Slot:       29D-3          Dec. 29, 3:45 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.                                                

Panel:     Cinepaternity: Fathers and Sons on Soviet Screens

Chair:     Yana Hashamova, Ohio State University


Title:       Nobody’s Child: Fatherless Sons and Revisionist Histories in Khutsiev’s Two Fedors and Bondarchuk's Fate of a Man

Author:   Susan Larsen, Pomona College

My paper investigates the figure of the orphan in two major works of Thaw-era Soviet cinema:  Marlen Khutsiev’s Two Fedors  (Dva Fedora, 1958) and  Sergei Bondarchuk’s Fate of a Man (Sud′ba cheloveka, 1959).    My paper’s title comes from the reply that the young orphan Fedor gives to the question, “Whose kid are you?” in Marlen Khutsiev’s Two Fedors. “Nobody’s,” he replies.  In this paper I argue that the war orphan’s refusal to name his father functions not only to accentuate the pathos of his position in the film, but also to assert his (imaginary) position outside the narrative of Soviet history.  The orphan in these films is not simply deprived of a father, he is also free of his influence.    Both Two Fedors and Fate are set in the aftermath of World War II, and both feature as their main character a veteran who has lost his family to the war, but who subsequently forms a new, non-biological family unit with a young (male) war orphan.  Given the age difference between the older and younger orphan, the relationship that forms between them may look like that between father and son.  I argue, however, that both films present their adult protagonists as metaphorical children who have lost not only their biological, but also their historical father, the national patriarch whose “cult of personality” had just been denounced by Khrushchev in his 1956 speech at the 20th Party Congress.

The two films differ, however, in the ways in which they map the relationship between their protagonists’ wartime pasts and their post-war present.  The narrative structure of each film corresponds to the form of the substitute family bond that unites the older and younger orphan in each film.  Khutsiev’s film collapses chronological time in asserting an equivalence between its two male protagonists, both named Fedor, neither of whose wartime experiences are presented in the film.  In contrast to Khutsiev’s two Fedors who struggle to survive amid the shortages and rubble of a realistically-depicted post-war present, Bondarchuk’s Aleksandr Sokolov is a man whose identity derives primarily from the wartime past that the film relates in an extended flashback.   His health shattered by his wartime trials, Sokolov fears only that he “will die in [his] sleep and frighten [his] little son.”   That goal is one the film shares:  it comforts its audiences, rather than–like the two Fedors–disturbing them, with its portrait of a hero all of whose pain originates in the past and whose present is fueled only by his desire not to injure his surrogate son.


Title:       Myth of the “Great Family” in Marlen Khutsiev’s Lenin’s Guard and Mark Osepyan’s Three Days of Viktor Chernyshev

Author:   Alexander Prokhorov, College of William and Mary

In her discussion of the Soviet novel, Katerina Clark contends that the myth of the “Great Family” constitutes the fundamental kinship metaphor of Stalinist culture.  This family included the paternal ideological mentor and the son-positive-hero and provided the main ideological community of the socialist realist master-plot.  I argue that the myth of the “Great Family” determined not only Stalinist but also post-Stalinist verbal and visual narratives.  Using as my case studies two films, Marlen Khutsiev’s Lenin’s Guard (1962) and Mark Osepyan’s Three Day of Viktor Chernyshev (1967), I examine the evolution of the myth of the “Great Family” in Soviet cinema of the 1960s.  Khutsiev’s art film became the manifesto of the Soviet intelligentsia of the 1960s.  In his picture the filmmaker attempted to revive revolutionary utopianism of Soviet culture and reconstitute the father-son bond in accordance with the cultural values of the Khrushchev Thaw (anti-monumentalism, respect for the individual, cult of the artist).  Khutsiev constructs the anti-monumental instantiation of the myth of the ideological family and places it in the context of Moscow’s cultural life, searching for the new utopia in the presumed purity of Leninist revolutionary ideology. 

I compare Khutsiev’s instantiation of the myth of the ‘Great Family” with that of Mark Osepyan’s Three Days of Viktor Chernyshev.  In Osepyan’s picture, the myth of the “Great Family” exists as a set of fragmented conventions alien to the characters’ everyday experience.  Osepyan’s protagonist loses family identity, and above all, ideological ties to the generation of his father.  The amnesia of cultural and ideological heritage constitutes the distinctive feature of Viktor’s sense of self.  If Khutsiev’s heroes reconnect with the cultural values of their fathers, Viktor Chernyshev has no interest in his father’s ideals and his origins.  The sense of displacement and alienation replaces the desire to reestablish a spiritual link with the previous generations in order to define the protagonist’s personal identity.  Osepyan chooses gray dystopian cityscape as the prime setting for his hero’s three days of wanderings.  Depressing lanes and back streets as the mise-en-scène of Osepyan’s film contrasts sharply with the energetic metropolis of Khutsiev’s Lenin’s Guard.  The demise of the myth of “Great Family” is symptomatic of the major generic shift: Stagnation-era social problem film replaces the art film of the early 1960s.


Title:       “Fathers without Sons?”: The Figure of the Veteran in 1970s Melodrama and Comedy

Author:   Elena Prokhorova, University of Richmond

Popular genres—melodrama and comedy—responded to the theme of the “veteran” in very different ways, signaling the conflict between the official status of the “father-veterans” and the actual irrelevance of their experience for the younger generation.   I argue that such films as Andrei Smirnov’s Belorussia Station (1970), Vladimir Rogovoi’s Officers (1971), and Eldar Riazanov’s Old Men Robbers (1971) address not a broadening generation gap between (grand)fathers and (grand)children, but a complete break with the Soviet utopia. At the narrative center is a trip down memory lane, motivated and enacted differently in each film. The veteran heroes’ identity and their sense of self is entirely defined by their heroic and communal Soviet experience.  As mentors, their cultural importance lies not in their guidance of the young but in their memory.  Yet they have no one to educate or even communicate with.  The younger generation is politely respectful at best, rude and abusive at worst.  The personal drama of male characters is also the drama of Soviet heritage disappearing in societal amnesia.  In short, I claim that these films’ melodramatic narratives, all-star casts, and minor-key soundtrack mark a transition from the residual utopia of the 1960s cinema to the pragmatism and moral concerns of the 1970s cinema.