young soldier returns home and begins a fumbling journey of re-adjustment and reconciliation. Aleksandr Veledinskii's film is rife with unease -- from how the soldier's injury precludes intimacy with old friends, to his drunken nightly searches, and to even electronic billboards that suggest a homeland he may no longer be part of. Tellingly, the vet is most at home with the ever-present ghosts of two army buddies who died saving him, and are caught in a spiritual limbo of their own.

EUPHORIA. In Ivan Vyrypaev's drama set in the vast and sparsely populated steppes, a young mother leaves her husband for a neighbor. The story is deliberately paced, with long episodes of heavy stillness punctuated by bursts of passion. The widescreen film is beautifully shot -- with aerial camerawork that follows dusty white roads criss-crossing to nowhere, and exquisitely framed scenes reminiscent of John Ford's classic Westerns.

The films scheduled for the morning and afternoon will screen via video projection in David Lawrence Room 106 on the University of Pittsburgh campus, in Oakland, and will be followed by discussions. The films are in Russian, with English subtitles. There is no charge and the public is welcome.

Evening screenings take place at the Melwood Screening Room (477 Melwood Ave., Oakland), and will be presented in 35 mm. All films are in Russian, with English subtitles; admission is $6 ($5 students/seniors). For more information see or


Mon., April 30

10 a.m. Man of No Return (Ekaterina Gorokhovskaia, 2006, 104 min.)

2 p.m. The Italian (Andrei Kravchuk, 2005, 92 min.)

Tue., May 1

10 a.m. Relations (Avdot'ia Smirnova, 2006, 80 min.)

2 p.m. Inhale--Exhale (Ivan Dykhovichnyi, 2006, 86 min.)

Wed., May 2

10 a.m. The Spot (Iurii Moroz, 2006, 85 min.)

7 p.m. Transit (Aleksandr Rogozhkin, 2006, 140 min.). To be introduced by Oleg Sulkin. Melwood

Thu., May 3

2 p.m. Free Floating (Boris Khlebnikov, 2006, 97 min.)

7 p.m. It Doesn't Hurt (Aleksei Balabanov, 2006, 104 min.). Introduced by Mikhail Trofimenkov. Melwood

Fri., May 4

10 a.m. Two in One (Kira Muratova, 2007, 124 min.)

2 p.m. Polumgla (Artem Antonov, 2005, 103 min.)

7 p.m. Alive (Aleksandr Veledinskii, 2006, 98 min.). Introduced by Dmitrii Savel'ev. Melwood

Sat., May 5

7 p.m. Euphoria (Ivan Vyrypaev, 2006, 74 min.). Introduced by David McFadyen. Melwood

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