To Give Hope or To Succumb to Depression? Understanding of Life in Contemporary Russian Cinema

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From its very beginnings, cinema has demonstrated its life-affirming essence. Many films produced during the first decades of cinema carried optimistic motifs: for instance, Hollywood made a significant contribution to society’s coming out of the Great Depression. A similar phenomenon characterized the Soviet cinema of the 1930s. The best Soviet films of that period were filled with optimism and the pathos of heroism. In the 1950s and 1960s, life-affirming films also dominated the Soviet cinema of the Thaw.

This trend began to change cardinally in the 1980s. Perestroika revised many of the Soviet ideals and moral norms, and this led to the dissemination of socially critical, “revelatory” and, eventually, depressive films. This trend became so influential that it continued in the Russian cinema of the 1990s and the 21st century.

A film can be characterized as depressive when it contains such motifs as disbelief in the possibility of success and in human values, feeling of the hostility of the social environment, etc. Even a brief analysis of the Russian films made in 2017–2019 allows one to the conclusion that the above-mentioned characteristics of “depressive cinema” can be found in almost half of these films.

Just as other artworks, films express depressive motifs through a system of aesthetic elements — in the first place, via the image of the protagonist. The Soviet cinema of the 1930s favored socially responsible and life-loving persons of action. Fifty years later, the cinema of Perestroika accentuated characters who were disappointed in life and disregarded common goals and legitimate social structures. In the 21st century, Russian film protagonists have continued to instill depressive emotions in the viewers’ minds: even decent, socially responsible characters have depressive characteristics. It should be noted that international film festivals tend to select those Russian films which show Russian life in a negative light. This attitude stimulates Russian filmmakers — especially young ones — to produce depressive works which ignore lifeaffirming, humanist protagonists and plots.

True, contemporary Russian life is full of problems and worries. To insist that Russian cinema should be uncritical or contented would certainly be illogical and harmful. However, it is important that depressive motifs do not dominate, that they do not destroy the viewers’ positive ideals. Filmmakers – and cinema in general — should aspire to show that there is hope even in the most complex and problemridden life situations.

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Malyshev Vladimir

Doctor of Arts, Professor, PhD in Economics, Full Member of the Russian Academy of Education, President of the Association of Educational Institutions in Arts and Culture, Acting Rector of the Sergei Gerasimov All-Russian State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK)

S.A.Gerasimov Russian State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK)
, 3, Wilhelm Pik street, 129226 Moscow, Russia

Author for correspondence.


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Copyright (c) 2020 Malyshev V.

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