The Petersburg Myth Continued: Aleksei Uchitel’’s Progulka

Melissa Sokol, Brown University

Aleksei Uchitel’’s 2003 film “Progulka”, which opened the Moscow International Film Festival that year, has received mixed reviews. Many movie- goers have viewed it as nothing more than yet another reincarnation of the “boy meet girl” story. Even the “surprise” ending may not be enough to compel critics to rise to their feet and applaud. Yet as literary scholars, “Progulka” is of interest due to its depiction of Petersburg, and its allusions to works of Russian literature.

Much of film’s action takes place on Nevsky Prospect or at / near other notable locations in Petersburg such as St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the statue of the Bronze Horseman. The film was made during the period in which Petersburg was being readied for the bicentennial anniversary of its founding. The Petersburg we see is under (re)construction: there is scaffolding and road repair everywhere. Construction workers exchange comments about Peter the Great’s building of the city on a swamp.

In addition to drawing from the theme of the founding of Petersburg, Uchitel’ incorporates literary allusions into this film. Several of these allusions call to mind Pushkin. For example, when Alesha meets Olga he refers to her as “baryshnya”, stirring up thoughts of Pushkin’s Belkin Tale of the disguised maiden (which Olga indeed turns out to be). We have a duel between the main characters Alesha and Petya over their love interest Olga. This conjures up ideas of Lenskiy and Onegin’s duel in “Evgeniy Onegin.” Olga herself offers support of this connection by referring to Alesha as a poet, which he is not.

Most striking, however, are the allusions made to Gogol’s “Nevsky Prospect.” As we know, this work opens with an ode of sorts to the street, and then unfolds into the story of Piskarev and Lieutenant Pirogov, each of whom sees a woman on Nevsky Prospect, follows her, and has his advances ultimately rebuffed. Uchitel’ here creates an inversion of Gogol’s story. Instead of two men each following a woman who turns out to be other than he thinks, we have two men following the same woman who turns out to be other than they think. The demons of Nevsky are to be blamed in both cases.

In his depiction of Russia’s 20-something generation, Uchitel’ demonstrates on the one hand how very much like other youth Russian youth is, while at the same time differentiating these characters by linking them to their particular Russian literary heritage.