Table of Contents
2 Utopia Versus Reality
3 The Soviet Hero
With the dissolution of the Soviet state and the breakdown of Soviet ideologies the question about Russian national identity became a central issue in post-Soviet Russian culture (Horton 2001: 218). By promoting specific values of traditional Soviet ideals, Mikhalkov, in Burnt by the Sun [Mikhalkov, 1994], revives a national ideology and aims to re-establish the Russian national identity in post-Soviet Russia. The film recalls the idea of a distinctive Russian fate that has, admittedly, time and again resulted in political catastrophes, but nevertheless has become the basis of Russian culture having unique status and thus is crucial in forming a contemporary Russian cultural identity (Anemone 2001: 143). By reminding of past traditions and values, the film is devoted to explore what being Russian means (Larson 2003:492). With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia of the 1990s was facing an unknown future in which past cultural traditions and moral values could no longer provide a basis. In respect thereof, the film manifests the ‘anxiety about what it means to be Russian at the end of the twentieth century’ (Larsen 2003: 493). In Burnt by the Sun this fear is expressed in the instability of male honour and dignity, which grows most apparent in Colonel Kotov’s [Nikita Mikhalkov] eventual fate.
The major attention in this essay lies in exploring the utopian world created by Mikhalkov to establish an illusionistic past with the focus on the national hero. Modern nation-states often feel the need to create a myth of national identity. By doing so it is crucial to have a heroic figure at hand that represents the strengths and potencies of the nation and that people can aspire to and look up to. Such an ideal, however, cannot exist in real life which is why Mikhalkov creates an illusionistic world within reality to allow his heroic figure to flourish. By recalling a heroic Russian past, specifically a Soviet one, Mikhalkov demonstrates his affection to Socialist ideas and his endeavour to bring about a ‘new hero of our time’ (Larsen 2003: 493); just one as post-Soviet Russia with its national identity being unsettled and uncertain was lacking. Therefore, the second chapter of this essay is dedicated to explore the effects of Mikhalkov’s film making that forms a polarity between utopia and reality, with a focus on the time and space structure. Moreover, in the third chapter, an emphasis is placed on the character of Kotov who, as the great family father, embodies the heroic figure that the director has created to re-establish historical ideals. Finally, in a retrospective analysis, the essay will be concluded by drawing a parallel between the Russian cultural crisis and the film’s shaping of Russian national identity.
2 Utopia Versus Reality
An interesting parallel can be drawn between the way the society is constructed in Burnt by the Sun and the Russian cultural and historical reality. Just as the latter has throughout the time been characterised by ‘an unstable dichotomy of cruel reality and transcendent utopian dreams’, the structure of the film features a similar polarity (Anemone 2001: 143). An exemplary scene for this dichotomy between utopian aspiration and harsh reality is shown quite at the outset of the film, which shows Kotov riding to the fields to stop the military exercise (12 min ff). In this scene, special attention should be placed on the music evoking patriotic feelings that Kotov reflects. The idyllic landscape mirrored by the spacious fields and the perfectly blue sky is juxtaposed to the dark-coloured intruding tanks and obtrusively red flags.
However, best represented is the dichotomy with the dacha, on the one hand, as a kind of bubble in which traditional cultures and values are maintained and everybody is safe, and the intruders bringing in the cultural and political reality, on the other hand. The dacha is a central place of escape from the busy city life. It can be regarded as ‘an artificial environment, out of space and out of time’ (Beumers 2005: 106). Through the character of Mitia [Oleg Menshikov] real time and space come into play, which shatters the utopian life in the house. The country residence symbolises a closed space that is at the same time enclosing and protective. The fence surrounding the garden, thus, serves as both a restriction as well as a protection from outside menaces. Inside the dacha everything is in order. In the surrounding vast countryside, however, one gets easily lost. This is clearly shown by the truck driver trying to find his way around. And just before there is hope for him to find his way, he is shot. This scene symbolises the restrictions of the Soviet system: ‘there is no way out, either in time or space’ (129 min ff) (Beumers 2005: 105). Also is the disoriented truck driver a mirror for Russia’s searching her route towards a better future (Beumers 2000: 67). Kotov, who is the only one to be able to help the driver, could be regarded as the leader who can give guidance to the people, but his eventual fate does not allow him to.