The New Positive Hero: Masculinity and Genre in Recent Russian Cinema
Symposium 2009
Live and Remember
[Zhivi i pomni]

Russia, 2008
Color, 100 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Aleksandr Proshkin
Screenplay: Aleksandr Rodionov, Aleksandr Proshkin, Valentin Rasputin (novella)
Cinematography: Gennadii Kariuk, Aleksandr Kariuk
Production Design: Aleksandr Tolkachev
Music: Roman Dormidoshin
Editing: Natal'ia Kucherenko
Cast: Dar'ia Moroz, Mikhail Evlanov, Sergei Makovetskii, Evgeniia Glushenko, Anna Mikhalkova
Producers: Ruben Dishdishian, Sergei Danielian, Aram Movsesian, Iurii Moroz

“You have become my world,” Andrei Gus'kov (Mikhail Evlanov) tells his wife Nastena (Dar'ia Moroz) in Aleksandr Proshkin’s Live and Remember, during one of her clandestine missions to aid her husband, who deserted five months too early as the Great Patriotic War wound to a close. And while the plot centers around Nastena’s willing sacrifices for her husband, the setting as a whole embodies Andrei’s words on a larger scale. Husbandless wives define the isolated world of the Siberian village Atamanovka, and succor it just as futilely.
Based on the village prose writer Valentin Rasputin’s 1974 novella by the same name, Live and Remember depicts the initial stages of the demise of a village on the river Angara through the lens of a home front drama. Though the majority of characters are village women, all of their energy and labor is directed towards the men at the front. Though distant, the warfront steadily saps away the resources and morale of the village without reciprocation. The destructive effects of the war are paralleled by earlier events of Soviet history, such as the Civil War and collectivization, mentioned throughout the film.


Proshkin’s fastidious attention to the details of everyday village life highlights a separate front from which Atamanovka is distant, but nonetheless suffers: that of modernization in the Soviet Union. In numerous night and interior scenes, for example, candles and lamps conspicuously fail to illuminate more than the smallest fraction of the screen. Further, the only penetration of modern technology into the village is a hand-wound flashlight wielded ineffectually by the inspector pursuing the case of Andrei’s disappearance. The useless and malevolent nature of this token of modern technology in Live and Remember provokes an anachronistic comparison with the later destructive dams built on the Angara River, which is one of the central themes of Rasputin’s works.


The river is certainly one of the most prominent images of the film, particularly during its thaw, when it releases the banks from the grip of ice, just as the war with Germany has relinquished its hold on the young men of the Soviet Union, and fulfills nature’s cyclic promise that vernal life springs from wintry death. Despite all of the imagery of budding trees and the swelling of Nastena’s belly, however, the viewer’s expectations that life will turn anew are thwarted: Nastena drowns, child unborn, in the river that had promised new life. The river, in fact, never offered an unadulterated promise of renewal and life; it nourished the village with fish, but also carried dead bodies to its banks. All natural signs are similarly ambivalent.


Notably, nature loses its positive meaning through association with animalism, manifested in the transformation of the film’s protagonist. Following a symbolic and indirect exchange of a European watch for weapons, Andrei proves capable of surviving without Nastena’s aid, and previous intents to commit suicide fall by the wayside. His ability to survive correlates with his increasingly rustic appearance. The immediate material effectiveness for the individual of embracing the adage of “Nature, red in tooth and claw” is undeniable, but this model is unsustainable for communal life, where one should not consume young livestock, or the buds from trees, or (figuratively) one’s own children. Even signs associated with Andrei’s most procreative acts become ambiguous and dangerous: Nastena’s desperate panting in the last hours of life undeniably echo earlier sounds of copulation.


Other signs of nearing regeneration become ambivalent as well, as at the village feast held upon the return of one of the young men who had been called to the front. Much like the arrival of spring, the arrival of the young soldier calls up the hope that yet more of the young men of the village will return. The mentality of hope swiftly turns to one of wishful thinking, however, as one by one the young men who have fallen at the front are resurrected in the minds of those gathered. The futility of this gesture echoes in the film’s remainder, first in the mourning feast, a visually darkened parallel to its celebratory counterpart, and finally in the death of the village itself, which Proshkin allows the viewer to witness, in an epilogue sequence extending beyond the events depicted in Rasputin’s novella.


Live and Remember garnered Proshkin the prize for “Best Director” at Kinotavr 2008.

Aleksandr Proshkin

Aleksandr Proshkin was born in Leningrad in 1940. He graduated from the acting department at Leningrad Institute for Theatre, Music, and Filmmaking in 1961, and completed the Advanced Courses for Filmmakers at Gosteleradio in 1968. For many years he directed for literary and dramatic television programming, gaining national fame in 1986 for his biopic Mikhailo Lomonosov. With his 1988 film, The Cold Summer of 1953, Proshkin debuted on the international stage. Live and Remember is the most recent of his literary adaptions, following acclaimed adaptations of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter.

Filmography:

1978 Strategy of Risk (TV)
1979 Inspector Gull (TV)
1980 A Private Individual (TV)
1981 A Dangerous Age (TV)
1984 Mikhailo Lomonosov (TV mini- series)
1988 Cold Summer of 1953
1990 Nikolai Vavilov (TV mini-series)
1992 To See Paris and Die
1995 The Black Veil
2000 The Captain’s Daughter
2003 Trio
2006 Doctor Zhivago (TV mini-series)
2008 Live and Remember

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