Oscar fate to be determined for Russia

Faust, Elena or Burnt by the Sun II? The country’s film fraternity is to decide which of these movies will be flying the flag for Russia at the coming Academy Awards extravaganza.

­Aleksandr Sokurov’s signature interpretation of Goethe’s Faust picked up the coveted Golden Lion award at the world’s oldest film festival in Venice earlier this month, where head of the jury, Darren Aronofsky, described the film as “mind-blowing”.

Sokurov’s film is the crowning final chapter of his tetralogy about the relationship between man and power that began with Moloch about Hitler, continued with Taurus about Lenin, then climaxed with The Sun about Japanese Emperor Hirohito.

The Siberian-born, St Petersburg-based director made his name as the high-octane author of such masterpieces as Mother and Son and The Russian Ark. His thought-provoking dramas have featured at the most prestigious festivals.

The 60-year-old filmmaker has long explored the phenomena of power and conformity in his films, one of them a documentary about the first President of Russia, Boris Yeltsin.

Faust by Aleksandr Sokurov (Image from kinopoisk.ru)

It is expected that his Faust will have its Russian premiere later this fall. The director was quoted as saying, however, that he has no intention of promoting the film.  

“The film doesn’t need an audience. The audience should need the film,”
he stated.

Another Oscar contender is Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Elena. Set in modern-day Moscow, the film from the creator of The Return relates to fears and morals, sense and sensibility, crime and punishment ”right here, right now” – in the 21st century.

“Our time is breathing with crime, screaming about it. The only difference is that in the mid-19th century and even later on in the 20th, during the time of humanism, there was crime but then there was also punishment,” Zvyagintsev told RT after the film’s premiere at Cannes.

The drama is not Zvyagintsev’s answer to Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment per se, but the director’s omniscient look at modern society.

Elena is to be released in Russia on September 29. The drama has already received a very warm welcome at festivals around the world, including Cannes, where it picked up a Special Jury Award.

Indeed, it could be said that Elena and Faust have no real contenders. Both films stand apart and cannot be labeled anything other than masterpieces with a capital M.

But, as the Russian saying goes, “God loves a trinity.” So the third contender for the Academy Award is Burnt by the Sun II from the Oscar-winning Russian director, Nikita Mikhalkov. It is the sequel to the 1994 drama Burnt by the Sun which won an Oscar, as well as the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.

With a budget of $55 million, the movie broke records as the most expensive Russian film in history. It took the director of The Barber of Siberia eight years to make the blockbuster war drama.

Notoriously billed as “a great film about a great war,” it received mixed reactions in the media, with the director being critized for mixing fact and fiction. However, Mikhalkov made it clear that he is not susceptible to criticism as such, repeating his favorite proverb: “The dogs are barking, the caravan keeps going.”

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