Re-imagining Class: Recent Russian Cinema
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The fifteenth annual Russian Film Symposium, “Re-Imagining Class: Recent Russian Cinema” will be held on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh from Monday 29 April through Saturday 4 May 2013, with evening screenings at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room. 

The rigid and hereditary system of estates (nobility, gentry, merchantry, clergy, serfs, etc.) established by Peter the Great at the end of the seventeenth century virtually precluded any upward social mobility.  This official system remained in place until the October Revolution and the founding of the Soviet state with its “dictatorship of the proletariat,” equally effective in preventing the emergence of a  class-stratified society with the potential for social mobility.  If the first decade of the post-Soviet implosion was marked by the almost overnight appearance of oligarchs (super-rich and politically powerful individuals usually monopolizing former state industries connected to minerals, oil, gas, media, and transport), then the second post-Soviet decade has been marked by what the Western press refers to as “the rising Russian middle class” (but representatives of the Russian state derisively refer to as “office plankton,” “clerical class,” or “hamsters” in their statements to the mass media).  These “hamsters” demonstrated their political clout beginning in December 2011 with massive protests over voting fraud in the parliamentary elections.

While the existence of this “middle class” is beyond dispute, there is an enormous gap between the living conditions of this class (especially in major cities) and the ways in which these lives are represented in Russian cinema of the past decade.  Moscow (for example) is one of the five most expensive cities in the world, not just in terms of real estate prices, but also in the cost of food and clothing.  As a consequence, the majority of the members of the “middle class” work multiple jobs just to get through the month.

The on-screen images of this class belie this reality: they are invariably represented as living in spacious apartments, thoroughly modernized and up-graded with every imaginable convenience; they dress in high fashion, drive expensive European cars, dine in up-scale restaurants, vacation in every European country imaginable, etc.  In effect, Russia has two “middle classes”―a real one and a celluloid one.  The fifteenth Russian Film Symposium will focus on this contradiction.


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