The image of youth in late Soviet cinema: Youth In Search
‘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: Doomed Youth
A relatively more optimistic strand that can be distinguished in the 1980s Soviet youth cinema consists of films that engage with self-discovery through dilemmas of contemporary young generation, that in the framework of this essay we will label as youth in search. In the foreground of this tendency is Karen Shakhnazarov’s Kur’er/Courier, (1986), that tells a story of the graduate Ivan Miroshnikov, who fails the university entrance exam and needs to find a temporary job before he is drafted into the army. Ivan gets a position of courier in a scientific journal and sees his first assignment — delivering a manuscript to respectable Professor Kuznetsov — as an opportunity to make a pass at the Professor’s daughter Katia.
The theme of the clash of the two generational ideologies discussed in relation to Dorogaia Elena Sergeevna is again present in Kur’er. However, rather than acquiring a tough skin of cynicism like the characters of Dorogaia Elena, Ivan uses irony to test the values of the adult world he encounters. The adults, in turn, hardly have anything to offer or teach Ivan, and there is no explicit figure of the Mentor in the film. Ivan’s father left the family and went to Africa. His mother is an offspring of the Thaw but, unlike Elena Sergeevna, has already lost her hopes for the bright future and, in addition to that, is desolated by the divorce. Professor Kuznetsov aggressively interrogates Ivan about the principles by which the boy exists in the society. The adults at the editorial office are immersed in the mundane: the secretary-spinster is dreaming of a Japanese husband, and the assistant editor Makarov’s dream is that the barometric pressure wouldn’t keep dropping as the fish would bite better.
Ivan’s quest originates in his own internal universe, but it is through his ironic engagement with the world that he gradually learns the true meaning of life. In the finale of the film, he meets his friend Bazin and asks him if he has a dream. Bazin casually replies that his dream is to buy a coat (which echoes the “dreams” of Ivan’s colleagues at the office, as well as Katia’s hysterical confession that her dream is to be liked by men and to own a sports car and a lap dog). Having learnt a lesson from the depressing adult world that surrounds him, Ivan gives Bazin his own new coat and says: ‘Wear it, and dream of something great’. However, the film does not end on this positive note: as Ivan starts heading home he comes across a young soldier with a mutilated face. As they stare at each other, Ivan’s destiny appears in grim light, as he will be drafted into the army soon and will probably go where this young soldier is coming from: Afghanistan. This episode echoes the doomed youth tendency with its critique of the late Soviet socio-political situation as a reason for youth’s misery.
The film Pliumbum, ili Opasnaia igra/Plumbum, or A Dangerous Game (1987, directed by Vadim Abdrashitov) offers a much more disturbing portrait of youth in search. Pliumbum is a nickname of Ruslan Chutko, a 15-year-old exemplary student and son, who works for an organisation of vigilantes in his spare time to purge the town from parasites: homeless, robbers, poachers. Pliumbum draws on themes prevailing in perestroika cinema, most notably anti-Stalinism and the generational conflict. Ruslan’s parents are the 1960s Thaw intelligentsia, romantic idealists brought up to the poetry of Evgenii Evtushenko and Andrei Voznesenskii. However, Ruslan’s views are radically different — he finds more inspiration in the Stalinist era.
He, in his obsessive search of justice and in a direct parallel with the story of Pavlik Morozov, does not hesitate before arresting his own father for illegal fishing; thus the film also exhibits features of the monstrous youth tendency. Apart from indicating his Stalinist tendencies (as Stalin, he chose to be called as a kind of metal), Ruslan’s pseudonym also connotes his inadequacy in the role of a reformer, as lead is a soft metal and can be easily molded. As opposed to Ivan in Courier, who is molded by the degraded values of the adult world, Ruslan derives a wrong lesson from the older generation, as they fail to keep up with turbulent and complex social changes brought by the time. His obsession ends tragically for his close ones: while his father gets away with a fine, his girlfriend Sonia plummets to death from the roof of a building while helping Ruslan to chase an offender.
>> Read the next article: Real Youth?