From DEATH AND DYING: MAKING SENSE OF LIFE IN POST-SOVIET CINEMAS
Presented at the Fourth Global Conference: Making Sense Of Dying and Death, Mansfield College, Oxford, UK 07.12-14.2006 Irina Novikova
...Vladimir Khotinenko addresses the major institutions of forming modern normative/deviant masculinities in his famous film Moslem (1995), focusing on a dramatic story of a mother and her two sons in a post-Soviet Russian village. The elder brother spent time in prison; the younger took part in the Afghanistan war and spent some time in captivity with mojaheds. Both institutions and experiences remain beyond the film narrative when the two brothers meet again in the house in which their father had committed suicide by hanging himself on the hook in the ceiling. The very beauty of typical Russian landscape – pastoral panorama of green fields, distant churches around a quiet village, the heart and soul of the Russian nationalist discourse since the 19th century – invites the film's spectators into the ideal chronotope of the missionary Russian idea, genealogically central to the discourses and practices of Soviet Orientalism. However, death, or its expectation, is woven effortlessly into a loose fabric of cinematic incidents and images in Moslem. Khotinenko brilliantly examines and deconstructs the ‘idiocy' of village life, symptomatic not only of the collapse of the Soviet system and its values, but of the dying Russian Idea, a historical and nationalist metanarrative, central to the very mechanism of Russian xenophobia.
Nikolai, an Afghanistan war hero, comes home after having been officially declared missing in a military action for years. His arrival causes a shock in the village community – during his captivity years he had converted into Islam. The villagers openly hate the Moslem, Nikolai Ivanov or Abdullah, for being different, though one of their own, for reminding them with his very presence, work and behaviour of their own corruption. Villagers, including his own mother, want Nikolai-Abdullah to leave as they do not want to learn and know how to deal with Otherness not on the "margins" but inside the Russian "pastoral" world of today. Nikolai's death that he accepts with relief does not bring redemption and hope in the end of the film....