MOSCOW (RIA Novosti commentator Olga Sobolevskaya) -- No Russian movie was selected for the competition program at the recent 58th Cannes film festival.
Looking back at this most prestigious festival, some critics were surprised at this. There was an opinion that exotic, for instance, Korean movies were popular today and Russian films went unnoticed against this 'extreme' backdrop. Others complained that there were few Russian films to choose from and that the film industry's image was unclear and unpredictable.
This is true. Nobody will curtsy to Russia and say that 'normal' films have appeared in the country at last. At the turn of the century, Russian cinematography started with a clean sheet. Prominent Soviet achievements from directors like Sergei Eizenstein, Andrei Tarkovsky, Grigory Chukhrai, Sergei Bondarchuk, which were a remarkable source of style and inspiration to many filmmakers throughout the world, were consigned to history. Russian cinematography returned to its infancy, but as it was diffident and hesitant, it did not produce anything substantial or interesting in form.
When Timur Bekmambetov's Night Watch was released in 2004, American film magnates indulgently approved Russia's Hollywood blockbuster clone and bought the distribution rights. Russia began to dream about rivaling Hollywood. Box office takings of the fantasy thriller about the struggle between good and evil ($16.7 million) were beyond expectations. Dzhanik Faiziyev's Turkish Gambit, a spy movie about the Russo-Turkish War in 1877, beat this record and earned some $20 million.
However, competing with Hollywood is a thankless task. Russia has neither the money, nor the strategies to do so. Mosfilm Studios in Moscow, Europe's largest film studios, may have undergone a major upgrade and handle hundreds of projects a year, but Russia simply does not have the professional producers or developers to compete with America.
According to Mosfilm head Karen Shakhnazarov and other Russian filmmakers, the Russian film industry has lost its professional quality. There are few brilliant scripts and filmmaking innovations. Valery Todorovsky, a prominent director and producer, said actors should be trained not only in Moscow and St. Petersburg but also in Russian provinces, which is a technical aspect to the issue. From the conceptual standpoint, Alexander Sokurov is Russia's trump card. Each Sokurov's movie is something of a sensation. In 2005, he released The Sun, a film about Japanese Emperor Hirohito. This is the third part of his trilogy about 20th century dictators (Lenin and Hitler). Art-house director Kira Muratova also evokes certain interest in the world. In April, her movie The Tuner won the Golden Lily, the main prize of the Fifth Festival of Central and Eastern European Films in Wiesbaden (Germany). One of Muratova's students, Renata Litvinova, who directed her first movie The Goddess: How I Fell in Love in 2004, won the Best Actress award. These pictures are obviously interesting and important but are not enough to restore Russian filmmaking to great heights. Successes should be permanent (Why has Andrei Zvyagintsev, the director of the Venetian Golden Lion winner The Return, released nothing in two years?) Russian films need to be promoted aggressively, in conjunction with the technical upgrading and improvements being made to the content. To be noticed in Cannes, Russia should present either original political ideas on a cosmopolitan scale (like Sokurov) or impress everyone with national color and specific Russian realities in a new form.
However, filmmakers still have to find these new forms and ideas. The times of myths and truth about the Stalin era, or praise of gangsters are gone. Films about the 19th century (Turkish Gambit or The State Councilor by young director Filipp Yankovsky) cannot last for long. We need movies about our present life, about ourselves.
Growing up for the second time, Russian cinematography must become more professional and avoid ambitious imitations. Any attempt to beat Hollywood at its own game would be futile. Voltaire wrote in his times that a man should cultivate his own garden. Originality is the key to success, particularly at Cannes.