Like most ostensibly opulent historical epics made with little cash, the film has an endearingly rough-hewn character, all natural light, filth, second-grade materials, and rooms that seemed to have already felt a century of aging. All the same, Shakhnazarov is no Gillo Pontecorvo, and his film isn't interested in reflective politics so much as in the melancholy of history, despite the parallels to be drawn to Chechnya (or Iraq, or, of course, any of several dozen anti-imperialist revolutions ongoing as I speak). Although we sympathize with Georges and his team of half-asses, never are we shown a second of tsarist injustice or poverty. It's as if the dynamite-happy crew were fighting for abstract ideas and nothing more.
VANISHED EMPIRE (2008; December 4 at 7:30 pm) is Shakhnazarov's return to contemplating Soviet youth, this time in the mid '70s, when to be a restless teenager in the outlying Russian cities meant seeing little or no future on the bleak horizon and instead looking to Western music and culture for short-term salvation. Post-adolescent rebellion in this context ran the risk of being officially addressed by state force, of course — something that's kept to the background of Shakhnazarov's universalized scenario. The film's explosion of period details and Archies songs and petulant post-adolescent confusions is pungent, if a little familiar, to us as well as to Russians; the relationship between, say, Marlen Kutsiev's true-blue '60s landmark July Rain (1966) and Shakhnazarov's retrospective opus could be said to echo that between The Graduate and . . . Across the Universe, minus the strainingly ironic song numbers and the crass Taymor-ness? The more youth crises travel across cultures, the more they stay the same.
, Communism, Museum of Fine Arts, Bolshevik Party, More