Under Electric Clouds: A post-soviet Waste Land
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2015: Alexey German Jr gives us a symbolic portrayal of post-soviet Russia in seven absurd, remarkably photographed episodes
Russia’s Alexey German Jr presents his fourth fiction feature film, Under Electric Clouds [+see also:
film profile], after The Last Train (2003), Garpastum (2005, competing at Venice, Best Film at Sofia) and Paper Soldier (2008, snagging two awards at Venice, a Silver Lion and a nomination at the EFA in the Best Cinematotography category), in competition at Berlin. He plunges us into a post-soviet world, defeated and hopeless, but magnificent. Set in 2017 (100 years after the Soviet Revolution), somewhere between Waste Land by TS Elliot, Wings of Desire and Last Year at Marienbad, the frozen land of Russia gives us the impression that it is preserved in time and lost in space. The spoken word has lost meaning (a very Godardian approach), and people have become decadent, isolated fragments of a disappeared world, like suspended particles in the cosmos, doing handstands on a small statue of the father of the people or loading Kalashnikovs while whimpering like babies.
In each of the seven chapters of the film, the images are majestically composed in such a way that each of them could be a stand-alone picture or a moment in a choreography (which sits well with one of the most distinguished nations for ballet, if we can even speak of Russia as a nation, as the film suggests...). The director is clearly delivering 'tableaux', very non-discursive and highly symbolic. The first chapter follows a Kyrgyz man who doesn’t speak Russian and is looking for a friend in a foggy and deserted industrial area (foggy enough for the advertisements to be projected in the clouds). He cries out his name in vain like the Father at the end of Teorema, under a snowstorm where he ends up finding a man who is gutting a woman, and he avenges her before throwing himself into the maddening torment that is her long agony. Later, two “heirs”, a dreamer brother and deaf sister, hesitate before selling the relics of their corrupted rich and powerful father as a robot vacuum buzzes around their huge apartment.
Once again, we see paternal abandonment when we hear Gorbachev’s voice or amble around the old soviet statues, such as the one of Lenin with his hand outstretched to nothing, with a disenchanted tour guide with a useless PhD. And often, in the background, the characters continue to talk in pidgin language with one subtitle that tells us that this language doesn’t have a translation, in this country without roots depicted by German Junior.
Under Electric Clouds is produced by three countries: Russia (Metrafilms), Ukraine (Linked Films) and Poland (Apple Film), in participation with Krzysztof Zanussi. Its international sales are provided by the Berlin society Films Boutique.
(Translated from French)