Carnival à la Russe: A Baxtinian Look at Jurij Mamin’s Okno v Pariž

Lisa Di Bartolomeo, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Based on Robert Stamm’s extrapolation of Baxtin’s principle of carnival as applied to cinema (Stamm Subversive Pleasures: Bakhtin, Cultural Criticism, and Film, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), I propose a carnivalesque interpretation of Jurij Mamin’s film, Okno v Pariž. In the film, the communal apartment in St. Petersburg holds the trans-dimensional “window,” enabling the varied inhabitants of the flat to breach not only the borders of time and space, but also the Iron Curtain. The antics these transplanted Russians engage in while “on holiday” in Paris point up stereotypes of Soviets and French with comic precision. In fact, the comedy attains several levels of the Menippea, through “the constant presence of the comic element,” “an extraordinary freedom of plot” (witness the physics-defying window on the West), “a three-planed structure involving heaven, earth, and hell” (respectively Paris, the St. Petersburg apartment, and the St. Petersburg streets), “a fondness for scandal and violations of decorum” (nearly anything the Soviets do while in Paris), “a love of sharp contrasts and oxymoronic combinations” (the French woman in a Soviet jail wearing only a silk robe), “a polystylistic language and approach” (French versus Russian), as well as “overt and hidden polemics with various philosophical, religious and ideological schools (West versus East, etc.)” (Stamm 97–98)

This paper will map out the various ways in which Baxtin’s carnival principles may be applied to Okno v Pariž, fostering a better understanding of the film’s comic and philosophical appeal, as well as a modern interpretation of Baxtinian critique.