As always, Us is a collection of notable Russian films of the previous year. Like in the last edition, seven films are included, and five of those are about women and women's way of seeing the world. The heroines are not put against the heroes: they live their own lives, separate from male characters, with their own dreams and plans that aren't necessarily bound to men. Never before have we looked at the world as seen by a woman: the heroines live in the contemporary society where women have to try many times as hard as men to be themselves. Their main goal is breaking free from this world into another life.
This is a common aspiration of heroines in two films that are very much unlike each other: Crystal Swan by Darya Zhuk (jury member at the 13th Zerkalo Andrey Tarkovsky Film Festival) and Sergey Dvrotsevoy's Ayka. Crystal Swan's Evelina wants to leave the 1990s Minsk where she has no future, for Chicago. Ayka, as if following the same scenario in her own way, has already left and moved from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow (abnormally cold and mean) to start her own business and become a clothing designer. Samal Yeslyamova won Best Actress Award in Cannes for playing Ayka, and the film was nominated for the Oscars.
While Ayka moves from Kyrgyzstan to Moscow, only to trade one hell for another, director Elizaveta Stishova and producer Elena Yatsura take a journey in the opposite direction: from Moscow to Kyrgyzstan where the protagonists of Suleiman Mountain live. This film has already won acclaim at festivals in Karlovy Vary, Toronto and China. Whereas in Ayka we see those who we prefer not to notice in everyday life, in Suleiman Mountain we can see the life that they flee to find a better place. Family life shown in Suleiman Mountain may terrify Russian audiences but our problems as well are reflected in it as in a mirror.
Family as the only norm is an idea deeply rooted in our thinking. It isn't a traditional multi-generational family but one of the capitalist era: husband, wife, and mortgage. There's plenty of films about men who try to break from this life. Usually the woman in those films is either a guardian of the hearth who wants to keep it intact by all means necessary, or a scheming seductress that steals a man from another hearth. Which is why Anna Parmas' Let's Get Divorced is indeed revolutionary: it goes through all these cliches in order to destroy them. Importantly, it's styled as a popular comedy, seemingly without a pretense for a serious statement. It is, however, the first Russian comedy about divorce, made by a woman and from a woman's point of view.
Larisa Sadilova's drama Once in Trubchevsk, fresh off the Cannes Film Festival, is very different in tone. In this story a man can't decide if he wants to stay with his wife or his lover. Both films are about family issues, made from a woman's point of view.
While women are making films about "here and now," dealing with complex contemporary reality, issues of violence and gender equality, men are sorting out their relationships with history and their own past. Which, of course, makes the future possible; but the moment of present vanishes between those monumental timeline points.
This is the case of Michael Idov's The Humorist, one of the 2018/19 season's best films, centered around the fictional comedian Boris Arkadiev expertly played by Alexey Agranovich. The director portrays the nastiness of Brezhnev's regime – censored jokes, society in which there's "nowhere to breathe" – and finds, it seems, some parallels with our day.
A Russian Youth, a film by Alexander Sokurov's former student Alexander Zolotukhin, brings us to the hell of the First World War. The protagonist, a countryside kid, is blinded in a gas attack on the very first day on the front. He doesn't want to go back because there's nowhere to come back and is kept in the army as a listener: through a large pipe he listens to the sky for enemy's airplanes to appear.
All of this to say that while women are making films about emancipation and getting away, men revisit traps of the past, which the contemporary society keeps falling into. But all the films share the desire for freedom, for getting rid of the past's delusions, of stereotypes and historical traumas' fallout.
We will discuss the way the directors see the future at Q&A discussions, held daily after the screenings at the terrace of Lodz film theater.
Elena Slatina is a programmer of Russian films and shorts. Graduated from the Moscow University's Journalism program. Since 1995, she worked on television, produced and hosted New Cinema, Cinema Magic, Film in Detail shows. Elena has written for Premiere, Profile, Daily Journal, Vedomosti, and other outlets and authored a number of articles in the seven-volume Contemporary History of RUssian Film, 1986-2000 (published by Seance in 2000-2004). She wrote and directed the documentary Film - A Century Is Going, and making-ofs for Country of the Deaf, Oligarch, A Driver for Vera.

Elena Slatina
Curator of Us program