Russian Without the Baggage: The Hero of New Russian Cinema

Gerald McCausland, University of Pittsburgh

One of the most significant developments in Russian cinema during the last several years has been the rise of a viable commercial film industry. Several new film studios have established themselves and the major television stations have also begun financing films targeted for commercial release. These changes have been possible at this time for several reasons. The relative stability of the Russian political, legal, and economic climate in contrast to the 1990s has allowed for the development of an infrastructure that allows cinema producers to realize a profit from their work. Just as significant is the fact that the industry has finally come to grips with the fact, acknowledged since the end of full state financing of filmmaking, that a successful film needs to be not only a work of art but also a form of entertainment.

These developments have taken place in a sector of culture that has always been closely identified with Russia's particular national identity and national destiny. Not only film critics, but also directors and producers, continue to strive for the development of an identifiably Russian cinema that is worthy of its early designation of "the most important art." This inevitably leads to a contradiction inasmuch as new Russian cinema must respond to the imperative to be entertaining and visually attractive as well as to give form to a national idea. This implies the need to break with the tradition of post-Soviet "chernukha" cinema in all its various guises. The way in which this contradiction plays itself out can be followed in the way that recent films have given form to a new kind of national hero. This paper will analyze the portrayal of the film hero in several recent Russian films, including Aleksei Balabanov's War (2002) [Voina], Petr Buslov's Bimmer (2003) [Bumer], and Pavel Chukhrai's Driver for Vera (2004) [Voditel' dlia Very]. It will be seen that the creation of a new national hero has led to a pattern of changes in the way history (both national and personal), morality, and individual freedom are conceptualized and evaluated.