Spring 2002

A Russian soldier, Nikolai Ivanov, returns home after seven years of captivity in Afghanistan. The film explicitly links his name with St. Nicholas. In Afghanistan, however, Nikolai converted to Islam and observes the rituals of his new religion in his home village. While he was away, his father committed suicide and his brother spent time in jail. In the new, post-soviet Russia, the villagers waste their days drinking and yearning for money. They call Nikolai "the Moslem" and violently oppose his moral way of life. Nikolai's brother juxtaposes his Orthodox faith, which is shown as non-existent, to the supposedly satanic and alien rituals of his Moslem sibling.

Set in post-perestroika Russia, the film boldly mixes the fragments of Russian Orthodox, Soviet, Western, post-soviet, and Moslem cultures in its search for an answer to the question: is it possible to articulate a narrative of coherent post-imperial identity?

In Russian history, there has always been a feeling that the world people live in is incomplete. And there has always been a desire to find something external which, if transplanted into this world, would somehow change it, turn it around and, thereby, make it more perfect. And this is the feeling we have now. There is an anticipation that someone will appear and somehow will make us live right.
Valery Zalotukha, scriptwriter
Iskusstvo kino, 1995

The image of Kolya praying in a field of wildflowers possesses a strange lyricism, like the eerie lake where swimmers keep drowning. According to legend, there is a sunken church at the bottom, and anyone who reaches its cupola will be born again sinless. Cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov (Go and See, Orlando) has a lot to do with creating the film's spiritual landscapes, in contrast to the dirty, miserable village.
Deborah Young
Variety, 25.09.1995