2005 Yellow House of Cinema
"Yellow House" is a Russian colloquialism that means "insane asylum." The principal screening venue for Russian film is Moscow's famous House of Cinema. The topic for the 2005 Russian Film Symposium is The Yellow House of Cinema.
The Yellow House of Cinema examines the themes, visual practices, and cultural politics in recent Russian cinema around issues of social psychosis, dementia, mania, folly, lunacy, aberration, and the absurd. This theme is a productive one for the present moment, and offers some striking insights into Russia's social identity over the centuries. Russia—the pre-1917 Russian Empire, the Soviet Empire, or the Russian Federation—has never had a coherent or consistent "national identity." Instead, from the Muscovite state of the mid-16th century through the present, Russia has borne an imperial identity, marked by the presence of a strong center that subsumed discrete ethnic identities—Ukrainian or Belorussian, Georgian or Armenian, Kazakh or Uzbek—as territories at its (often underdeveloped and occupied) periphery, where identity was never separated from "otherness." This dilemma was brought to resolution neither with the Soviet Union's loss of its East European satellite states nor with its fragmentation in 1991 into fifteen Newly Independent States (NIS). The history of the Russian Federation since 1991 continues to be marked by further internal fragmentation, discrete independence movements that have gripped outlying regions of the state. The war in Chechnya is merely the most familiar example; less violent attempts at secession continue in Dagestan, Ingushetia, Tartarstan, Yakutia, and other regions.
Russia's identity crisis, then, is a dual one. On the one hand, it is marked by the state's continued adherence to an imperial mentality predicated on the total exercise of economic and legislative control from the (imperial) political center, marked in recent months by the re-appropriation of the state's control over natural resource and technology industries, as well as the elimination of regional and gubernatorial elections and the on-going conflict in Chechnya. On the other hand, this search is marked by a dislocation within social consciousness concerning the very definition of a "Russian-ness" irreducible (yet again) to a set of negatives: "not" European, "not" Asian, "not" Caucasian, "not" New Russians, "not" Jewish, etc. The conflict between the two parts of this identity search have been recurrently represented in contemporary Russian culture as a kind of disorder within the social body of the Russian state, a disorder assigned for cinematic treatment in The Yellow House, the [in]sane asylum, a place of both refuge and detention.
In the films to be screened during this year's Symposium, the "Yellow House" sometimes appears as a locus, a demarcated space of disorder and treatment, confinement and refuge. More frequently, however, it appears as a causus, a personal state of mind, a social condition of being, or a political horizon of imposed limitations. The "Yellow House" can be spatialized explicitly or implicitly: Iurii Grymov's The Mastermind (2001) and Andrei Konchalovskii's House of Fools (2002) contrast with the implied aberration in Anna Melikian's Mars (2004) and Andrei Nekrasov's documentary Disbelief (2004). The "Yellow House" can be articulated historically, as in Pavel Chukhrai's A Driver for Vera (2004), Dmitrii Meskhiev's Our Own (2004), and Aleksandr Veledinskii's Russian (2004); or allegorically, as in Vadim Abdrashitov's Magnetic Storms (2003) and Il'ia Khrzhanovskii's still to be released 4 (2004). Not even intimate relations and domestic environments are safe from the aura of the "Yellow House": gender (Ol'ga Stolpovskaia and Dmitrii Troitskii's You I Love ); courtship (Kira Muratova's The Tuner ); and family (Valerii Todorovskii's My Stepbrother Frankenstein ) merely constitute other arenas for enacting the collective dislocation of inherited (and suspect) ideas concerning issues of identity and allegiance.
What these instances share is the "Yellow House" as a sign of ontological and existential disruption within both the individual and the collective psyche. And, paradoxically, it is testimony to the health of the Russian cinema industry that, having recovered from the financial and artistic ills of the 1990s, it addresses this topic with an imaginative force unparalleled since the fall of communism.