Richard Bendall

... Indeed, many films in the 1990s were co-funded by foreign investors. An important example of this is Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt by the Sun (Utomlyonnye solntzem, 1994), which was co-produced and funded by the French organisations Camera One and Canal+. Burnt by the Sun was and is still seen as a key example of the potential of post-Soviet cinema. Stalinism was not an issue directly addressed in Soviet cinema until perestroika, the first notable example being Tengiz Abuladze's Repentance (Monanieba, 1986). In the post-Soviet discussion of Stalinism, we see issues of a former world power (i.e. Stalinism in the Soviet Union) being dealt with by a new world power (Russia). Mikhalkov uses a variety of devices to promote his ideas. Throughout Burnt by the Sun, an emphasis is placed on folk-based tradition, skaski (storytelling) and song. We see how these old traditions, and even the comparably young traditions of the Soviet Union, are dismantled by the Stalinist Terror. As Mikhalkov (here, Red Army Commander Kotov) himself is taken away towards the end of the film, we see the disintegration of belief systems on a number of levels. Firstly, we see the effect on the community in which he lives. Kotov is seen as a war hero, very much a pillar of the community, so his neighbours feel disoriented when they hear that he could be an enemy of the state. Secondly, there is a disintegration of the belief system within the Stalinist regime itself, as Mitya, a NKVD officer who is responsible for Mikhalkov's purge, commits suicide at the end of the film. This sequence of events underlines an element of humanism that runs on many levels throughout the film, from folk traditions through to totalitarian power discourses, in that regardless of someone's social construct, one remains an element of base morality.

It is easy to criticise Mikhalkov of exploiting an open market; since perestroika there had been a massive loosening of censorship in Russia, and the breakup of the Soviet Union would have been an opportune time to create a film that discusses (and of course, condemns) the Stalinist Terror. Indeed, Burnt by the Sun was intended as commercial cinema, having been given a budget of $3.6m. Mikhalkov's questioning of Stalinism also contains an element of sympathy, reached through the humanistic principles of the film, which may coincide with Mikhalkov's supported view of Russia existing as a totalitarian Eurasian center, where other Asian states play subordinate to the demands of a Central Asian Russia. Due to an international distribution deal (from Pathe International) resulting from a Russo-French investment partnership (as well as the open borders of Russia), it was clear that Burnt by the Sun was going to receive more exposure than Repentance, but is arguable as to whether one film plays a more important role than the other. What is important, however, is that Mikhalkov's effort set the tempo for the new, fresh and challenging Russian cinema.