Kolja Abdullah: Stranger within the Self in Vladimir Xotinenko's Musulmanin

Susmita Sundaram, Ohio State University

The film critic and historian, Christina Stojanova, characterizes Russia's filmmakers as an integral part of the nation's cultural elite and extends the concept of "writer as prophet" that is considered prevalent in Russia, to include film directors as well. Part of the filmmakers' mission, according to Stojanova, is to attempt to find answers to the accursed question plaguing Russia since the nineteenth century—"What is to be done?" Directors such as Nikita Mixalkov, Andrej Konchalovskij, Vladimir Xotinenko and Vadim Abdrashitov answer to this question by first asking, "What have we done?"

Stojanova sees Vladimir Xotinenko's particular answer in his internationally acclaimed film, Musulmanin (1995). Defined as a moral parable by Stojanova,Musulmanin is the story of a Russian Afghan war hero, Kolja, who returns home after being in imprisonment for several years. Given up by everyone for dead, Kolja's return to Russia is seen as a miracle particularly by his mother. The initial euphoria of his family and friends about Kolja's return turns into intense discomfort: Kolja has become a convert to Islam while in captivity.

Whereas Stojanova analyzes the film as an example of post-Soviet reality and delves into issues like post-perestroika consumerism and its conflict with the new convert's extreme piety, I explore it to identify a model of the post-Soviet person(ality). Kolja's taking on a new name, Abdullah, presents one model of the post-Soviet personality as a Self-Other dyad, that has not found artistic treatment in Russian film or literature so far.

Kolja's return to his native village in the Rjazan' province is doomed from the start. His elder brother is a good-for nothing alcoholic, who starts plotting to kill his (Moslem) brother soon after finding out that Kolja cannot be convinced to give up the part of his personality that is Abdullah. Kolja's tragedy lies in the conflict between the Self and the Other within him: he answers to both names—Kolja and Abdullah; speaks both languages—Russian and Farsi. His definition and understanding of the Self and Other are hopelessly confused: while adhering strictly to Islam as his religion, he nevertheless easily resumes much of his previous (pre-Afghan war) life in the provincial Rjazan' village. While Kolja-Abdullah seems to be willing to live with his divided Self, the people around him are not, and this leads to tragic consequences.

The problematics of Kolja-Abdullah's identity gives the main impetus to the movement of the film's plot as his identity is one that does not allow for easy separation of the Self and Other. I employ Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytic model of "strangers to ourselves" along with Baxtin's description of the "hidden dialog" to unravel the tragedy of Kolja-Abdullah, whom I read as a representative of post-Soviet personality.