Saturday, January 19, 2008

Durakovo: Village of Fools (brief review)

If you thought things were retrogressing in Russia, you. Have. No. Idea.

See Durakovo: Les Village des Fous (Village of Fools), Nino Kirtadze's fiercely brave film (brave, as in: "how did you manage to *be* in that presence, to get that footage?" . . . "weren't you terrified?" . . . quick and simple answer to the latter: "Yes." Kirtadze tells me that it was her most "joyless shoot" ever).

Durakovo is a village owned by Mikhail Morozov, who sees himself as a kind of savior, helping "the willing" to see the follies of Western Democracy and helping them return to tsarist-regime-life (and loving it!). He is the sole authority. He thinks for them, doles out their roles (the film opens on a scene of two villagers bailing shit while one asks his friend to sing him a "patriotic song") and "helps" them to determine their fate. We see dogs (in pens, to be sure, although i kept wondering when the "performance" might end and the dogs released), a gated wall, and inside, a sort of lovely, fairy-tale castle-type village. Kirtadze is lucky to be present when Oleg arrives. Oleg is brought by his mother, and he is clearly unhappy and uncertain but agrees to go inside for a meeting w/ Morozov. We discover that Oleg is university educated, has a law degree and experience but has become disenchanted and confused. he carries a kerchief and frequently seems to be on the verge of tears, wiping at the corner of his eyes. Morozov persuades him to come and join the community, and Oleg's consent is heartbreaking to see. However, Kirtadze's camera is privy to a glimmer of resentment in Oleg's eye at a town-hall-type meeting in which Morozov speaks on the failings (evils) of Western Democracy and ends the meeting with the classic 12-step serenity prayer (which is, from my perspective, a rhetorically wicked, "easy," and, well, unoriginal shot at control).

The people we see in the village seem unwilling or unable to speak, slightly fearful, sad, and silent. Kirtadze's use of silence in her "interview" footage is brilliantly haunting. touches of Hitchcockian imagery aid in creating the dystopian vision (which needs no particular cinematic help. One need only show up, point, and shoot).

Kirtadze is given access to key meetings of government officials clearly desirous of return to a glorious imperial Russia. discussions include building of alliances with Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba, possibly China. the US is right out.

It is of course a film about a people who feel they have been let down by the ideals of the outside. And in this, i read in the eyes of the villagers something beyond fear. this tension . . . exploring a desire for an easier way that comes at the cost of individual autonomy . . . is important in helping us to see the film as more than a condemnation of Durakovo but as an exploration of a people trying to work it out.

An important and terrifying film. see it.

see details at the sundance site.


Mark said...

A nice review. It should be posted elsewhere, as well.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

great film. she won for World Cinema Documentary directing (i think that was it. i'll double check).

a totally chilling film.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you use capital letters at the beginning of sentences?It is very unpleasant to read.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

hi anonymous. sorry you don't enjoy reading in my style. it's an aesthetic choice, for me.

thanks for writing (and, for now, reading here).

Vladimir said...

The footage doesn't have anything to do with democracy in Russia (modern or whatever). The film is set in what in fact is a countryside clinic for alcohol and drug addicts. Here is the (Russian-only, sorry guys) paper where Morozov explains his reabilitation method. It is the misleading narrator commentaries by Kirtadze (who, like Joseph Stalin, is an ethnic Georgian) that alleges the reabilitation methods of Morozov for political interpretation. The "vertical of power" in Morozov's community, in my understanding, serves as a psychological replacement for the long-gone will of his "patients".

There are professional actors playing in this film, so it is not a documentary. One of them, Aleksandr Bashurov (only a few-second shot), is quite well-known as a creator of a comedy "The Iron Heel of the Oligarchy".
When I saw him, I thought the film might be a kind of a satire provocation, like a few with which he had been involved earlier.

The real politicians acting in the film, like the vice-speaker Baburin, are quite marginal and in fact are likely to be just Morozov's patients.

To me, a better literary translation of the geographical name "Durakovo" into English would be "Junkieyard" or "Junkietown" rather than a pompous "Russia's Village of Fools".

Kirtadze is no hero. She just expects her audience to know about Russia as little as possible.

Marika said...

Dear Vladimir,

the only literary translation for the word/name Durakovo is a place with fools, the only possible translation for the russian word "durak" (дурак) is "fool" and "-ovo" is just a suffix which we often see in russian/slavic geographical names, so please dont try to associate this with the word Junkie, its not true. I guess you are the one, who expects his audience to know about Russia as little as possible.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

hi Marika and Vladimir,

i appreciate your comments. i did not comment, Vladimir, on your note, because it caught me by surprise, coming so long after the original post and also coming to me as a reproach for which i did not have any easy answers.

Marika's comments help me to see the complexity of how audiences are receiving Kirtadze's film. conflicting analyses notwithstanding, it seems to me that the filmmaker captured a sense of the village and what goes on there even as she maintained a kind of distance that invited audiences to consider the place, the people, the larger picture regarding Russia's politics and the conflicts that have obtained even in the "new" Russia. in this way, the film opens up several compelling lines of inquiry, and this is from my perspective what good documentaries do.

thank you both for your thoughtful comments.


bonnie lenore kyburz

Vladimir said...

Hi Marika, Bonnie,

It's nice to find your comments being back to this blog.

Marika, you were right correcting me about the Russian grammar rules. So please forgive my "literary" translation. I wrote this while being upset by the film. My message was that the film was not about the announced topic, "democracy". It was just about something different. This message Marika probably didn't see.

The last point due to Marika is also correct. Shame, but I assumed I was the only person to convey the truth about this film. I apparently got this confidence after reading the topmost posting on the blog page since it didn't show much understanding of the issue.

We now have had this awful confrontation in Georgia. In my opinion (this view is popular in Russia) it was provoked not only by the local people but also by long and deliberate anti-Russian propaganda in Georgia due to some top US politicians, such as Condoleeza Rice. John McKain, who is running a hate campaign against Russia, was also involved into the "consultancy" of the Georgian president, with some big money spent.

The filmmaker comes from Georgia. So I wonder whether this film was funded 1) by the US, 2) exactly for the purposes of anti-Russian media campaign? If it was the case, the film was a success: it was screened on many European channels, ARTE, France3, BBC4, etc. So many people associated politics in Russia with the misleading artificial storyline that was presented.

So far Russia didn't perform well in the media war. The western TV channels distort information and hush up crucial details of what is happening, not just between the West and Russia, but between the West and the East in general. Russian media must make its voice heard, to prevent western governments from carrying on with their politics of discrimination in developing countries.

for peace in the world :)

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

hi Vladimir,

i think -- maybe -- we are coming to more agreement than disagreement. and, as my blog is about contemplating representation, i find this conversation regarding what Kirtadze's film does, as well as how media represent these complicated developments, important and timely and necessary.

i will be the first to agree that western mainstream media outlets often get it wrong, but i'm not sure we're alone in that. this is why these sorts of exchanges are so important.

when you say, "The western TV channels distort information and hush up crucial details of what is happening, not just between the West and Russia, but between the West and the East in general. Russian media must make its voice heard, to prevent western governments from carrying on with their politics of discrimination in developing countries [,]" i have to suggest that "Russian media" might also be culpable regading distortion. again, this is why people who talk outside of mainstream media must be talking, exchanging different versions that challenge what the more powerful media outlets articulate (and what they obscure).

i'm still not convinced that Kirtadze presents an "artificial storyline." it *is*, to be sure, *a* storyline, one among many, and it presented views on a phenomenon that some audience members have perhaps rarely considered or been aware of. for example, some audience members were shocked to see the extent to which Russian authority figures were using, say, religious appeals toward the purpose of re-establishing a sense of national unity. many of us in America have been lamenting the ways in which our own leaders have done so, especially over the past 8 years, and so Kirtadze's work offered a new kind of opening for thinking about this one particular (among many other) issue.

documentary films are controversial because of how they present their stories, *because*, especially through editing, they do present "stories," and it's up to viewers to consider what's presented, how it operates affectively and rhetorically, and, from there, we tend to challenge, fortify, or simply reactivate interest in the subject(s).

i have no simple answers to the question of "truth" in Kirtadze's film. i can't deny what i see but i recognize its constructed nature (ironically or not, the film features a lot of ongoing construction/restoration at Durakovo). i am sure that i have much more to learn. i do find that Kirtadze has opened up a window of inquiry where i had been previously sort of complacent in believing what i had been told. so, as you note (given the recent Russia/Georgia conflict), this is important cultural work.

with you on that peace thing! :)

Vladimir said...


You wrote: "i do find that Kirtadze has opened up a window of inquiry where i had been previously sort of complacent in believing what i had been told".

Well done! If it only was for you some other, less controversial film... And some more trustable filmmaker. But anyway, yes, you are right: where there is a controversy, there is a wish to know the truth.

Your fellow comments helped me to cool down a bit. So, thanks.

Your words: "i'm still not convinced that Kirtadze presents an "artificial storyline"."

Well, in a sense she doesn't. She filmed a real action in a real place with real people some of whom were actors I know by feature films. The presence of actors made me believe it wasn't a documentary in the strict dictionary sense of the word. Moreover, as you know, I deny the relationship of Kirtadze's behind-screen narration to the action she filmed in the points where the politics or the speculative "Russian soul" starts.

So by "artificial" I meant "an awkward thing that someone assembled from parts that have little or no relation in reality".

I hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

I wander where Vladimir saw "well known actor " in the film? there are no actors and unfortunately all you see in the film is a reality. even russian newspaper "commersant" recognises it. please have a look it's also in russian, sorry

james said...

Let's not beat about the bush here. Vladimir reveals himself right from the beginning,when he writes this: "It is the misleading narrator commentaries by Kirtadze (who, like Joseph Stalin, is an ethnic Georgian"). This is a racist diatribe from beginning to end. May be I'm Jewish, Vladimir, or black. Do you have anything to say about that? Can you explain why being Georgian is relevant? Does it bar Kirtadze from intelligent reflection? Sadly, Vladimir's reaction reveals precisely why we should all be alarmed by the society Kirtadze's film shows is taking shape in Russia.

Vladimir said...

james, your comment is very rude, I admit. Whatever Jewish or black, you should not offend others on such weak pretexts.

Anyway, I wonder if james even knows what "racism" means. In fact Russians and Georgians are both white. Was that "nationalism" that he possibly meant?

Well, here you, james, are wrong. I live in Western Europe for quite a few years and work with people of many nationalities and colours (including Jewish and black), and I notice the following thing: If there is no politics involved, people can live peacefully together, but someone's political ambitions can end this.

Back to the topic, Anonymous' link to an article in Kommersant is good. I think people can use Google Translate to read it.

It's good that such article exists, however there is no analysis of the potential impact of the film outside Russia, and it seems the film was essentially "made for export". My opinion is that it was supposed to be used against some mainstream Russian politicians before presidential elections.

About the actor, I *think* (you are welcome to disprove) this guy was A. Bashirov, and it was about 10 to 20 minutes after the start.

nino said...

just to make things clear: thanks for "compliments", Vladimir, especially for the comparison with stalin. but let me assure you, that there is NO ACTOR in the film. I directed it myself and found this blog by chance. The sad thing, which in your myopia you refuse to confront, is that this is all real unfortunately for russia and for entire world.

james said...

vladimir, I stand corrected. Or do I? I was under the impression that Russians habitually refer to Georgians and other peoples of the Caucasus by the charming soubriquet, 'black arses", or "cherniye zhopi" to use the Russian. Next you'll be telling me this is a touching Russian expression of endearment. Let's be honest about this, Vladimir, it makes not a jot of difference here whether we call your attitude racist or nationalist. What it reflects is the deep-seated xenophobia that infects social attitudes and debate in Russia today - something which Kirtadze's film skilfully reflects and which you, by your comments, do so much to confirm.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

thanks for writing, Nino. as you can see, i've stepped away from the controversy by avoiding commentary since a few posts back.

i had thought about deleting the post altogether because of the conflicted ways in which race issues are being discussed.

instead, i think it's better to let people talk about it. but i'm sort of done commenting.

fwiw, i continue to find your film revealing (if terrifying) and important. i found your work brave, intelligent, alarming and necessary.


nino said...

Thanks, Bonnie... you are right: it's better to let people say what they want to.. And it was very interesting for me to see this comments.. they also tell a story.. I feel sad about the fact that what was in the film became even worse in 1 year.. as you say, peace.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

sad, indeed, Nino. i hope you can get the film wider distribution. or, do like Charles Ferguson has done and release it for a limited time on YouTube. ??

i hope to see you at Sundance again soon :)

Vladimir said...

Hello, Nino and Bonnie.

Okay, here I am, standing accused in... many things :-P I also take accusations towards Russia personally because I don't agree with these. You just don't know what are you talking about.

Assume no actors, okay. Myopia? Ha! I've got a doctoral degree and I probably read more books about US than you about Eastern Europe.

Nino, I'm really sorry for mentioning Stalin. I'm a fool. This doesn't mean I have something against Georgians or you. It's my provocation in response to yours in the film.

I want you all to compare Nino's film with the recent BBC documentary by Jonathan Dimbleby called "RUSSIA - A Journey with Jonathan Dimbleby".

(I don't give peer2peer links, but these do exist)

Especially, watch Jonathan's conclusion in part 5.

His documentary is a work of a master and not a piece of propaganda, like Nino's one. In the film, you will see many places throughout Rissia (not just a reabilitation clinic) and many people of any possible backgrounds.

It's up to you whether to stick with the grotesque picture that you've got in Nino's film, or go further.

I also suggest you to read Alexandr Solzhenitsyn (Nobel Prize winner) if you require an independent historic account. He also had his own documentary produced by BBC back in 90s.

[I have ignored james' blasphemy altogether!]

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

hello Vladimir,

i appreciate that you are moved to engage in a discussion of Nino's film and the situations it surfaces for her audiences. documentaries are nearly always controversial in a vareity of ways (form and content), and i believe that we've covered this territory in previous posts.

at this point, then, i find that we are not moving the conversation forward but are instead simply staking our claims and sticking to them, even becoming accusatory and unecessarily unpleasant.

i wonder if you could move your critique(s) to another venue at this time (with my thanks for your attention but also with my desire to move on)?

many thanks.

Vladimir said...


You are right. I gave a link to what I believe is an unbiased documentary (by J. Dimbleby) answering plenty of questions related to the above discussion. I would be gratified if you decide to give this documentary a time of day :)

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

actually, Vladimir, my concerns were raised quite a while ago, when the tone of the exchanges became conflicted in ways that made me uncomfortable in terms of the kind of conversation i'd care to host.

MIHO said...

Hello, I am ethnic Georgian too. Maybe someone will say that my opinion is biased too, but I wanna say that I agree with Vladimir it's quite shocking movie and hard to believe! But unfortunately, it tends to be realistic, although I cant's say that such communities discribed in this film are common all over the Russia. But still it is hard to deny that in nowaday Russia there's a lot of people thinking that country's priority is not prosperity and rights for any single individual, but Russia's come back as a Super Power and positioning itself as an opponent to the Western world. It is not a secret, that in today's russia there is a motto which can be translated as "standing up from the knees". Russians feal themselves defeated in the Cold War and some radikals consider this motto even as an upcoming revenge. Such moods are provoked among russians by the russian authorities and they try to use this public opinion in their selfish ends in order to maintain their regime. But again I am not talking about all Russia. I assume that current situation has occured due to Kremlin propaganda but in fact Russians strive for democracy as well as any other nation in the world.

bonnie lenore kyburz said...

hi Miho,

thanks for writing. but what i see you saying is not in agreement, necessarily, with some earlier posts. that is, some have said that the film is not truthful, which is not the same as saying that it is shocking. your comments confirm the validity of the story the film tells, which is, to be sure, about the one village but also about the larger issues you describe.

thanks for writing.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nino,

thank you very much for the documentary. I would very glad to have a full version of the film - as it was broadcast via tv in France, Germany and Israel. Unfortunately there is no possibility to buy Durakovo on DVD - only short BBC-version is available. Could you please advise me on this matter?

Once again thanks a lot for a great material.

Sincerely, mcparker

Pavel said...

Dear friends and critics of Durakovo!

About myself:
I love the Russian culture, I speak Russian fluently, I have been to Russia many times both before Perestroyka and after that.
I have seen the speach on the Russian TV by M. Gorbatchov announcing the free market economy, I have seen the speach by V. Putin just after the Russian invasion to Georgia in 2008.

About the film Durakovo:
all the ideas expressed both by ordinary citizens and by politicians in the film Durakovo are in full agreement with my personal experience. The film is a true and realistic picture of the Russian world-view.
Thank you, Nino, for making it.
Pavel Pokorny

Anonymous said...

Hi Pavel, thank you very much for that, just saw it now, so sorry for the delay. Actually there will me a dvd release for a long version in a months time and it's who is going to do it. it will be available on and on fnac. com mant thanks again, nino

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