Title

Estrangement in Russian Cinema

Presentation Type

Poster

Abstract

Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Elena is a brilliant display of artistry and narrative. The film centers on the film’s heroine Elena, who is caught between the upper and lower classes and her first and second families. The film attends to the complexity of morality in a Russian context while simultaneously entertaining a cross-cultural viewership with issues of family dynamics and class struggle. In 2011 Elena received the Prix du Jury prize, perhaps the third most prestigious commendation in cinema, at the Cannes Film Festival.

Despite the critical appeal of the film and its appeal to international audiences, there is something very unnerving about Zvyagintsev’s film. Elena is uncomfortable to watch. At no time during the film is the viewer able to lapse into the happy, dumb complacency of scopophilia and mindlessly escape into the consequence-free universe of the screen. Zyagintsev responds to the cinematic tropes that have conditioned modern viewership with the excited austerity of a Russian formalist, and Elena is allowed to point to itself and declare, “art.”

The assertion that Elena is a production of art, strictly in the formalist sense, demands a clarification of the definition of art. According to Russian formalism, formal elements comprise the axiology of art. Moreover, that axiology is not established with undue consideration of character development or thematic conclusions. Formalism requires a shift in emphasis from an objective analysis to a subjective experience. Articulated by Victor Shklovsky in “Art as Technique,” art as form places a necessary emphasis on the viewer’s (the subject’s) perception of the object.

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Apr 12th, 11:00 AM Apr 12th, 12:00 PM

Estrangement in Russian Cinema

UC Ballroom

Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Elena is a brilliant display of artistry and narrative. The film centers on the film’s heroine Elena, who is caught between the upper and lower classes and her first and second families. The film attends to the complexity of morality in a Russian context while simultaneously entertaining a cross-cultural viewership with issues of family dynamics and class struggle. In 2011 Elena received the Prix du Jury prize, perhaps the third most prestigious commendation in cinema, at the Cannes Film Festival.

Despite the critical appeal of the film and its appeal to international audiences, there is something very unnerving about Zvyagintsev’s film. Elena is uncomfortable to watch. At no time during the film is the viewer able to lapse into the happy, dumb complacency of scopophilia and mindlessly escape into the consequence-free universe of the screen. Zyagintsev responds to the cinematic tropes that have conditioned modern viewership with the excited austerity of a Russian formalist, and Elena is allowed to point to itself and declare, “art.”

The assertion that Elena is a production of art, strictly in the formalist sense, demands a clarification of the definition of art. According to Russian formalism, formal elements comprise the axiology of art. Moreover, that axiology is not established with undue consideration of character development or thematic conclusions. Formalism requires a shift in emphasis from an objective analysis to a subjective experience. Articulated by Victor Shklovsky in “Art as Technique,” art as form places a necessary emphasis on the viewer’s (the subject’s) perception of the object.