The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Communist content, modern appeal

This Friday, March 12 at 7 p.m., the Cultural Films Committee (CFC) will be hosting an Eastern European film event at the Harris Cinema. They will be showing three Eastern European films—“Rabbit a la Berlin,” “Lotman’s World” and “Morphia” from Germany/Poland, Estonia and Russia, respectively. All of the films were released in the last two years. “We were trying to think of films for this semester that would be very contemporary,” said Teri Geller, English, member of the Cultural Films Committee.

Todd Armstrong, Russian, originally suggested that “Rabbit a la Berlin” be shown. A Polish movie filmed in Germany. “Rabbit a la Berlin” was recently nominated for an Oscar in the Documentary Short category. The plot follows a colony of rabbits living in the “death zone” of the Berlin Wall—the area of land between two walls, which is full of grass to feed on. “These rabbits have this safe zone, without any predators,” Armstrong said.

The film offers an interesting view of the effect of the Berlin Wall coming down. “It becomes a really compelling metaphor for life under communism, I think, sure it’s safe physically and you’re able to live your lives in some sort of happy warren, but at the same time, there are some certain problems with that,” Armstrong said. “You also couldn’t read what you wanted to read, you couldn’t say what you wanted to say, but nonetheless there was a sort of peaceful, happy existence. The wall comes down, you’re able to say what you want to say…[but] it becomes a less safe physical environment.”

The second movie, “Lotman’s World,” is about Russian cultural critic Yuri Lotman. This film has a few surprising connections to Grinnell. Leonid Ivanov, a Moscow native and campus webmaster, knew Lotman through his father—who is featured in the movie. Ivanov’s father was in the same intellectual school—structuralist—as Lotman and the two were friends. Even so, Ivanov was young when he met Lotman. He remembers that one night Lotman came to his house for dinner wearing outrageous clothes. “He had an amazing Valour suit, that were very in at the time, and you couldn’t get them anywhere…That’s all I remember from that night…I don’t remember what they talked about.”

“The one warning would be that ‘Morphia’ is going to be pretty graphic,” Geller said of the festival’s third film. “Morphia” is based on several of Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov’s short stories of the 1920s.

“[The movie is set during] the most turbulent time of the 20th century in Russia, right after the October Revolution when the Tsar was dethroned,” said Anatoly Vishevsky, Russian, who is currently teaching a course on the History of Russian Cinema. “[The plot] is quite dark, and it follows the person’s descent into illness and insanity.”

Although many of the films deal with the social and historical implications of communism in nations which are no longer communist, their content and style are still distinctly current—an explicit choice on the part of the committee. “The topics these films deal with—the world around the Berlin Wall, semiotics and cultural critique, and a challenging but deeply beautiful narrative from Russia—are not what you see every day at the movies,” said Courtney Sheehan ’11, a student on the committee. Overall, the committee expressed the importance of actively engaging with modern foreign film both for purposes of entertainment and edification. “The more you see, the more you learn about cultural, political and social things around you,” Vishevsky said.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *