Russian Сinema: Modest Charm of a Hollow Character?

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The article explores the “hollow character|” concept. The hollow character is manifested as a subject whose inner space does not exist. They are incapable of reflection or self-reflection. This character is essentially impervious to external reality. They do not relate themselves either to society or to history. Their temporal construction is poor. With no past or future, they live a moment of the present, sharply reacting to any touch. The article shows that introducing hollow characters into a movie plot correlates with neo-sentimentalism in contemporary art.

It is through the emotion of pity, especially self-pity, that the viewer is connected to the emotional system of films with a “hollow character”.

The lack of a certain substance and freedom from guilt guarantee the absence of the distinction between the viewer and the character.

The «hollow character» has neither inner or outer reality. The spatial form of the film is reduced to the interaction of the characters, which are empty shells capable of feeling pain and suffering from friction against external reality and when in contact with each other. Therefore, the border of the character with the outside world acquires special significance. This border is their body.

The article provides a sequential, spatial and temporal analysis of the films “Going Vertical” (2017, dir. Anton Megerdichev), “Dylda” (2019, dir. Kantemira Balagova), “Odessa” (2019, dir. Valeria Todorovsky), “The Man Who Surprised Everyone ”(2018, dir. Natasha Merkulova and Alexey Chupova).

The proximity of these films to the aesthetics of neo-sentimentalism is shown. Their stories unfold as a drama of pure physicality. The approach of another character promises not only warmth, but also the horror of a complete merger, bringing death. A “hollow character” eliminates the difference between polysemantism and nonsense. This is their seductive role: emptiness may seem meaningful.

The modern Russian cinematographer seeks methods of effective communication with the spectator and finds them—by addressing the sensitivity of the latter and then refraining from active, artistically sensible utterance. Is the lack of sense in some Russian films the result of the negligence of individual authors, or we are to speak about a kind of artistic system that does not encourage reflection as such?

Let us consider an example. The screen shows a joyful game; a thin, young girl with smooth skin, fair hair and transparent whitish eyelashes is playing with a pale, anemic boy with large head. They are playing dogs, barking. They keep close to each other—so close that the camera lens catches them and the space around them disappears. The girl is licking the child with her tongue, like a true dog, and the little boy is laughing; the game is seemingly carrying them away. An unexpected, queer squeaking sound comes, painful to hear; the girl stops moving and suddenly falls over the boy with her full body, and the boy, pressed to the floor, can barely resist. Something the spectator can hardly believe happens: the child’s little hand, with its short nails, freezes on the poison-green collar of the girl’s jacket. Death.

Cliffhanger—and the next frame is the deafening ringing of a tram. The spectator has no time to think over the new reality of death—the sudden and nonsensical death of a little child. A whole world perishes with him, a world with playing and joy. This is the brightest hook in the film Beanpole by director Kantemir Balagov; nothing in the subsequent scenes will be more picturesque and painful. The spectator will never see how the girl, Iya, reacted to the irremediable calamity. The child vanishes as if he never existed.

The film will not offer what followed the dramatic situation—what Georges Polti has called “fatal carelessness.” No curiosity of watchful of frightened neighbors crowding in a Petersburg communal flat, no investigation of the boy’s death, no funeral. No guilt felt by Iya, no desire to justify herself. The dispirited spectators are rightfully at loss; moreover, they feel something akin to frustration. In the words of a spectator who took part in the discussion on the forum: “A very unpleasant resentment after the film. […] Why did the boy die? Just died and buried? And no one registered death from asphyxia? He was a subtle but quite viable child” 1.

Evidently, the film’s plot has a different logic. Critics offer special optics to perceive what is happening on the screen: “The whole of Beanpole is a magic assumption, a philosophical premise and, at the same time, mighty sensual experience falling over us from the screen—as contused Beanpole over the tiny man” 2.

Really, this sensual experience can overwhelm the spectators, resonate with their deeply intimate emotions—hence their vehemence in defense of their rapturous attitude toward the film. A real battle ensued on forums: “[…] Woo, how ardently they stand up for great cinema! They even saw our comments” 3. Why can the authors communicate with some spectators while others desperately stand up against perceiving the world built on the little fragile body of a stifled child?

Let us try to find the key to understanding the artistic originality of the film and the controversial reactions of the spectators by conducting a temporal and spatial analysis of the work.

Character as spatial-temporal form: extreme case

The narrative time is chronological: the main events of the story develop in 1945, in the first postwar fall. Then winter comes, followed by the new year, 1946. Having attached the story to the calendar, the authors confirm the importance of history. Historical time, however, is determined by duration. According to Fernand Braudel, the representative of the Annales school, short duration is peculiar to the time of changing events, namely political ones; medium duration characterizes periods of ups and downs in the most significant social and cultural processes; lastly, long duration (longue durée) is applicable to descriptions of large sociocultural formations, namely civilizations. If the temporal form of a work of art includes historical time, it is possible to speak about its short, medium, or long duration.

Medium and long durations are absent in Balagov’s film; there is no historical reality that could be characterized by these durations, thus we may guess that it is the short historical time that is significant. The film is set in the historical turning point caused by a great event—our people’s victory in the struggle against fascism. Both 1945 and 1946 are periods of transition from wartime to peace, though the film’s visual sequence has been cleaned of recognizable tokens of its social time. No afterwar placards, no slogans, no signs of Soviet statehood—the director is given special credit for this approach. When analyzing the film, critic V. Khlebnikova remarks that in this world “there is no need in the state, neither in history as a whole. Two girls, anti-aircraft gunners, have returned from the frontline contused, wounded; they have seen death—natural people in a world of unnatural decorations” 4.

The film equalized the war to a catastrophe as such, an abstract disaster. Something indefinite happened and brought to the surface odd, disfigured people, accommodated neither to this reality nor to any other. The word “decoration” here is exclusively exact. The redundancy of aesthetic means and the environment, overloaded with material traces of time, are designed as a kind of authenticity of the reality created—hence the intent attention to details closely surrounding the characters, their daily occurrences, dented saucepans, trays, too often washed bras, stockings... History appears as a simulacrum. Such state is normally characterized by the absence of vertical time—the deposition of past times, of what Andrei Tarkovsky called “salts of time.” Every frame of the film is perfectly sterile in this aspect.

The film Beanpole presents the outward world as deprived of formation and development, as static. A bright, static picture of a postwar hospital or a Petersburg communal flat becomes more authentic for the spectator than everything they knew or could learn about that time. A red and green picture, due to its immovability, simplicity, and figurative satiation, forces out everything the spectator knew or could gather about the past. The picture turns on a mechanism that can be called secondary memory: a simulacrum forces out the complicated and contradictory historical reality in the spectator’s mind.

The question of historical truth of these or those events invented and shown by the authors fades away—less than anything does the film serve the aim of understanding history. We must incline toward “a fantastic assumption,” a presentation of “natural heroes in unnatural circumstances.”

The “natural heroes” are correlated with a different time, but their time is wonderfully poor. The characters are deprived of the past and of their biographic time. We know little about Iya’s biography, though she is the heroine of the film, of and her friend Masha. Their personal information is pattered and does not bear any content. Anti-aircraft gunners? Perhaps. Where had they called in the army from, however? Leningrad? That same flat where the events of the film are unfolding? Why did they return there? Why are they living together? Who are their parents? Where have they disappeared? We are not given any answer; the filmmakers have not created biographies for their heroines. Even more questions arise about the perished boy, Alyosha, Masha’s son who has been innocently killed. The fact that he is not Iya’s son strikes the spectator as a complete surprise. When was the boy born? Was Masha pregnant on the frontline for all nine months? How did the child get to Leningrad with Iya?

In Iya’s and Masha’s dwelling, a conditional communal flat, there are no objects, no details that would allow us to reconstruct their past, or at least fragments of it. The frames do not catch anything that could give hints concerning the girls’ past life, nor call for reminiscence of any kind. Meanwhile, in the spectators’ and critics’ opinion, it was their prewar life that had been destroyed by the war. Iya is a medical nurse; consequently, she graduated from not only secondary school but also medical school. Maybe Masha’s patter about remaining on the frontline to revenge herself for her perished husband counts for a reminiscence—but no information on the husband is recalled, not even his name. Before Masha had decided to take vengeance, what had she been fighting for?

If we are addressing an event as tragic as a child’s death, the temporal form may contain sacred time, appearing at the moment when the character’s soul is transfigured. However, there is no sacred time in the film: there will be no insight, no hope, no repentance. Cyclic time, with its ability to give specific sense to the events by making them appear quite natural, enters the film at the New Year holiday—looking like the innumerable films about the Soviet era, with their invariable Pass me the herring! And the revival of characters that are irrelevant to the plot. The cycle does not bring refreshment or revival. On the contrary, it creates the sensation of strange stillness of the action, provoking a déjà vu effect. Thus, the “fantastic assumption” is total; it refers not only to external circumstances of the characters’ being, but also to the characters themselves. The very word “natural” less than anything suits the characters of Beanpole, who develop in line with a special logic.

Here we ought to mention one more circumstance characterizing the film’s temporal form: the linear time of its plot seems indefinite and unsteady, slipping away from analysis—really, the plot of Beanpole is a dotted line bifurcating between two heroines, Iya and Masha. It is difficult to answer the spectator’s question: whose story is this? It may be possible to speak of a scenario defect (it is enough to recall the bifurcating plot of the expensive Matilda, made, as Beanpole, following the scenario by Alexander Trifonov). Yet, it is also rightful to see the deliberate conceptual rejection of any focus on sense.

A “hollow character” has neither inner nor outer reality: all its feeling revive only on the border between the inner and the outer, in the endless pain of a disfigured bodily shell.

A “hollow character” and the aesthetics of sentimentalism

The spatial film form is reduced to the interaction of characters who are empty shells, able to sense the pain and suffering caused by the friction against outer reality and in mutual physical contact. The character as an empty shell—this is the main “fantastic assumption” of Balagov’s film. Iya is a hollow character receiving her torture with immutable meekness. It is due to her meekness that she is unable to carry the burden of guilt and to perceive the child’s death as her own fault, though inadvertent. Even this death is presented by the authors as a fantastic disappearance. Emptiness and the attempt to overcome it are the main aspects of the film’s plot: “A man alive inside I want!” With this ambiguous phrase Masha declares her emptiness, as medical men in the field hospital “nothing to produce life left.” She specifies: “Child I want!” but needs a child as a way to heal. Masha is of an effusive nature that seeks a full life, which is inaccessible to her. She intends to make Iya the surrogate mother for her child, then full outer space with herself. It is enough to recall her hysterical and endless spinning in an unbearably green dress. Iya echoes her in the final: “I am vain inside.”

The film plot as an interaction of hollow characters is by no means Balagov’s invention; others have attempted a similar approach, namely with the story of incurable Egor in the film The Man Who Surprised Everyone (2018) by Natalia Merkulova and Alexei Chupov, or in externally optimistic film by Anton Megerdichev, Upward Movement (2017) 5, where characters make common cause of their hollowness—“We have a basketball in place of head,” or “game is everything we have.” A hollow character, international journalist Boris, is longing for his underage sweetheart by shouting hysterically: “When next to her, I am alive.” Next to, that is; it is not state of love, it is something different—the same attempt to overcome inner hollowness.

A hollow character is, first of all, a “tearful” character—an empty shell whose destiny is to suffer and be ill. What guarantees the absence of a separation between the spectator and the character is not the character’s fullness, but the freedom from feeling guilty. Inside this system everyone is free from guilt and responsibility and everyone is worth of pity. In her work Regarding the Pain of Others Susan Sontag writes “People want to weep. Pathos, in the form of a narrative, does not wear out” 6. This is the key to spectators’ involvement.

The sentimentalism that was again reminded of itself in the Russian literature of the 1990s has unexpectedly actualized in Russian film. Understanding the aesthetics of sentimentalism may serve as key to many “fantastic assumptions” that seem inexplicable at first glance. Mikhail Bakhtin writes: “[…] sentimentalism in its kernel is a perfectly definite, clear-cut, and to the highest degree original, phenomenon” 7. The definiteness of sentimentalism in its kernel can probably be seen in the discovery of the connections between people, in its somberness, in its privacy. A character in sentimentalism removes class distinctions: “the rich cry too”—the poor cry; “Tears are anti-official” 8.

Sentimentalism opposes the character’s intimate space to any officialdom. In Beanpole this opposition is expressed with utmost clarity by introducing Lyubov Petrovna, a bossy lady from the ruling class who resides in an antique mansion surrounded by antique things. Here she visits the hospital to distribute queer presents in little linen knapsacks to wounded soldiers. Lyubov Petrovna pronounces the right words; a soldier applauds, clapping his hands in a frenzy and ignoring orders to stop. He continues so passionately that blood begins oozing out on his chest: the stitches have ripped open but “we’ll patch him up.” This scene gives the opposition of a living, literally bleeding body and official words with no meaning—an opposition characteristic of sentimentalism. The content of the words is not important, nor is the identity of cold and elegant Lyubov Petrovna.

Sentimentalism appears and actualizes in epochs of crises and transition, when the past and history are no longer the sources of truth and the future is still closed and thus not attractive. A sentimentalist hero is far from doing heroic deeds; he does not make history—he is ordinary. The aesthetics of sentimentalism is friendly to the spectator; it is alien to ready ideas and formulas, to moral dictatorship. A work of sentimentalism is indulgent to ignorance as a whole and to ignorance in history in particular; moreover, the knowledge of historical facts impedes hooking up to the original artistic world ruled by pity and compassion. The main value of sentimentalism is rooted in the reorientation of a work “from outer and public layers of conscience to inner ones” 9.

Plot with a “hollow character”: the drama of corporeality

A “hollow character” lacks inner dimension; their inner world can be presupposed but it never unfolds in front of the spectator as a complicated structure that requires comprehension. Thus, the border on which the character contacts the outer world acquires special importance. This border is the character’s body, and the body is what every human being has. Everything that is inside can be doubted, but the body cannot be disputed, and its sensitivity cannot be simulated. Anyone can ascertain body sensitivity by, say, carefully poking it with a needle. Skillfully made stereoscopic needles are needed in the film Beanpole to approach the place of injection, the point of entering the flesh. During a medical examination, doctor Nikolai Ivanovich pricks the simplehearted and smiling sniper Stepan for a long time and methodically to make sure that the body is perfectly senseless due to the injury of the spine: “Oh you let me down, Stepan!”

The hospital becomes a favorite action site for films with a “hollow character” addressing the spectator’s sensitivity. Surprisingly, even in the brisk sport drama Upward Movement the hospital is a significant place, becoming a meaningful part of the film’s artistic structure. Body is what can be shown in the cinema—it is cinegenic. The body surface occupies exceptionally much space in Balagov’s film; the child is first presented to the spectator in full absence of individual features, as a pure body, as an object. He sits in a galvanized bath, frozen under water spurts. The unusual angle strengthens the estrangement effect. The same estranging optics is applied to the scene in the bathhouse, where Iya and Masha are surrounded by a lot of other bodies—naked extras who are not characters of the film. There is nothing in this nudity that we could call eroticism or intimacy; by placing the accent on bodily weakness, its fragility is clear. The author stresses that body is subject to illnesses and traumas. It is in the bathhouse that Iya sees a scar from a shrapnel wound on Masha’s body.

The theme of the body and its functions can become content of the characters’ dialogues. Family head Grigori Iosifovich talks to his numerous family members through the toilet door: he has drunk water from a sea contaminated by cholera and is suffering from an intestinal disorder. He asks Iya about her menstrual cycle. The sphere of feminine physiology is actively exploited in Beanpole, supported with visual aid if necessary: Masha reads a manual on gynecology, and the spectator has a chance to get acquainted with etchings depicting the woman’s body from the inside. Iya consults a gynecologist on the staircase in her polyclinic, and the subject of the delay period is combined with discussion of what is to be done for conception—the distance between the intimate and the public is deliberately eliminated.

The plot scheme of films with hollow characters is reduced to the closeness of their bodies forming a new community opposed to the open society with its official rhetoric; the latter, unlike the body, bears stigmata of falsity. Masha and Iya in Beanpole are literally to use each other’s bodies for the sake of surrogate motherhood, to get rid of their fear of sexual closeness. The motif of emptiness is combined with motifs of feminine physiology. The characters of Beanpole meet the final of the film in the red and green narrowness of their Petersburg communal flat. The film Upward Movement does not end in the meeting of enthusiastic fans and triumphant heroes; it ends in the intimate closeness of a sports locker room. It is not victory that is important, but this unity of people now inseparably connected with each other. The Man Who Surprised Everyone also renews the unsteady connection between Egor and his wife, who has now dared to accept his new incomprehensible, sensual world. The final of the film Odessa (2019) reveals the plot formula extremely obviously: the boy, Valera, jumps from the board of a motor ship into the sea infected with the cholera bacterium; his father Boris and young beloved Irka follow him without hesitation. All three are close to each other in the dangerous, infected outer environment, but they are also tied with truly tender and sincere feelings.

In this case, the sentimentalist formula one for the other cedes its place to one cannot without the other, and the connection becomes painful. This dramaturgy is built on clots of pain floating in “space compote” (Lyudmila Ulitskaya) yearning for each other. The main event happens where the surfaces of the characters’ bodies touch.

A “hollow character” and outward reality: conflict of simulacra

In neo-sentimentalism, the plot movement goes on “from the superfluous man to the superfluous world” 10. Such an artistic system bears contradictions in itself; in its structure, the outer world not only appears as a background redundantly decorative, too satiated with color and form, but the character’s connections with reality also become facultative. They are even more unnecessary when the hollow character is living through a bodily drama against the simulacrum background. He faces a lack of sense caused by the irreversible break of causal relationships.

The creators of Beanpole dyed bandages with tea for trustworthiness—so that the spectator would believe. Believe in what? In the fact that washed bandages of tea color are to be hung on ropes to be dried? Why wash them in 1946? The blockade had been lifted a long time before: building materials, food, and the necessities for hospital, including bandages, all arrived to Leningrad on trains from the Big Land—but let the bandages be rusty, let the walls be stained with rust, let it be for the sake of the monstrous, inhuman world. Shocked by the terror of the surrounding atmosphere, the spectator does not notice how strange it all is: to wash the clean, to dry the dirty.

Logical errors in the plot system are primarily evident in motivations. Let us consider the episode when the hospital personnel find a wife for paralyzed sniper Stepan. Stepan himself, however, insists in euthanasia and begs doctor Nikolai Ivanovich to help him in his undertaking. The spectator is made to believe the characters’ motivations, though Stepan can already sit in a chair, talk, and nod to his wife in agreement. Certainly, love and feelings may be neglected, but the war hero deserves a pension—it is of great help in the countryside, as Stepan and his wife have two daughters. The Beanpole (Iya) will kill Stepan out of mercy. Or take another plot twist, when Masha is blackmailing Nikolai Ivanovich with Iya’s letter to the police ministry, which contains the acknowledgment of her guilt: “Beanpole will beget. She owes me.” When Nikolai Ivanovich appeals to Masha’s feelings, his answer is surprising: “As to facts, true. I can draw her after me.” But why is he afraid of blackmail? Was there a dissection, a coroner’s verdict of the causes of death? The hospital in general is presented as a vale of endless sufferings, where seemingly no one has heard of doctor conferences or of pathologists. Doctor Nikolai Ivanovich is the only authority in this kingdom flooded with rust, so it is he who should bear responsibility. In the authors’ logic, he should become Iya’s sperm donor so that she could bear a child for Masha.

Sentimentalism appeals to feelings, not to reason. Its generic characteristic features are weak intrigue, the constant switching from outer movement to the inner one, the bifurcation of hero and narrator, and the break of characters’ lines. This is the way of The Man Who Surprised Everyone: his fellow villagers raised money for his treatment, but their fate remained unknown. In the film Upward Movement there is no money for treating the disabled boy, but there is money to get the whole team on a flight to Georgia. The content lacunas need to be filled; instead, the spectators are offered arbitrary assumptions that do not logically flow from the film’s plot.

Let us consider the seemingly neutral sentence from Olga Belik’s review: “The participant of the Certain Regard in Cannes, Kantemir Balagov, again showed people broken by the war. Women, this time” 11. That is, the author is basing it on the a priori judgment that the war breaks people. The spectators and the critic know similar plots, but this knowledge exists independently of the film and its logical connections. War breaks humans, and this is a separate large subject: what event has broken this human, which resulted unbearable for his character? Sights of death? In peaceful times people must face death, it is a part of life, and not everyone breaks at war. Fate of the Man by Sergei Bondarchuk proves that war cannot deprive a man of the most important quality—the ability to love.

  1. Khlebnikova, who insisted on the interpretation of Beanpole as a “magic assumption,” changes the game rules in her review when she includes this film in the historical and political context: “The war is over, the first postwar fall came and, together with it, a bit of freedom of victorious wintertime, as typical for a brief transitional period. Very soon they will surround again, they will continue to kill, humiliate, suck blood, kill” 12. Having generously praised the subtle, dreamlike world of the film Odessa created by cameraman Roman Vasyanov, Anton Dolin writes: “Plot and genre are things of a very different kind. Playing with the audience’s expectations on this field, the author does not always win. The theme of cholera epidemic requires more or less suspense—if not a disaster movie, so at least a detective story…”13.

The deficit of sense makes the critic demand that the film should be what it is not and cannot be — a detective story. Let us recall that strong logical connections are necessary for the detective genre. In any case, a classical detective story is constructed on the rational explanation of the mystery connected with the crime.

The artistic system of a film with a “hollow character” strives to compensate its organic flaws with picturesqueness. The corporeality drama places its bets on attractions and bodies tied and arranged all around. Iya’s preparations to copulation (it is difficult to find a different word) with Nikolai Ivanovich frightened by blackmail — it is, first and foremost, a visual attraction. Slowly and tastefully is Masha undressing Iya; the spectator gets a chance to see the details: the stockings and the silk belt. Then a bed scene follows, with enough attractive power, that sees the participation of all three: elderly Nikolai Ivanovich, , frightened by threats; innocent, timid Iya; and saucy, hysterical Masha.

The manly and the womanly elements are mixed in attraction also in The Man Who Surprised Everyone. Egor, clothed in a woman’s dress, survives, in a forest hut, the caresses of a deaf man who takes him for a woman and then is coerced by some mysterious woodcutters. After a womanly initiation, however, Egor recovers, and death no longer recognizes him. A characteristic scene from Valery Todorovsky’s Odessa is also worth mentioning. The woman captain volunteers to show the ship to Valera. It is hardly possible to say why she invites the boy to her cabin and whether it was deliberate: “You want to see a naked woman?” Valera’s negative reply does not stop her; she appears from behind the curtain, demonstrating a not young but well-groomed body. “Finished, seen?” The curtain is pulled. How does the scene influence the development of the plot? It is pure attraction—and a questionable one.

The deficit of sense gives rise to arbitrary interpretations of these attractions. The spectator may rightfully explain them as common body manipulations, resourceful demonstrations of sexual practices. Now Beanpole turns into a lesbian drama: “The war here is far-fetched. To return one of the heroines not from the front but, say, from the labor camp—nothing will notably change in the film plot. So ‘the afterwar ruins the lesbians’ souls’—a common speculation, and poorly executed” 14. In its turn, The Man Who Surprised Everyone becomes a transgender drama, and the confessional Odessa another version of Lolita. Nevertheless, the authors, manipulating bodies, appeal to the truth of man and reproach those spectators who vulgarize the plot.

To avoid frontal interpretations, the authors must pay sophisticated attention to form and to the figurative plan of the film in particular. It is done to convince the spectators that they are watching a work of cinema—the grand cinema! When the form notably separates from the content, something appears that can be defined as mannerism, that is, the self-sufficient significance of figurative cinema. By taking care of the “hell” of the characters’ world, the authors of Beanpole accurately ensure that both the pan under the hospital bed and the one on Iya’s table were green and of the same peculiar shade. Iya’s jacket also must be green, and the holiday dress brought from the atelier to try on must be poison green; red must always be red. The green and the red must be close in the final of the film, creating a profound and dramatic chord of contrasting colors. The killed boy may be forgotten in such an artistically expressive atmosphere, but not his red sweater.

In The Man Who Surprised Everyone Egor, having decided to turn a duck from a drake in order to deceive fate, does not wear the first dress of his wife that he finds; he does not wear a random headscarf. He buys a dress, pantyhose, and high-heeled ankle boots. Although the dress is cheap, it fits perfectly and it is of the right deep wine shade. It is for the hero to leave the twilight of his native village for an inexplicably beautiful fairy forest. The frames with white geese on the snow give the impression that geese live in Egor’s homestead for the sake of beauty. The characters do not eat nor sell goose meat; they only eat simple buckwheat porridge.

The weakness of the logical connections in the plot shows one more side that is characteristic of sentimentalism: the use of a cliché in the system of characters. Besides the mandatory nomenclature antagonist, a person in a wheelchair appears; this one is almost obligatory, inserted to make the spectator feel sensitive and bring them to tears. In Upward Movement this is the coach’s unlucky child waiting for an operation. The paralyzed sniper from Beanpole, though unable to sit, gets into a wheelchair, and it is in the wheelchair that his wife brings him to the doctor’s office. There is one more wheelchair in the film Odessa—it is for the neighbor, an Adonis in the past, who is paralyzed now but a vigilant watcher of the events.

In sentimentalism we can trace the struggle to oppose the intimate, sensual world to the social, historical, and political life, giving rise to utopianism. Such heroes who have found each other are to be locked, submerged in the cholera-infected sea, hidden in a dense forest. In vain do the interpretations of spectators and critics try to depressurize the film space compressing in a point: the film itself rejects such interpretations.

However, if the essence of sentimentalism presupposes the investigation of the “inner man and intimate connections between inner men” 15, neo-sentimentalism in films with a “hollow character” is directed toward sensitivity, which does not presuppose a reappraisal of values nor new sensations of scales. These plots do not make sense but are only corporeality, while their structures are made of a poor temporal form with hermetic space. To sum up, we may state that the radical neo-sentimentalism of modern film calls into question the possibility of a stable human reunion. The approach of a different character carries not only warmth but also the terror of complete fusion and then death. A “hollow character” eliminates the difference between polysemantism and nonsense, and this is its tentative role: emptiness tries to become meaningful.





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5 According to the filmmakers’ version, the basketball players of the USSR Olympic team suffer from numerous illnesses, including incurable ones. On the screen they more writhe in pain than improve the sporting technique.

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12 Khlebnikova V. «Dy`lda» Kantemira Balagova poluchila priz za luchshuyu rezhissuru v Kannax [“Toll Gerl” By Kantemir Balagov Won The Prize For Best Directing In Cannes] // URL.: (accessed: 06.01.2020)

13 Dolin A. “Odessa” Valeria Todorovskogo: film otkrytiya “Kinotavra” o sovetskoy zhizni, kholere I lyubvi [Odessa by Valery Todorovsky: film of the opening of Kinotavr on Soviet life, cholera and love] / Internet-resource: (accessed: 06.01.2020)

14 // URL.: (accessed: 06.01.2020).

15 Baxtin M.M. (1997) Problema sentimentalizma [The Problem оf Sentimentalism] // Sobr. soch.: Volumes 7, vol. 5. Moscow: Rus. Slovari 1997. – 732 p. (in Russ.). Pр. 304-305.


Maryevskaya Natalya E.

Dr. of Arts, Associated professor, at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography

S.A.Gerasimov Russian State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK)
, 3, Wilhelm Pik street, 129226 Moscow

Author for correspondence.

ORCID iD: 0000-0002-8404-0370
SPIN-code: 3027-8529


  1. Baxtin M.M. (1997) Problema sentimentalizma [The Problem оf Sentimentalism]. Sobr. soch.: Volumes 7, vol. 5. Moscow: Rus. Slovari 1997. 732 p. (In Russ.).
  2. Baxtin M.M. (2017) Iz zapisej 1970–1971 goda. Izbrannoe T. I: Avtor i geroj v e`steticheskom soby`tii [From the Notes of 1970–1971. Selected Works T I: Author and Hero In An Aesthetic Event]. Sost. N.K.Doneczkaya. Moscow: Saint Petersburg: Centr gumanitarny`h iniciativ, 2017. 544 p. (In Russ.).
  3. Brodel` F. (2017) Ocherki istorii [History Essays]. Per. s fr. E`.Orlovoj. Moscow: Akademicheskij proekt, 2017. 223 p. (In Russ.).
  4. Brojtman S.N. (2001) Istoricheskaya poe`tika. Ucheb. posobie [Historical Poetics]. S.N. Brojtman; Ros. gos. gumanitar. un-t. Moscow: Ros. gos. gumanitar. un-t, 2001. 418 p. (In Russ.).
  5. Lejderman N.L., Lipovetskny M.N. (2003) Sovremennaya russkaya literatura: 1950–1990-e gody` [Contemporary Russian literature: 1950s–1990s]. Volumes 2, vol. 2. 191919 Moscow, 2003. 688 p. (In Russ.).
  6. Malkina V.Ya. (2008) Poe`tika sentimentalizma. Poe`tika: slovar` aktual`ny`x teinov i ponyati [The Poetics оf Sentimentalism. Poetics: A Dictionary of Relevant Terms And Concepts]. [gl. nauch. red. N.D.Tamarchenko]. Moscow: Izdatel`stvo Kulaginoj; Inriada, 2008. 358 p. (In Russ.).
  7. Sontag S. (2014) Smotrim na chuzhie stradaniya [Regarding The Pain Of Others]. Moscow: OOO ‘‘Ad Marginem’’ Press, 2014. 96 p. (In Russ.).
  8. Khlebnikova V. ‘‘Dy`lda’’ Kantemira Balagova poluchila priz za luchshuyu rezhissuru v Kannax [“Toll Gerl” By Kantemir Balagov Won The Prize For Best Directing In Cannes].URL.: (data obrashcheniya: 06.01.2020).
  9. Epshteyn M.N. (2019) Postmodernizm v Rossii [Postmodernism In Russia]. M.N.E`pshtejn ‘‘Azbuka-Attikus’’, 2019. Moscow: Novy`j kul`turny`j kod. 372 p. (In Russ.).

Supplementary files

Supplementary Files
1. Shot from the movie “Yield”, 2019 (director Kantemir Balagov, script by Alexander Terekhov)

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2. Shot from the movie “Yield”, 2019

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3. Shot from the film "Odessa", 2019 (director Valery Todorovsky, scriptwriter Maxim Belozor)

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4. Shot from the film “The Man Who Surprised Everyone”, 2018 (directors and scriptwriters - Natasha Merkulova, Alexey Chupov)

Download (48KB)
5. Shot from the movie “Yield”, 2019

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Copyright (c) 2020 Maryevskaya N.E.

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