Man and the Myth
Eisenstein, Tarkovsky, Konchalovsky, Mikhalkov, these are perhaps the only Russian film directors whose names have any resonance outside of Russia. Alexander Sokurov is a well-known director in Russia, but he is known in the West more as an art-film director, whose films regularly appear at the Berlin and Cannes film festivals. Even his most well-known film, Russian Ark, set in the Hermitage Museum, which attracted a lot of press (chiefly for the fact that it was shot in one single ninety-minute take), is not yet available with English subtitles.
The Museum of Film in Moscow this month is showing two of his films, Moloch and The Sun (which was released earlier this year on limited release in Russia and abroad). The Sun is the third film in his series of films about great men; the first, Taurus, is about the last days of Lenin; Moloch, the second, is about Hitler in his fortress eyrie in Bavaria.
This is the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, and no doubt the screening of these two films at this time is deliberate; they give a very particular view of two of the hate-men of the twentieth-century.
The Sun has received a lot of comment in Japan, for its portrayal of Emperor Hirohito, who comes across somewhat like Louis XVI, in love with machinery, and more controlled by, than in control of, events. Sokurov’s film is about the political machinations that went on between General Douglas MacArthur and Hirohito. MacArthur first threatens Hirohito with a trial for war crimes, and then, when Hirohito says that he will fight to the last man, he negotiates a compromise that gives Hirohito immunity from prosecution in exchange for a declaration of surrender. Two atom bombs help to convince Hirohito that MacArthur is serious.
What unites the three films (it is a pity that not all three of them will be screened) is the image of the camera itself. There is a scene in Taurus where a photographer sets up his tripod camera and poses an almost comatose Lenin for a ‘family’ photo, to be used no doubt to convince the masses that all is well; when he prepares to do the same with the visiting Stalin (come to check how many days on earth Lenin has left), he is stared down by Uncle Joe. In Moloch what most shows up Hitler to be a strutting, self-important, deluded psychopath are the two scenes in his private cinema, one when Goebbels gives him a first screening of a propaganda film showing his roaring Panzers and screaming Stukas, and the other when Hitler dementedly ‘conducts’ a performance of Wagner, recorded in Berlin.
In The Sun we learn that Hirohito is a fan of Hollywood film, particularly Charlie Chaplin. One of the key scenes is the moment when Hirohito gives a photo call for a pack of Western journalists – the first time a Japanese emperor has ever been recorded on film – and they nickname him Charlie, for Hirohito does indeed resemble Chaplin. It is Sokurov’s way of showing how the lens of a camera can be used to distort the truth of history – Lenin ‘relaxing’ in the country, the all-conquering army of Hitler’s Third Reich, pictures of Emperor ‘Charlie’ served up on breakfast tables to show the world that there’s nothing to be afraid of. Sokurov’s own lens is the corrective, the antidote to the poison of propaganda. If you are in Red Square this month for the parades you might keep his films in mind.
When: Moloch 7th May, The Sun 15th May
Where: Museum of Film, 15, Ul. Druzhinnikovskaya, Moscow M. Krasonopresneneskaya