Festival screens Soviet cinematic resistance

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Festival screens Soviet cinematic resistance

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JEONJU - The Soviet Union is long gone, but many of its fine films are still around but unknown to cinephiles around the world. Little is known about the movie scene there; it suffered decades of oppression in a regime where movies were to be propaganda and not art. Movie directors made many films, but all faced review by censors and many were snipped into forms only vaguely resembling the originals. Directors either kept their films in storehouses or fled the country into exile. Many of those directors have died, but the films are still around and are being screened in a small city called Jeonju that is not unfamiliar to fans of international film festivals.
Jeonju’s annual film fest, which runs through tomorrow, has a reputation for having a fine selection of films from places relatively unknown in Korea. In 2004, Jeonju brought in a selection of Cuban films to the delight of discerning moviegoers here. Last year, the theme was films from Arab countries. This year, meet the Soviet Union, under the special theme, “Allegories of Resistance ― Forbidden Films of the Soviet Union.” If you’re a film fan, a trip to the festival is worth the three-hour train ride from Seoul.
The festival’s deputy organizer, Rhim An-cha, took up the mission of excavating 10 films from archives in Moscow and Germany, many of them she says are being shown here for the first time in public. The 10 films were produced from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, a time when the Soviet Union’s movie scene reached a peak of aesthetic beauty, according to Ms. Rhim. Most of the Soviet directors then were experts in music and literature.
Naum Kleiman, the head of the Moscow Film Museum, met an audience in Jeonju on Saturday after a screening. He said, “The filmmakers tried to stand up to the authorities not with arms but with art, using allegories and metaphors.” But the battle against censorship was an unequal one, and the movies were retrieved from hiding only in the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev opened the era of glastnost in the nation.
In the decades before that thaw, film directors were commonly arrested by the authorities and many fled into exile in Europe or elsewhere. At the end of the 1980s, about 250 film prints were discovered in caches in the Soviet Union, including the 10 being screened in Jeonju.
A film by Marlen Khutsiev entitled, “I Am Twenty,” for example, enraged Nikita Khrushchev. The film tells the story of three young men’s dreams and troubles in the early days of the Soviet Union. Mr. Khrushchev condemned it for describing “young men in a very defeatist way” and ordered it banned.
Another, “Andrei Rublev,” by the director Andrei Tarkovsky, was awarded a jury prize at the 1969 Cannes International Film Festival, but was a vexation to the authorities in Moscow, who considered the film’s depiction of the Soviet Union as “grotesque and dark.”
Under Mr. Gorbachev, however, the censors began to back off. But ironically, the collapse of the Soviet Union did not lead to a new flowering of cinematic art in Russia.
“What is really sad is that the fall of the Soviet Union led to the collapse of the film scene where directors fought against the government’s censorship,” Mr. Kleiman said. He said, in a comment that would gladden the hearts of Korean directors upset about the relaxation of barriers to the screening of foreign films here, that an influx of Hollywood films suppressed that flowering.
He added, though, that the situation is changing, and there is hope for a revival of the Russian essence of films. “A movement now looks to the tradition of movies of the past,” Mr. Kleiman said; “Our tradition is different from the spirit of Hollywood or MacDonald’s.”


by Chun Su-jin
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