The image of youth in late Soviet cinema: Doomed Youth
‘The image of youth in late Soviet cinema’ is a series of articles exploring the ways youth was portrayed in Soviet films of perestroika period.
>> Read the previous article: Monstrous Youth
Another dominant cinematic image of youth in the 1980s is the doomed, hopeless youth. As opposed to the previous tendency in which it was implicitly suggested that there is something wrong within the young generation itself, this tendency, often being subtly critical of the socio-political situation of the late USSR, connotes that it is the decay of social environment that has direct influence upon youth. A regular trope in these films is a dysfunctional and disintegrated family as one of the implied reasons of youth’s misery and alienation.
Malen’kaia Vera/Little Vera (directed by Vasilii Pichul, 1988) follows an initial attempt at adulthood of the young girl Vera during her first summer after graduation. She lives with her family in an utterly boring provincial port town. Her father is a working-class alcoholic and her mother is a tired woman who only cares about making pickled cucumbers. They both constantly scold Vera for immorality, hedonism and a lack of serious attitude towards life. Her elder brother, the pride of the family, studied to be a doctor and got a job in Moscow, and now is not particularly willing to spend time with his family. To liven up this dull atmosphere, Vera spends time in a cafe and attends diskoteki (dancing evenings) with her friend Lena Chistiakova. One day she meets the attractive technical college student Sergei. Their relationship unwind quickly: they have sex the very night they meet and then decide to get married. Vera’s parents struggle to accept the bridegroom and he despises them with all his heart. The situation evolves in a tragic way: Vera’s drunk father stabs Sergei at the dinner table (non-fatally), Vera attempts to commit suicide, and the film ends with Vera’s father dying of a heart attack.
Vera is an emblematic representative of the doomed generation: she is bored to death (we can see it in her facial expression and movements throughout the film) and desperately wants to enjoy life, but the only way she sees to achieve it in this environment is to have sex with her boyfriend, smoke, and consume alcohol. However, when, on the eve of her wedding, Vera gets drunk with her friend Chistiakova and they start a frank conversation, Vera’s true feelings about this way of life come to surface: ‘I can’t understand, this is supposed to be the happiest time of my life — but I feel like howling with pain! My mind boggles at night. As I lie there looking at Sergei, I think to myself “God, how to keep on living?”’. Surrounded by this uninspiring environment, she cannot help but to see her future in bleak colours: in her conversation with Sergei at the beach, when he asks her about the purpose of her life; she, not being able to come up with an answer, replies with sad irony: ‘We all have one purpose — communism’.
She hardly has anybody to look up to: her father is a degenerate Mentor, and the only way for him to exert his power is through verbal and physical violence. Vera is often forced to “be a parent” to her father. When he is drunk he becomes infantilized: unable to walk or undress unassisted, slobbering, his voice reduced to a feeble cry. The idea of following her parents’ steps seems ridiculous to her: when Vera’s mother gives her the book about homemaking as a wedding gift, Vera bursts into laughter. Later when Sergei asks her ‘Where is my razor?’ (the question that her father used to ask her), Vera laughs hysterically and mockingly answers how she usually answered to her father: ‘On the balcony!’. However, behind this laughter is horror: deep inside, Vera is terrified with and disgusted by the idea of leading the life of her parents. The film ends with the shot of Vera and Sergei alone in the dark room; she is trembling after the poisoning attempt, while he can hardly move because of his wound. With this shot, the film offers hardly any decent future for the couple, and the responsibility for this situation is laid at the parents’ feet.
Another poignant portrait of the doomed generation can be found in pre-perestroika film by Dinara Asanova, Patsany/Teenagers, (1983). The film revolves around the 15-year-old boy Vova Kireev. He and his elder sister Margo have to live with their violent alcoholic father, who is not able to support them financially. Margo’s college bursary is not enough to cover their expenses and Vova is forced to steal. In the beginning of the film, we see him in a courtroom about to get a two-year sentence for theft. However, Pavel Vasil’evich, the head of a sport and labour camp for difficult teenagers, intervenes and persuades the jury to give Vova a chance and allow him to take the boy to his camp. Pavel is arguably the last honest and respectable Mentor of the 1980s Soviet youth cinema. His attitude to his mentees is based on care, respect, understanding and individual approach (as opposed to his assistant who believes only in reformation through punishment). However, even Pavel is unable to help the doomed generation: when Vova is arrested by mistake, his peers revolt and literally destroy the camp. Pavel feels frustration and anger, but forgives the rebels, seeing their repentance. When Vova returns to the camp, the grim news await him: his sister has attempted to poison herself with gas after their father forcefully cut her hair at the request of his one-off girlfriend. Later, at the dinner table, Pavel notices the absence of Vova, as well as the absence of his gun. Having guessed Vova’s intentions, Pavel starts running towards the train station. However, everything suggests that he is going to be late, as well as that now Vova will not be able to escape prison. Similarly to Little Vera, Patsany puts the blame for youth’s misery and alienation on the dysfunctional family.
>> Read the next article: Youth In Search