What Does Sex Have To Do With It? (Interpreting Menshov's Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears and Gods' Envy)

Yana Hashamova, Ohio State University

This paper will study erotic and sexual presentations (or their absence) in Menshov's hit Moskva slezam ne verit and his most recent film Zavist' bogov (2000). Has the perception and representation of sex changed in post-Soviet cinema and how much? Sexual passion was only silently and shyly suggested on the Soviet screen. In Moskva slezam ne verit, Menshov turns out the light when Katja kisses the TV journalist and viewers soon realize that this "kiss" does not end spectacularly well. Katja becomes a mother before she has become a woman. She dedicates her life to her job and rises to the head of a chemical factory. Does she sublimate sexual impulses in her work or Russian society has channeled her energy? To ask this in Lacanian terms would be to ask, is her desire the desire of the Other? Her destiny changes when she meets Gosha, a man who brings new meaning to her life. The scenes between them are again deprived of sex and eroticism. For example, a disheveled bed signals their intimate relationship. Were directors forced to avoid explicit sexual scenes by Soviet censorship or by an immature collective perception?

Early on in Zavist' bogov, Menshov sets the audience's expectations of the erotic by having the main characters participate in a private screening of Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. This film, again, tells a story about woman's self-discovery and her late awakening to sexual passion. The film is set in the early 1980s, when Sonja is in her forties. She is married to a famous writer and has an adolescent son. With the authorities' permission she invites to her home a French pilot, who arrives accompanied by a French journalist. The journalist, AndrČ, is immediately taken by Sonja's beauty and does not hesitate to show it and pursues his desire. A passionate and impossible affair begins between them in which the third party is actually not her husband (or AndrČ's wife) but Soviet authorities. In this context how can we read Lacan's claim that "there is no sexual relation?" Viewers are gradually exposed to erotic scenes as Sonja awakens to her own sexual desire, but I will argue that although these scenes go farther than in Menshov's earlier film, they are still timid and incomplete.

This analysis will use film theory and psychoanalysis, namely Lacan's views on desire and sexual relation, and will join other recent studies discussing the contradictory exploration of sexual topics in post-Soviet culture. (See Eliot Borenstein, "About That: Deploying and Deploring Sex in Post-Soviet Russia," Studies in Twentieth Century Literature, Spring 2000). The paper will add to the knowledge of post-Soviet Russian cinema as a reflection of social and psychological phenomena.