Philosophy in modern Russian indie cinema

Russians are famous for their tendency to philosophize about life and take seemingly simple things way too seriously. “Kitchen philosophy” is actually a real term used to describe what most Russian get-togethers essentially are like: talking philosophy and life while sipping on vodka in the kitchen.  It comes out as no surprise that what can be called a distinctive national characteristic (philosophizing, that is) comes across in arts. More than that, certain darkness and mystery that come with it are significant to Russian-ness in literature, fine arts and cinema.

The idea of rethinking and reshaping social and moral values a decade after the Soviet Union fell apart dominates in the indie movies of the last decade. I would like share three films that confront the post-Soviet reality and ask insightful philosophical questions:

  1. The Return (2003) by A. Zvyagintsev

The story of a father returning into his family home to his two sons who by that time had forgotten how he looked like was the first one of the bunch of indie flicks that seemed to capture Russian reality in a very honest way and to be shot for the Russian public. On the other hand, the international acclaim (including the Golden Lion of the Venice Film festival) could only be explained by the universality of the story of generational gap and paternal love.

  1. Living (2012) by V. Sigarev

Three parallel stories of loss of the loved ones: a lover, children, and a parent, lead to three very different outcomes. Sigarev creates a very dark and hopeless trance-like atmosphere, examining the deepest existential issues: the nature and acceptance of death, possibility (a beginning?) of a new life without someone you’ve lost and rhetorically questioning if there really is a life after death. Despite an obvious pessimistic storyline “Living” is essentially about re-finding the meaning of life.

  1. “Orleans” (2015) by A. Proshkin

One of the most anticipated Russian indie movies of the year “Orleans” is a story of a provincial town and its colorful crowd: a hairdresser leading a life of indiscriminate affairs followed by numerous abortions, a doctor getting his patients to do what he needs thanks to his position, a policeman who doesn’t hesitate to kill a man… Absurd and full of dark humor “Orleans” in a typically Russian manner questions the meaning of life, the price we pay for our sins, the difference between religion and belief. A screenplay by Y. Arabov is a masterpiece on its own with biblical and thought-provoking dialogues and true picture of provincial reality.

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