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Sad Comedy of Èl'dar Riazanov

Sad Comedy of Èl'dar Riazanov: An Introduction to Russia's Most Popular Filmmaker

David MacFadyen
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Sad Comedy of Èl'dar Riazanov
    Book Description:

    David MacFadyen investigates what made Riazanov's films so wildly popular and what - if any - relationship that popularity had to Soviet policy. Using the works of Deleuze, Lacan, and Kristeva, MacFadyen looks at how Riazanov's films relate to society, audience demand, and Soviet politics. In more than twenty love stories that have precious little to do with statecraft, Soviet or otherwise, Riazanov captures the willful inclusiveness of socialist culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7131-0
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. 3-16)

    Synopsis: Browbeaten routinely by his overbearing wife, Doctor Kashtanov suddenly decides to make “the move of champions.” He sneaks off to the village of Still Waters, the home of a childhood friend. A search begins for the brilliant surgeon, and not just among the members of his family. A police detective is on his trail, as – for different reasons – is a female tv journalist, who is young, beautiful and single … She, naturally, is the first to head off in search of Kashtanov. The pursuit finishes most unexpectedly, both for the journalist and the doctor!

    This jolly précis...


    • 1 Psychoanalysis in the Soviet Union
      (pp. 19-44)

      It is time now to look at the workings of desire and drive in the context of Soviet society. We will examine how the role and history of psychoanalysis in that society allow us to go even further and discern the relationship (outside of dogma) between socialism, mirth, and melancholy. This chapter will suggest why sadness is so evident in Soviet popular culture and why, contrary to common belief, it is a matter neither of bitter satire nor of political fatalism. First things first, though: we need to establish a few basic working terms. The reader may remember that in...


    • 2 Ideology versus Diffidence, Not Dissidence
      (pp. 47-77)

      Each of the remaining parts of this book (Parts 2–6) will be dedicated to one of Kristeva’s emphases, whichin totoplot the challenge to and development of selfhood in gradual departure from an overbearing Other. The steps involved are ideology, sadness, fear, hope/desire, and love. First comes ideology, the language of that Other, against the backdrop of which Riazanov, his fellow screenwriter Èmil’ Braginskii, and their joint heroes will learn to utter their subjectivity. But what of Soviet comedies themselves, especially the Stalinist classics? Did they already have a language of their own? Perhaps these films are the...

    • 3 Ideology Faces the Horrors of Its Opposite
      (pp. 78-94)

      Synopsis: A teacher at a provincial school, Elena Sergeevna, is visited unexpectedly by four of her students bearing flowers and congratulations for their beloved mentor. Unaccustomed to such company, Elena nonetheless lets the students enjoy a snack or two, plus some alcohol they’ve brought. The conversation slowly takes a nasty turn; the children want the keys to a safe at school so that they might correct some awful exams recently written and thus save their (potential) future careers. Elena, a woman of strict socialist principle, refuses them over and over again, reproaching the students with all manner of social failings....


    • 4 The Difficult Birth of Tragicomedy
      (pp. 97-111)

      Synopsis: A team of anthropologists on a mountain expedition is looking for the mythical tribe of the “Tapi” people. One of the scientists, Porazhaev, slips and tumbles into a deep crevasse, at the bottom of which he is amazed to see the Tapi dancing around a huge fire. They all speak in blank verse; Porazhaev is at once accused of speaking in prosaic “rhythms.” He escapes with a tribe member, known as Chudak (“Goofball”), to Moscow, where his superhuman strength can only be explained as that of an international athlete. Everything Chudak does is excessive, including falling in love, an...

    • 5 Can Materialism Be Challenged by Melancholy?
      (pp. 112-132)

      Synopsis: An insurance agent, Detochkin, is troubled by the dealings of some profiteering Soviet citizens in shadier areas of the socialist economy. He decides to punish them by stealing their cars. When he takes (after several attempts) the car of a dishonest hi-fi salesman, he is brought together with – and befriends – an unsuspecting detective through the Shakespearean amateur dramatics in which they both engage. Detochkin complicates his situation by leaving his copy of the Bard’s works behind in one attempt at the crime; he is caught by a hidden bear trap during another (giving him a suspicious limp)....


    • 6 “A Wave of Fear Ran through My Body …”
      (pp. 135-148)

      Synopsis: A gypsy at a railway station is badgering a writer, Oleg Goriunov. She wishes to tell his fortune but, when she does, is horrified at what his palm reveals: he will both fall deeply in love and die within the next twenty-four hours. Goriunov goes home, vaguely troubled by such nonsense, to find an intruder in his apartment. A young, handsome, and somewhat familiar man sprawled across his divan tells the writer more and more about his life, until it is revealed that this upstart is the writer as he was several decades ago – same name, similar body,...

    • 7 The Dignity of Risk
      (pp. 149-168)

      Synopsis: Count Merzliaev serves as secret adviser to the czar in a provincial town recently visited by a regiment of hussars. Part of the local entertainment offered Merzliaev, his charming visitors, and high society comes from a father-and-daughter theatrical troupe, staging a less than convincing version of Othello. The father, Bubentsov, is outraged by a hussar’s noisy behaviour during the play and fires a crossbow bolt at him; it overshoots its target, however, and hits a noble lady in the rump. Bubentsov is arrested. While imprisoned, he is blackmailed into helping Merzliaev stage mock executions to force confessions out of...


    • 8 Insignificance as Salvation
      (pp. 171-194)

      Synopsis: Forty-three elderly tramps live in abandoned railway carriages on the outskirts of Moscow. Their elected “president” declares one evening that he has been in contact with alien visitors and that these beings have invited the down-and-outs to live “in a humane way” on their distant planet. The trip will begin in the near future, as soon as some rare blue snow begins to fall. In the meanwhile, the tramps’ trains are under threat from an American developer who wants to build a condom factory “in the interests of perestroika.” Close by, an elderly lady is beaten by her drunken...


    • 9 “I Love You!” “What a Ridiculous Decision!”
      (pp. 197-216)

      Here, in this final chapter of plot and genre analysis, we turn to love, to the creation of self in the minimally small social unit of two people, where the idea of Sovietness is reconsidered, reworked, and offered once againbackto the very society against which it defines itself. The five films examined in Part 6 all concern love and the success or failure of renovated, renegotiated social relations. In these movies we see first of all desire in a large, cruel social network trying to fashion basic tenderness but failing because of the great avariciousness with which that...

    • 10 Love and the Adventures of Lunacy
      (pp. 217-234)

      Synopsis: On New Year’s Eve four friends gather at the public baths in Moscow to celebrate the impending departure of one of them to Leningrad. The ensuing drunkenness over a few hours makes it impossible to say which of them should make the flight. After much discussion at Moscow airport, the wrong man – Zhenia Lukashin – flies off. He arrives in the north and, owing to the complete uniformity of Soviet cityscapes, is able to give a taxi driver his street, building, and apartment number, all of which exist in Leningrad, too. Even his key fits the lock …...

  10. Conclusion: Western Notions and Witty Words
    (pp. 235-240)

    This closing section is designed simply to offer a few words of summary, to touch once more upon the something about which we could not speak, an entity initially and timidly produced or promoted by Soviet society in the early years of the Thaw. At that time, comedic cinema wanted to “link art to life” in a way that Stalinist cinema sometimes had not. Soviet movie historians of the period were already lauding Riazanov’sCarnival Nightas the film that could link the silver screen and a more human expression of existence, one bound less tightly to the limitations of...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 241-270)
  12. Filmography
    (pp. 271-280)
  13. Index
    (pp. 281-284)