DODGING THE BULLET X: ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES

I was going to title this piece “stepping on the same rake” — the words used by one of the Russian military brass when the Americans announced they were going full speed ahead with the militarization of space. The mainstream media have spent the last two years (well, many more years than that, but the lies of the last two have been particularly egregious) demonizing the Russians… and guess what? Now a large majority of Americans have a negative view of Russia, and a large majority of Russians (who used to like Americans but who also have plenty of access to Western media) return the favour. In the US there’s a full-speed-ahead bipartisan push for a shooting war with Russia, with the English baying like the degenerate lapdogs of war we have become.

Yet something positive has happened on the Russian/American front. An American director and and American cinematographer have made a narrative feature with an entirely Russian crew and Russian actors, in Saint Petersburg. And guess what? The Russians aren’t the bad guys! There are no KGB poisoners, no Steven Berkoffs talking like they have a chicken bone caught in their throat… Indeed, there are no bad guys visible.

I saw ONE MAN DIES A MILLION TIMES at the AIFF in Ashland, OR — a fine independent film festival about half an hour from where we live. Oddly enough, that makes it harder for me to see the films. If I’m in a foreign city at a film festival I’ve nothing to do but go to the pictures; but in Oregon we have work, domestic duties, vehicles and three dogs to juggle, so the cinema takes more effort. It was worth the trip to ONE MAN DIES: set during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, in a decrepit seed bank whose staff continue to do their duties, more or less, in the face of starvation and dispair. The dialogue is drawn from the testimony of those who survived the siege (or died in it). The film is dour, beautifully shot (the director/writer/editor is Jessica Oreck, the cinematographer Sean Price Williams) and one suspects both are fans of Tarkovsky. At the same time their tale isn’t stuck in the trap of historical authenticity – there are defunct personal computers and music headphones, to remind us that the past and the present are more connected than we think. Good idea, no? Other directors should try that, too…

In this interview the director tries to avoid answering the obvious lame-o questions (“What’s it like in Putin’s Russia?”) and seems a generally intelligent and thoughtful person. Like Buñuel, she is interested in insects, particularly millipedes. This is her second Russian film. It will be wonderful if Oreck avoids the lure of Pentagon-funded Hollywood cake-fests and continues to make her own original cinema — building bridges with those who are supposed to be our enemies.

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