Sunday, May 5, 2013

Final Film Project: Balabanov the Auteur

Balabanov’s breakout film Brother in 1997 established him as a leading (if controversial) force in post-Soviet Russian filmography. His films closely mimic Hollywood conventions through the use of rapid cuts and rather modest camerawork and a strong emphasis on the narrative plot. For Balabanov though the content of his films is more important than formal elements. He uses the popular Russian genre of “detective film” and bends it to his own needs, often casting atypical characters who defy the protagonist/antagonist scenarios of most Western crime dramas. In any Balabanov film there are combinations of themes such as corruption, racism, moral decay, and the hunt for national identity which serve as microcosms of Russian society.
Balabanov’s films often have crime as a central theme. In Brother, Brother 2 and Dead Man’s Bluff every major protagonist is a criminal. Police and authority figures are either nonexistent in Brother (with the exception of the police chief in Danila’s provincial hometown) but in Brother 2 and Dead Man’s Bluff they are intertwined.  Riot (OMON) police are seen accompanying Sergei Mikhailovich, the local crime boss in Nizhny Novgorod and criminals brazenly battle in the streets and in apartments without fear of repercussions.

 Simon at one point even suggests Sergei should buy an emergency light (reserved for police or VIPs) so they can drive faster. At the end of the film the duo are shown thriving in Moscow as members of the State Duma and have enriched themselves by working in finance.  In Brother 2, the Russian crime boss Belkin serves as a middleman for oligarchs and has access to government and business databases due to his connections, and uses traffic police to hunt for Danila.
In his films Balabanov also challenges the concept of  heroes and villains. Danila (Brother and Brother 2) is anything but a saint, but even in the act of committing crimes does so with an ethical code, making him a paragon of justice even as he partakes in other deviant behavior like adultery and drug use. His brother Viktor, a short man with almost imp-like appearance attempts to set him up for an ambush after only a few days in the city. Viktor is forgiven for the betrayal and collapses into hysterics upon being rescued, dashing his earlier appearance as a hardened criminal.

Danila sends him home to their mother, and their positions are reversed in the beginning of the sequel. Other characters, like Boris, Irina Saltykova’s bodyguard in Brother 2 defy the conventions of their roles. Boris’ laconic lines and unmoving posture would have left him as a wallflower extra had he not been engaged by Danila repeatedly in conversations, revealing his underlying humanity. Upon discovering a gang of hitmen outside Irina’s apartment, Boris steps up beyond his obligations as a bodyguard to help Danila and shows real human concern for Irina’s safety.
Another character who defies expectations is Dmitry Gromov, the wronged Russian hockey player in America whose plight and brother’s murder leads Danila to travel all the way from Moscow to Chicago. Dmitry seems almost ambivalent to his brother’s murder, and does not lift a finger to assist Danila who has come to help him. After Danila returns to Dmitry with his money he fails to thank him and only complains that he didn’t receive interest on the unpaid wages as well.
Some films simply lacked heroes, or for that matter, protagonists. In Dead Man’s Bluff there is not a single virtuous character present in the entire film. In Cargo 200 this lack of moral fiber is even more glaring due to its dramatic nature. The principle antagonist is a sadistic police captain who is surrounded by vicious thugs and officers. Artem, the professor of Scientific Atheism, fails to act to save an innocent man from prison and an innocent woman from an even worse fate. Having violated his humanist principles he proceeds to violate his professional and ideological ones by seeking baptism at a church in order to ease his burdened conscience.

Balabanov also relishes in the absurd, and uses it as a means of putting his stamp on a film. Danila, the hero of Brat and Brat 2 appears scrawny and dopey despite his likely background in special operations and ability to fight.
He also has a propensity for deadpanning ridiculous statements. After killing the Chechen, Danila returns to his brother Viktor who congratulates him, praising him for having made the market safe for ethnic Russians. Danila responds nonsensically “what about the Germans?” in reference to his friend. Krugly in Brat also distracts the audience with his bizarre tendency to speak in poor proverbs and rhymes. In Dead Man’s Bluff, Balabanov also juxtaposes Hollywood-style crime with completely absurd scenes and characters. Baklazhan, one of the three robbers, was often the target of racist jokes due to his African heritage. When angered he would vehemently retort that he was ethnically Russian.
Near the end of the film Simon is wounded and Sergei calls a medical student to tend to him. He arrives in full gothic garb, snorts some cocaine, and before sitting down to operate on Simon he tells Sergei to put on some Russian folk music and pulls out a medical school book. Another bizarre tendency for the duo was their need to organize bodies cluttering murder scenes and their averseness towards blood despite their profession.
Perhaps most important to Balabanov’s auteur status is the necessity for an underlying social problem to critique in his films. Brother was a film which depicted the collapse of Russian society and morality in the 1990s. American cultural icons like Coca-Cola, McDonalds and $100 bills were pervasive throughout the film, alluding to the influx of foreign culture in Russia. The total lack of police or authority in Brother and the seemingly free reign of criminal elements and Danila’s struggle against injustice everywhere he went central themes in the film. Through Danila’s actions Balabanov attempts to create a dialogue with his audience, calling for the individual to use their own moral code to attain justice when the system is fundamentally broken. Brother 2 continued this trend, but focused more on the aspect of cultural relativism and Russian norms versus American and Western ones. Danila’s trip to Chicago serves to debunk the myth that the West is faultless, and ends with his return to homeland because it was where he belonged. Cargo 200 was especially symbolic with its graphic scenes of violence and sexual assault. Within the film, the themes of the rape of the innocent (both at home and in Afghanistan), an impotent yet dangerous state and security apparatus, the hypocrisy of the official state dogma, and the moral and economic decay of the USSR were all evident.

In conclusion, Balabanov presents a clean break with past Soviet styles of film. By adapting to Hollywood conventions he places great emphasis on his characters and the film’s narrative without distracting the audience with formal elements. Balabanov is all about content in his films and uses them as a medium to engage the audience with social and moral dilemmas which plague modern society. His films therefore reject the aspirations of earlier Soviet directors like Tarkovsky who viewed art as a means of attaining a universal truth or enlightenment. Instead they are concretely rooted in Russian society and attempt to reflect the ugliness of reality.

This is a Content and Formal Analysis of a clip chosen from Brother 2. In this scene, Balabanov uses many techniques that are both signature to his style and completely against his usual style. This highlights a classic Balabanov scene: cramped room, still shots with quick cuts and very few camera pans in addition to dreary monochrome lighting.

Here is Clip 2. This clip is from Brother 2 and is a content analysis that attempts to underline how Balabanov portrayed Blacks stereotypically through out his film.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Russia Confronts Islamic Extremism

On April 26, 2013, Russian authorities arrested 140 people at a Moscow mosque on suspicions of involvement with Islamic extremism.  Apparently the mosque has in the past been visited by Islamic extremists who have been connected with terrorist attacks.  Within the past decade alone, two attacks have been associated with Islamic extremists from the Caucasus.  The first, in 2004, involved the slaying of 330 innocent people at a school.  The second, in 2011, was a bombing of Russia's busiest airport, which killed 36.  Compounded with this growth in Islamic fundamentalism and the recent Boston bombings associated with two supposed Islamic extremists from Chechen, this seems to indicate a growing religious tension in Russia, which for centuries has maintained a strong connection between the Russian government and Russian Orthodox Christianity.  Whether or not these 140 arrests reflects a legitimate threat or the Russian authorities irrational fear of Islam remains to be seen.  It could be that Russian authorities have thwarted a diabolical terrorist plot. More likely, in my opinion, is that Russian authorities have arrested more innocent (though perhaps misguided) people than would-be terrorists, regardless of the supposedly rising Islamic extremism in Russia.

Russian Universities

Урок 10 Blog
Since this unit discussed school, college, and graduating I decided I would blog about Russia’s oldest university- Moscow State.  The University was founded in 1755, so it is over 250 years! Since the school was founded on the same day that the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the day of Saint Tatiana, the holiday changed to be celebrated as the day of Moscow University…too bad the U.S. doesn’t have a holiday celebrating the day of Stetson University!
When Mikhail Lomonsov founded the University the three faculties in it were Philosophical, Judicial, and Medicinal. Not only were lectures at the time given in Russian, but also Latin. Today, over 40,000 students attend Moscow State University. The largest classical university in Russian Federation, as the school has been named, has prestigious professors of which many are laureates of the Nobel Prize, State Premiums of the USSR, and Russia.
                Below is a picture of the beautiful school.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Formerly known as Tsaritsyn from 1589 to 1925, and then Stalingrad as 1925 to 1961, Volgograd's most recent name comes from the process of de-Stalinization undertaken by Nikita Khrushchev.

Today, Volgograd has a population of slightly over one-million. The city is home to an international airport, as well as a rail hub that serves Russia, Ukraine, and the Caucasus. In addition, European route E-40 passes through the city. The route is more than 8,000 kilometres (5,000 mi) long, connecting France, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan. 

It is also home to one of the few floating churches of the world. 

Volgograd is most known, however, for its time as Stalingrad. The Battle of Stalingrad is widely regarded as one of the most important turning points of World War II. Hitler was determined to take the city for symbolic reasons, but the bombed-out husk of the city introduced guerrilla warfare for the German troops, and several divisions were lost as a result of strategic mishaps and urban warfare.

Russia revives Stalingrad city name : The battle of Stalingrad is still a proud memory for Russians and the city name carries positive associations despite the name of Stalin

The residents of the city recognize this history, and recently Volgograd voted to officially change its name to Stalingrad for six days of the year on holidays that commemorate the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany. 

In addition, a petition with over 100,000 signatures was collected by elements of United Russia and the Communist Party, requesting a permanent name change back to Stalingrad in recognition of the city's titular battle. The name change is strongly opposed, however, by opposition elements within the Duma.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Boris Akunin is the pen name of Grigory Chkhartishvili he was born in Georgia in 1956 and has lived in Moscow since 1958. Before he became a novelist he worked as a translator, he studied languages at Moscow State University. He translated works from Japanese to English and his most famous translations are about Yukio Mishima. He published his first detective story in 1998 and has written 11 novels about Erast Fandorin. Fandorin is a 19th century investigator who works with police on cases in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Boris has a passion for Russian history which can be seen in the setting of the books .The series is an adventure model that also has classic Russian stories integrated into it. The Fandorin novels has sold 13 million copies in Russia. They have been translated into English, German, Polish, French and Italian. They have also been adapted to a movie and television series.  Some critics have compared Fandorin to a Russian Sherlock Holmes and Inspector Clouseau. Boris Akunin is a contemporary Russian author and is well known in Russia. Boris has a passion for Russian history that can be seen in the Fandorin novels and has lead him to work on a book about the history of Russia.

Mikhail Prokhorov and the Brooklyn Nets

Prokhorov is a self-made Russian multibillionaire, politician, and owner of the American basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets. He was known as one of Russia's leading industrialists in the precious metals sector. Prokhorov even declared a new political party in June 2012, entitled the "Party of Civic Platform." He is the 7th richest man from Russia and the 58th richest man in the world.

In September 2009, he made an offer to buy a controlling interest in the New Jersey Nets. On  May 11th, 2010, the NBA approved the sale of the Nets to Prokhorov, making him majority owner of the team with an 80% stake, as well as a 45% interest in their new Barclays Center. He is also the first non-North American NBA owner.


On April 30, 2012, the Nets moved to Brooklyn, rebranding themselves as the Brooklyn Nets. The team had the second highest payroll for the 2012/13 season, and are currently in the playoffs against the Chicago Bulls. With a 2-3 record, it will be interesting to see if this Russian owned team will make it to the next round.