I know that nobody will have any interest whatsoever in this post, except maybe my 3 staunch and long-suffering Russian-speaking readers. But since this is my personal diary, I will still write about this story because I find it fascinating. In any case, this is Saturday, the day when the smallest number of readers accesses the blog, so I will not bug anybody excessively with it.
As I mentioned before, anti-American sentiments are strong in Russia today. Stories of “those stupid Americans” are constantly invented, shared, and celebrated. The Russian government does all it can to stoke these feelings of superiority towards the “idiotic Americans” and their silly way of being. In the artistic circles, it is fashionable to ridicule the United States as the home of philistines and ignoramuses who are completely incapable of understanding art, a place where nobody ever reads any books at all, and where only complete rubbish is produced and consumed in terms of culture. (For my Canadian readers, I want to clarify that this wave of anti-American propaganda only concerns the US. Canada simply does not register at all for most Russian people.) American movies are referred to as horrible garbage that can in no way compete with the beautiful traditions of the great Russian cinema.
What is really hilarious, though, is that those same film-makers who spend their lives publishing articles on the inferiority of American film start biting each other’s heads off for the privilege of their work being nominated as the best foreign-language film by the Oscar committee. At this very moment, a huge battle is being waged by the leading Russian film-makers as to who will be nominated by Russia for the Oscars. The level of pre-Oscar hysteria in a country that keeps repeating how little it cares about the stupid entertainment of the stupid Americans is nothing short of fascinating.
The roots of the scandal go back to the Soviet era. Nikita Mikhalkov, one of the greatest Russian film-makers of all times, belonged to a very important, connected, and rich Soviet family. This means, of course, that today he is the all-powerful and authoritative overlord of everything that is related to movie-making in the country. (Remember that there was absolutely no transfer of power when the USSR supposedly met its end, and the same people are in power today who were in power during the Soviet times.)
Sadly, Mikhalkov lost his film-making talent a while ago (I hear that he is a very heavy drinker, even by the Russian standards.) The last time he made a good movie was in 1994. I’m talking, of course, about his Burnt by the Sun, a film that won him an Oscar.
So Mikhalkov decided to get himself another Oscar this year. He got a huge amount of money out of the Russian government and filmed two sequels to his Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun. The film is heavily ideological, extremely patriotic, and very pro-Russian Orthodox Church, which is why the government sponsored this expensive movie in its entirety.
The sequels flopped completely, even though the Russian government forced groups of people (especially school students) to watch them. As bad (for Mikhalkov) or good (for everybody else) luck might have it, this is also the year when the Russian film industry seems to have become extremely successful. Some really great films have been made in Russia this year, like, for example, Faust, a film that won the Golden Lion in Venice. And there are two other films that people say deserve to be nominated a lot more than the long, convoluted and cheesy melodrama filmed by the son of a Soviet boss.
The funniest thing is that Mikhalkov’s movie (which, admittedly, is no work of art) has a much better chance of actually winning the Oscar than any of the other movies people are saying deserve to be nominated over his. One of those films deals with very Russian realities that I can hardly imagine anybody outside of the country caring about. I can barely make myself care about them, so I don’t believe the Academy folks will give a rat’s ass about the film. Another one of these supposedly more deserving movies sounds like it’s beyond pretentious. And it was filmed by a director known for pretentiousness. (He is the guy who filmed this horrible Russian Ark crapola that graduate students love to watch to feel worldly and sophisticated.)
The scandal around the Oscar nomination, however, has long stopped having much to do with who has a chance of winning the award. It is now being used by film-makers, film critics and actors as an opportunity to vent their grievances against the dynasty of Communist party bosses who just can’t be pushed out of their positions of power and authority.
OK, now I have gotten this off my chest and I can promise not to treat my readers to any boring Russian gossip for a while to come.