The very title of the film tantalizes with the endless possibilities of the modern Russian capital. Yet both the content and the substance of Moscow remains a total blank spot in Moscow, this postmodernist meditation on what can most aptly be described as the unbearable emptiness of the present moment.
References to Chekhov abound in the film, a fact that the authors confirm to have been part of the idea from the beginning. Zel'dovich tells of an epiphany in which he realized that "if Russian life crystallises around anything at all, then that is classical literature." This statement can serve as a sort of key to understand the code of Moscow. Both Zel'dovich and Sorokin come from the generation of the eighties, a large community of writers, poets, artists, and filmmakers who made their names during the waning years of the Soviet Union by parodying the grand style of Stalinist art and the weighty tradition of classical Russian literature. The same emptiness that haunted the world of Chekhov's characters envelops contemporary Moscow like a malevolent force against which the individual can wield only words, gestures, poses, an "aesthetic" rather than a "way" of life. Moscow is not so much about anything as much as it is about talking about something ineffable but nonetheless deadly.
Moscow is the creation of a remarkable collective of talent. Vladimir Sorokin has been one of the most important prose writers in Russia for well over a decade. Leonid Desiatnikov has written the music for several well-known Russian films of the last several years, among them Hammer and Sickle (1994) and Prisoner of the Mountains (1996). His work for Moscow was awarded the "Golden Ram" award in 2000. Russian critic and scholar Mark Lipovetsky has tried to describe its function: "This tragic dumbness is most sharply rendered through the music of the film, and in particular through the songs which Olga (T. Drubich) sings: recognisable Soviet songs, where something has shifted, slipped; the energetic, forceful, and heroic tunes that we know from childhood have turned into nervous and painful jazz tunes that contradict the old text."
Almost all the critics agree with the authors of the film that the Chekhovian echoes in the film are neither coincidental nor insignificant. To what extent does our historical moment repeat the crisis facing Chekhov's literary heroes? An old way of life is passing out of existence and the individual is cast adrift to search, for some kind of signposts that would provide guidance and direction for the future as well as a way to make sense of the past. Lipovetsky started a firestorm of controversy with his suggestion that Moscow represents a return to the monumental culture of high Stalinism (see Iskusstvo kino, 2(2000). Perhaps the emptiness that pervades the film bears witness not so much to a new monumentalism, but in a much more compelling way to the "imperial fatigue" to which much of contemporary Russian culture seems to allude.
There used to be an official website (http://moscow.film.ru) devoted to various aspects of this film but that link does not work as of 2003-04-06.
Zel'dovich was born in Moscow in 1958 and graduated from Moscow
University in 1980 with a diploma in psychology. He began a second education
in filmmaking only in 1986, studying with Gleb Panfilov. His first
full-length film, Sunset was shown at film festivals around the
"... the postmodernist play with language in the film is not an aim in itself: the system of stylisation and signs serves to render real emotions and genuinely important ideas. (author's commentary, from the official website of the film.)
Vladimir Sorokin is one of Russia's best known prose
writers, among whom he is the recognized best representative of Moscow
conceptualism. His works were the cause of some of the most notable literary
scandals of the 1990s. His latest novel, Blue Lard, became a
best-seller in Russia. In addition to prose texts, Sorokin has written plays
and continues to be active in graphic design. Moscow is his first
screenplay, a genre in which he has developed a serious and continuing
"The characters act rather strangely: they love in a strange way, they commit suicide in a strange way... But deep down the people have remained the same as a hundred years ago." (author's commentary, from the official website of the film.)