The Bizarre Soviet Film That Predicted Putinism

With a sad expression of existential despair, Varkin pleads that he only wants to go back home.

“You fail to appreciate the seriousness of the Nikolaev case,” comes the reply, and then says the prosecutor, ominously, “because it affects the interests of the state.”

At that point, the prosecutor pulls up a chair and gives Varkin perhaps the most succinct expression russian miro Statism, in which Russian society has to satisfy the needs of the state, and not the other way around.

“Since the time of the Tatar-Mongolian invasion, the main idea that unites us – which inspired generations of our ancestors – is the idea of ​​the state,” he declares. “A great and powerful state is the ideal for which the Russian is ready to suffer, to endure any deprivation. Ready – if necessary – to give his life. “

Given Varkin’s silence, the prosecutor continues:

“It is an irrational idea. It is not the practical European striving to extract maximum personal gain. It is the idea of ​​the great Russian spirit, of which your own personality, and mine, is only a small subordinate part, but which us pays a hundred times more. This feeling of belonging to a great creature infuses our souls with a sense of power and immortality. The West has always tried to discredit our idea of ​​the state. But the greatest danger is not in the West. We understand all these persistent and fashionable Western ideas, attracted by their apparent rationality and pragmatism, not realizing that these qualities alone give them deadly power over us.

Varkin says nothing. “But never mind,” the prosecutor continues.

“In the end our own idea is always victorious. See, all our revolutions have not ultimately led to destruction, but to the consolidation and consolidation of the state. They always will. But not many people realize this. That the present moment is the most important in our entire history. And the case of Chef Nikolaev – which at first glance seems so insignificant – is of profound importance.”

“So… you have no way of leaving town.”

Defeated, Varkin understands that it is pointless to fight against the official narrative. Any hope of contentment can only come from submission to a state-sanctioned alternate reality. And as he does so—and gratefully accepts the role of the slain chef’s son—he is chosen as a hero by the citizens of this quaint City Zero.

Varkin’s resignation is undoubtedly familiar to many citizens of contemporary Russia, especially after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, with its accompanying clampdown on free expression against anyone who questions Russia’s “special military operation”. . free-thinking journalists, activists and even elite classThe only means of political existence is to either subjugate oneself surrealism Putin’s russian miro, or to leave it; and it’s happening it’s getting harder to run awayLike the trap of City Zero.

The film concludes with the townspeople accompanying Varkin on a midnight visit to the city’s 1,000-year-old oak tree. It was said that both Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy and Ivan the Terrible took organs from the oak, and each in turn became rulers of Russia. But now the tree of power was dead and rotting. While the townspeople busy themselves by collecting their organs as a memento of the power it once had, Varkin makes a break for it, fleeing the dark forest. Near the bank of a river, he finds a boat without an paddle. As dawn comes, he finds himself in the wide, foggy river, drifting and powerless.

Does he ever make it back to the real world? Will Russia? The film gives no indication.

While Varkin’s fate And contemporary Russo unbeknownst, with the passage of time, is curious to see what the main figures in the film become.

Varakin was played by actor Leonid Filatov, whose weary blue eyes and sympathetic demeanor belie Varakin’s eternal torment. Sadly, he died of pneumonia in 2003 at the age of 56.

The role of the prosecutor was played by the acclaimed Soviet film director Vladimir Menshov, whose “Moscow does not believe in tears, Won the 1981 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. But in his later years, his personal politics became almost indistinguishable from his role as City Zero’s prosecutor, particularly regarding his allegiance. russian miro, After Putin’s occupation of Crimea in 2014, Menshov announced Annex “a supernatural phenomenon” that not only demonstrated Russia’s “life force” as a unique civilization, but also provided “evidence of the existence of a quintessential Russian God” after years of being strayed by individualistic Russia. will give salvation. Money-making West. After some time, Menshov will Blacklisted in Ukraine, while Putin will give Menshov a second degree order “For Merit to the Fatherland”. Menshov died in July 2021 from covid-19,

Yet perhaps most troubling has been the development of the man who co-wrote and directed City Zero., Karen Shakhnazarov. In the premier Russia of the 1990s, Shakhnazarov was appointed Director General of Mosfilm Studios, and in 2011, was instrumental in uploading The Complete Mosfilm Catalog of Movies on YouTube – Including city ​​zero – Complete with subtitles where they can be viewed for free anywhere.

In recent years, Shakhnazarov has become a major supporter of Putin. russian miro in the field of cultural politics. Putin has adorned him with several state awards, including the Order of the Fourth Degree.For Merit to the Fatherland“(2012) and Order of Alexander Nevsky (2018). He has also played an active role in Kremlin politics and Putin’s United Russia party. leading an official working group To amend the Constitution of Russia.

More importantly, he has become one of the most outspoken people Putin’s public supporters neo-imperial invasionof Ukraine, which he Blames the United States to provoke. He appears regularly on the most viewed and pompous mouthpiece Putin’s propaganda Vladimir SolovyovNightly commentary program on Russian state television. To entertain the audience, Shakhnazarov has spoken candidly about the re-establishment of Russia by Putin. great civilization empireand warned that “traitorous” domestic opponents would face discomfort in branding the letter Z – a symbol of “special military operations” in Ukraine.Concentration camps, re-education, and sterilization. it’s all very serious,

While he later claimed that his concentration-camp comments were taken out of contextHe then reappears on Solovyov’s propaganda show to announce that—should Russia fail in its noble and historic mission of reconquering Ukraine—It is the West for which the concentration camps will be readyAnd will send all the Russians there without mercy.

Of course – here in the real world – such exaggeration seems unimaginable, almost laughable. But if Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine has taught us anything, it’s that we shed light on the Kremlin’s alternate-reality echo chamber at our own peril. When the godfathers of film fantasy from Russia apply their techniques to the entire country, it should get our attention.
Even as many outsiders attribute this curious worldview to Putin that has unleashed monstrosities on Ukraine, City Zero underscores that the Kremlin’s self-serving worldview is particularly novel. Not there. In fact all three pillars russian miro are evident in the film, even when Putin was a modest KGB official in East Germany. Conservative Russian nationalism in opposition to “decadal” European values ​​- as shown by the twin rotating “statues” in the mine of history – certainly goes back generations. Conservative stateism – in which the people serve the state rather than serve the state, as explained by the prosecutor – is likewise deeply rooted in Russian culture. Finally, as in the history mine, state control of information and manipulation of history is likewise a longstanding hallmark of Russian autocracy, whether from tsarist censors or Soviet propaganda.

In any case, the difference between contemporary Putinism and the autocracy of Russia’s past are the differences of degree, not the kind. Instead of being invented out of cloth, Putin’s russian miro The Russian autocracy relies on many hot-traditions; Although influenced by the power of modern social media, mass persuasion, and information technology, things that are unimaginable to previous generations of autocrats.

Back in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was collapsing with the communist autocracy of Eastern Europe, Shakhnazarov’s City Zero was a fitting, surrealist critique of the contradictions of autocracy and autocracy. Now, if anything, it serves as an ironic and troubling blueprint for how autocratic history, information, and even itself conforms to the needs of the state and the selfish desires of its leader. can manipulate.

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