The Christian-Apocalyptic Worldview in Sergej Solov'ev's Assa

Stuart Goldberg, Kazan'

Sergej Solov'ev's Assa was one of the epochal films of the glasnost' era. The proliferation of internet space devoted to viewers' heartfelt and vehement reactions testifies to its longevity and continuing relevance to the Russian audience.

Assa immediately strikes the viewer with its glaring eclecticism. The prominent contemporary critic, Alexander Timofeevskij, comments on its postmodern aesthetic: eclecticism, layering, masks rather than characters, irony, the aesthetics of kitsch. He sees its loftiest achievement in the multi-layered, tragicomical portrayal of zastoj, an embodiment of the absurd, stillborn reality of the time, and sees its greatest failing in its one-dimensional obeisance to rock music.

Among the eclectic elements, weaving in and out of this unusual historical portrait, is a layer unaccounted for in previous discussion of the film, a mélange of Christian and apocalyptic elements and references. To reconstitute these elements is to interpolate a perhaps disturbing moral and conceptual straightforwardness into the ironic, multidirectional texture of the film. Is Bananan hip eccentric, holy fool, or martyr? Is Assa an apotheosis of Russian rock-and-roll culture or does rock-and-roll stand in for something greater—greater even than the freedom to create and love of the unfettered individual? Can what appears to be a loosely connected collage of absurdist elements, full of emotional resonance, but lacking in coherence and logic, in fact, be a forceful political and social statement grounded in a Christian-apocalyptic worldview?

My goals in this paper will be to demonstrate, on one crucial plane, a hidden coherence among the various story lines and levels of artistic production in Assaand to show how an "apocalyptic" sense of history is implicated in details of script, imagery, and music, and, especially, the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated levels of storytelling. Ultimately, the question of the balance of ironic stylization and message-oriented content in the film cannot be correctly posed without a close look at the Christian-apocalyptic imagery which flashes through Assa time and again, weaving together many of its seemingly divergent strands.