Monday, July 18, 2016

The Edge (orig. Край / Kray) [2010]

MPAA (UR would be R)  Fr. Dennis (1 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing listing* listing* listing*

Russia Beyond the Headlines (S. Norris) article on the Gulag as portrayed in post-Communist Russian film / TV (A. Strelkov) review* (A. Yushchenko) review* (D. Goryacheva) review* (N. Tsyrkun) review* (R. Korneev) review* (A. Izayev) review* (E. Vizgalova) review* (S. Menzonov) review* (N, Romodanovskaya) review* (S. Stepnova) review*

The Edge (orig. Край / Kray) [2010] [IMDb] []*[]*[]*(directed by Alexey Uchitel [IMDb] []*[]*[]*, story and screenplay by Aleksandr Gonorovskiy [IMDb] []*[]*[]*),  serving as the sixth stop in my  2016 Russian Film Tour, is considered probably the closest thing to a truly Russian-made GULAG film made to date.

The film served as Russia's 2010 submission for the Best Foreign Language Film to the Oscars (where it may or may not have made the short list [1] [2] but ultimately was not nominated, though it was nominated by the foreign press corp for a Golden Globe that year but lost ultimately to the Danish film In a Better World [2010] (which also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film that year).

Did it succeed?  Pretty much by all accounts (even Russian ones) _not really_ and for multiple (some actually quite interesting / sincere) reasons.

Readers here should note that there have been several outstanding recent films about _aspects_ of the GULAG story that were _co-produced_ by Russia (though driven by the initiative of countries that had been _victimized_ by the former Soviet Regime).  Several of these films I have reviewed here including:

Siberian Exile (orig. Syberiada Polska) [2013] a largely Polish though at least part Russian co-production, that was filmed in Siberia, using, in part, Russian actors, and which even premiered in Krasnoyarsk in Siberia to an audience made-up largely of the _descendants_ of the Poles who were deported to Siberia after the Soviet Union invaded and absorbed of the Eastern half of Poland at the beginning of World War II in 1939.  (At the end of that first screening apparently a fair number of the audience stood-up and sang the Polish national anthem ;-). 

The Excursionist (orig. Ekskursantė) [2013] a Lithuanian-Russian co-production that again was filmed largely in Russia, utilized several fairly prominent Russian actors and even shared the Nika Award (the Russian closest equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Picture from the CIS / Baltics Countries in 2014 (an award that would arouse certain ambivalence in Lithuania today because the award honors films from the nations of the former Soviet Union whereas Lithuania never wished to be part of the Soviet Union and in the decades since its break-up has become a member of both NATO and European Union). 
Readers should _also_ note here that there have _also_ been excellent Russian-made television series on _other aspects_ of the GULAG including the remarkable ten part The First Circle (orig. В круге первом / V Kryge Pervom - TV Miniseries) [2006] [IMDb] []*[]*(directed and screenplay cowritten by Gleb Panfilov [IMDb] []*[]* along with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn [en.wikip] [ru.wikip]*[GR] [WCat] [IMDb] himself, a dramatization of Solzhenitsyn's celebrated novel [GR] [WCat] [Amzn]) which is available in its entirety (albeit in Russian) on the Telekanal Russia-1's website.  (English subtitles for the series in its entirety are also available online, if elsewhere, as well).

I generally avoid reviewing television series (due to their length ...).  But I have made exceptions before -- The Borgias [2011], Through the Wormhole [2010-] and The Bible [2013].  Yet, given that this series had apparently the imprimatur of Solzhenitsyn himself, it would seem somewhat unnecessary for me to review it here (clearly it's good).

Yet excellent or not, for the current discussion here it could be said that the reason why _that book_ by Solzhenitsyn was dramatized into a ten-part miniseries (and _not_ another book about the GULAG, be it by Solzhenitsyn or someone else) was that, making reference to Dante's Inferno, Solzhenitsyn himself characterized the conditions described in The First Circle [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] (those of scientists incarcerated by Stalin so that his men could keep an eye on them as they were impressed to work on secret weapons projects for the Soviet Government) as merely those of the "First Circle of the Hell that was the GULAG."  Other, "less valuable" inmates (like the Poles and Lithuanians above) suffered far, far worse.

So EVEN that remarkable ten part dramatization The First Circle (orig. В круге первом / V Kryge Pervom - TV Miniseries) [2006] [IMDb] []*[]* could be said to be describing "GULAG - Lite"

Keeping ALL THIS in mind then, to the current film at hand ...

Readers / potential Viewers of the current film here need to realize that in the case of this film, The Edge (orig. Край / Kray) [2010] [IMDb] []*[]*[]*, the GULAG actually serves as simply a BACKDROP to A DIFFERENT STORY, _easier_ perhaps for a Russian to tell, about RECONCILIATION / FORGIVENESS:

Set in the late summer of 1945 (hence JUST AFTER the end of World War II) a Siberian community of Exiles at the "Edge of the Taiga" (all there for reasons of various and often quite random "anti-state" activities) is forced to confront (and forgive) a young German girl (played in the film by Anjorka Strechel [IMDb] []*[]*) who they find quite unexpectedly living-out in the woods outside their camp.  What was she doing there?  Well ... she came out there in 1940 (hence before the war) with her father, again German, an engineer, who was tasked to build a bridge over a nearby Siberian River.  When the bridge partly collapsed, her father was summarily executed for his failure ("failure" not exactly tolerated by the NKVD of the time).  And so, she ran for her life into the woods, where she stayed, _alone_ FOR FOUR YEARS, until being discovered by Russian (again, somewhat condemned) railroad engineer (played by Vladimir Mashkov [IMDb] []*[]*)

Anyway, this village of Exiles (again, all there, having been condemned, for quite random and often quite trivial "anti-state" activities) had to decide if they could live with this "Fascist" German girl who didn't even know that she was a Fascist.  That is essentially the film.

The harshness of life in this Siberian community (something of a cross between a village and a labor  camp) is, I suppose portrayed.  (One interesting aspect portrayed is also seen in the Polish and Lithuanian productions cited above as well -- in Siberia, most exiles were not really "fenced-in" in a traditional "concentration camp" sense as there wasn't really a need: There was _nowhere to run_ even if one wanted to ...).  Yet, arguably, the people in this Siberian community "at the edge" of the Taiga were portrayed as being at least _in part_ deserving of being there.  And except by the conditions themselves they were not portrayed as being particularly punished -- again basically "GULAG -- Lite."

So is this then really a serious portrayal of the life in the Soviet GULAG?  Even the Russian commentators above ask this.  And yet, it would seem according to many of the above critics / commentators that even the Russian populace itself is rather ambivalent about digging deeply into the horror that the GULAG was.

Should that really be surprising?

I don't think I've ever seen a film that really did portray the horror that must have been felt by a debtor or petty criminal as he/she was put onto a ship in England of the 19th century and then deported (on a several months journey) to Australia.  I'm sure that films about this exist, but I honestly can't think of one (there's reference to these deportations in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations [wikip] [GR] [IMDb] but again, if I remember correctly, only reference rather than actual description).

Then yes, Papillon [1973] [IMDb] [wikip] [GR] describes in vivid detail the horror of being condemned to prison / exile by France to Devil's Island.    One would think / HOPE that Russia today would be capable of making a "Papillon-like" film about the GULAG.

But I do also return to American reaction (especially on the Right) to movies about Slavery.  Every time a movie comes out about the horrors of Slavery, someone on Fox-News comes out saying: "How many more movies must we make about Slavery?  Hasn't everything that could be said about Slavery already been said?"

So I think I understand the reluctance of common Russians and even the Putin government to be(come) honest about the horror of what the GULAG was.  Nobody likes to look at the ugly parts of one's country's history.  And films that would explore such dark topics are not going to do well in the box office.  They don't do well here in the United States either.  American Sniper [2014] was far-and-away the most popular American movie about the Iraq war ever made.  How did the American films which were more critical of the war do?  Need one even ask?

Still those anti-Iraq War film _were_ made here.  A country where true freedom exists makes such self-critical films.

Russia's film community is certainly capable of doing better than The Edge (orig. Край / Kray) [2010] [IMDb] []*[]*[]* ...

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