Contemporary Russian Cinema, (r) evolutions

Contemporary Russian Cinema, (r) evolutions is a collective work, whose production was directed by Eugénie Zvonkine and published in November 2017 in France . It presents an in-depth study of contemporary Russian cinema in French, from the 1990s until today, in terms of themes, techniques and formal inventions. But also on the relationship of Russian cinema with the state and with the Soviet past of Russia and the former countries that constituted the USSR . The texts of the book consider the historical and aesthetic aspects of Russian cinema, but also the legal and economic aspects.

Eugénie Zvonkine directed the production and participated by personal writing with the collaboration of a group of Russian, European and American specialists.


Eugenie Zvonkine underlines, in her introduction, the fact that the book is one of the first in France to describe the evolution of contemporary Russian cinema since the fall of the USSR in 1991. It recalls that in the years followed perestroika , the film production system was almost destroyed. Moreover, in France, contemporary Russian films are very little visible. The pace of production, the different working traditions, the low participation of Russia in Eurimages(which is a European support fund to help Russian films to be seen in Europe) are reasons for the low diffusion. Awarding festivals, however, encourages distributors, but only a limited number of films.

The book is eclectic and some texts are written by professionals, others by university researchers. The approach is historical, aesthetic, cultural, economic according to the specializations of the authors of the different chapters. They are interested in auteur cinema but also in popular cinema.

Chapter 1. Subsidies, Distributions, Exploitation
  • Film exploitation in Russia from the day before yesterday to today – Joël Chapron

The authors of this first chapter are people from the field who develop the economic, financial and legal aspects of the exploitation of Russian cinema. Joel Chapron began his analysis before the October 1917 Revolution when the French ( Lumière , Pathé , Gaumont ) introduced the cinematograph in Russia while the Germans opened sedentary rooms there. A vast panorama is followed, illustrated with numerous and valuable graphs of comparative figures on the evolution of attendance, the number of theaters and their situation in the country, and the geographical origin of the films.

Ten years after perestroika a renaissance of creation and attendance has emerged. But other problems arise such as the new forms of protectionism or the decline in the number of teenage spectators caused by the decline in the birth rate in Russia between 2009 and 2012.

  • In search of the lost industry – Maria Voght (formerly Moukhina)

Maria Vogt recalls the importance of the years immediately following the perestroika, that is to say the 1990s. These are the beginning of an important modernization process. It also develops the emotions and worries caused by the appointment in May 2012 of Vladimir Medinski as Minister of Culture and the legislative changes that he has promoted: regulation of the age limit of young spectators, competition between Russian and foreign films, standardization by electronic ticketing, subsidies (Kino Fund), visa and censorship of foul language.

The year 2016 has been declared the year of Russian cinema and politicians and film circles hope that it will reaffirm the aesthetic tastes and moral principles considered the most important in Russian society while managing to make the film industry self-sufficient. The interest to continue on the same track in 2017 was debated given the need to continue state aid.

Chapter 2. Rethinking the past, saying the present
  • Anniversaries of Victory: Reflections of the Great Patriotic War on Screen between 2005 and 2015 – Birgit Beumers
  • Film Funerals: The Admiral (2008) Alexander Koltchak and the Uses of History in Contemporary Russian Cinema – Stephen M. Norris
  • The works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Vassili Grossman on the Russian TV screens in the years 2000-2010: The First circle of Gleb Panfilov (2006) and Life and destiny of Sergey Ursuliak (2012) – Natalia Balandina
Chapter 3. New reference networks
  • The pathological cinema of Evgueni Youfit  (en)  : the humor of carnivalesque stiob 1 and beyond – Dennis Ioffe
  • Bandits of Balabanov  : the film of bandits in the post-Soviet cinema – Frederick H. White
  • From kitsch to carnivalsque: popular films in Russia today – Volha Isakava
  • Andrei Zvyagintsev , from Tarkovskian descent to personal vision – Marion Poirson-Dechonne

Marion Poirson-Dechonne , a senior lecturer at the University Paul Valery-Montpellier , analyzes the Tarkovskian affiliation of Andrei Zvyagintsev . The films of the two Russian directors are always free of lightness, their characters are fragile, the course of the action takes place before a magnified nature. But the time is not the same anymore. Tarkovsky stood out from socialist realism but made his films in the 1960s and 1980s. Zviagintsev begins with the new century in 2003. The Russian Federationis subject to tensions between political ideology and economic liberalism. Religion returns in force but associated with political power. Zvyagintsev likes long, slow sequences of contemplation as Tarkovsky practiced them. His story also comes from parables, metaphors of unsaid ones. References to the Bible are common. But unlike Tarkovsky his universe leaves no room for hope. Even nature in all its beauty is no longer filled with purifying power and spirituality. Dream and memory do not nourish the spiritual existence of characters like Tarkovsky’s. His two first films ( The Return (Возвращение), The Banishment (Изгнание)), made him appear as an heir. The last three (Elena (Елена), Leviathan (Левиафан), lack of love (Нелюбовь), make it progress towards a more personal vision. They do not make concessions in terms of criticizing the Russian society in mutation. ForLeviathan this criticism is accompanied by a fierce attack on the episcopal institution.

Chapter 4. Generations
  • Overcoming soviet nostalgia in contemporary Russian cinema – Lilia Nemchenko
  • The critical view of contemporary filmmakers on the post-Soviet reality: historicity, the emptiness, the sacral, – Katerina Souverina
  • Space as a trap in contemporary Russian films – Eugénie Zvonkine
  • When now becomes: Russian cinema after Balabanov and Nancy Condee  (en)
Index and bibliography

The deputy index to the book quotes titles in French and Russian in French writing. The need for this index can be explained by the fact that many Russian films remain inaccessible to the French-speaking general public. In addition, the authors favored authors not cited in the French texts. Popular film genres (comedies, war films) are also present alongside auteur films, whereas they are less well-presented in France.

Notes and References

  1. ↑ Stiob: word with Russian roots: in Cyrillic: стеб. Ironic parody linked to the Soviet era

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