Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Children of Men

“Ivan’s Childhood,” directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1962

In the face of the incredible avalanche of reactionary red-baiting and war-mongering by the Clinton campaign against Russia, Trump, Jill Stein and the Green Party, Wikileaks, Julian Assange and anyone else who doesn’t want to fight two more wars in Syria and Ukraine, I figured we needed a bit of a response to this shit-storm.  (See Glenn Greenwald’s excellent take-down of the Clinton campaign’s Russian-hating methods dated 8/8/2016 on the ‘Intercept’ site. https://theintercept.com/2016/08/08/dems-tactic-of-accusing-adversaries-of-kremlin-ties-and-russia-sympathies-has-long-history-in-us/

(Assange has announced that a recently killed DNC employee, Seth Rich, was the actual leaker.  Rich was murdered during a 'robbery.'  Another convenient death!)

Ivan in ruins
It consists of an appreciation of Soviet and Russian culture.  This is the first film by the great Soviet director Andrei Tarkovsky, who later did “Solaris” and “Andrei Rublev.”  Jean Paul Sartre defended this film when it was attacked by the Italian CP in their paper ‘L’Unita,’ which accused Tarkovsky of using ‘petit-bourgeois’ artistic methods like dream sequences and character complexity (!) You are usually in good company when you side with Sartre on cultural matters.  A young Ingmar Bergman was influenced by the film as well.  This is a touching film showing the deep impact of WW II on the Soviet youth of their day.  It displays the humanism of the Soviet soldiers, who adopt a young boy who works as a spy for them behind Nazi lines.  They know this is a very dangerous job, which can only lead in one direction.  The young Ivan (and yes, all Russians are called ‘Ivan’ in slang…) has lost his parents in a fascist massacre.  He is tough, skinny, blond and just a kid, but now prematurely aged by the war, which is all he thinks about. 

The scenes of floating across the river are some of the most beautiful in Soviet film.  The war is shown, not in the American way by constant combat, explosions, battle, etc. but as a looming presence infusing every scene, however quiet, with fear and dread.  Combat is not always about fighting, as any soldier knows. Dreams (dreams!) and flashbacks intrude.  This gives the film the feel of actual human reality, not that of an American war cartoon or of social-realist hero worship.  It uses long takes, not the hyper-jumpiness of present ADD advertising or Hollywood film. 

The film ends with actual Soviet war footage shot in Berlin, first focusing on the 6 poisoned children of Goebbels lying in a row.  Then there is a film scene of one of  Ivan’s protectors discovering his fate in the Reich’s efficient basement archives.  In this war wives, mothers, sisters and girlfriends not only lost their loved-ones - this film shows men losing their emotional sons.  The film does not wallow in the glory of war, as did Soviet films prior to 1956.  It was produced in the Khrushchev period during a ‘thaw’ in cultural control and was extremely popular in the Soviet Union. 

Given the Russians have experienced war on their land in recent memory, while the U.S. has never experienced it since 1865, I’d say Russians are a bit less eager than Americans to do it again.  This was the real story throughout the ‘cold war’ and the nuclear threat, and is no less true today.  It is certainly reflected in this film.

Red Frog
August 9, 2016

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