Stephen Mulrine‘s translation of Petrushevskaya‘s (‘inzano — the tale of three young Muscovites revealing their plights as they guzzle a crate of the social lubricant — is the only New Beginnings event that is a joint venture between Russian and Scottish forces.
‘lt's an excellent cultural experience‘. enthuses director Roman Kozak. "I‘he three actors are used to completely different methods from us. We have something to transmit to each other.‘
‘Their way ofworking is not as naturalistic as ours‘. elucidates actor Peter Mullen. 'their style brings in everything— Chaplin-like comedy. stylisation. heightened realism; each scene demands something different. And all the constant switches you
have to present make it very exciting.‘
‘lt‘s informative and bloody hard work'. adds Forbes Masson. ‘ln Russia they took six months to rehearse. we‘re trying to do it in three weeks. It shows up the
commercialism of the rep system.’
The previous Russian version visited New York. London and various other Western European countries. Assistant director Arcadev 'l‘simbler is hoping to take this one to Australia.
The launch of New Beginnings in Glasgow this week presents a unique opportunity for British audiences and artists to investigate Soviet arts. To guide you through the huge variety ofevents on offer, The List introduces the theatre, film and visual art programmes. and interviews some ofthe participants from both sides ofa dissolving East/West divide.
’It will be such an excellent production‘. he declares. ‘These are three of the finest actors in Europe (the third is Paul Samson). Roman is one of the foremost contemporary Russian directors. and Petrushevskaya is the best Russian playwright.‘ Admittedly. he is not given to understatement. but the potential does seem to be there for a truly unique piece oftheatre. and on the previous tour Cinzano was lavished with superlatives from foreign critics. who generally regarded it as a profound and witty insight into life in Moscow and life in generaL
‘It shows the emormous difficulties in the human condition‘, expounds 'l'simbler in his reticent way. ‘lt‘s not really a political play. It evinces the will of man to always strive for better conditions. And for a holiday.‘ (Stewart llennessey)
ll your knowledge of Soviet film is confined to having once seen the Odessa Steps sequence in a BBCZ documentary, the New Beginnings season at the Glasgow Film Theatre provides an excellent opportunity to dig a little deeper. Concentrating on the three Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the season, researched and compiled by GFT director Ken Ingles, is the most comprehensive survey of Soviet cinema yet shown in Scotland, at a time when glasnost is taking restricted or banned lilms oil the shell and increasing our knowledge of film-making past and present throughout the Soviet Union.
According to lngles, however, the lilms to be shown may just as possibly shed light on the general, not only cinematic, similarities between the Baltic states and Scotland. ‘The relationship that the capitals — Vilnius, Tallin and Riga - have to Moscow is very similar to how Edinburgh and Glasgow relate to London: both are regarded as northern fringes, distant from the centre. Economically, politically and even geographically- we are both coastal cultures-the situation is not dissimilar.’
Whether these similarities extend directly to the films themselves is more open to question. ‘Estonia and
Lithuania have traditionally produced strong narrative films for local consumption,’ says lngles, ‘whereas here we don’t have a tilm industry of any size. What we do have is TV, which they don’t have there as most of their television comes direct from Moscow.‘ While most of the works have been
produced in the last few years, some-
notably Kaljo Kiisk‘s Drifting Ice — date from the early Sixties. A theme running throughout that thirty-year period, however, is a certain ambivalence towards the Sovietisation ol the Baltic republics which, until the War, were very much part of Western Europe. ‘Even in the days at strict control,‘ says
lngles, ‘filmmakers were able to express, albeit in a veiled way, their ambiguous attitude towards Russia itself. Now they can be more forthright, but there is an argument that in the days of repression the fact that any criticism had to be veiled perhaps led to better art.’
Such minor doubts apart, though, the month-long season contains a number of screenings which would grace any film lestival. Algimantas Puipa’s A Woman and her Four Men, Arvo Iho's Birdwatcher and the aforementioned Drifting Ice —which has been specially subtitled for Glasgow — are the works which Ingles himsell most looks forward to seeing again. There will also he visits from some at the directors. notably documentarist Hertz Frank, whose Supreme Judgement is a chilling look at capital punishment.
One not altogether surprising absence trom the films is comedy. ‘No,’ admits Ingles, ‘there's not a lot of laughs, put itthat way. lsaw some comedies when I was out there, but Soviet humour doesn’t seem to tickle the British funny bone. Nevertheless, I think we’ve managed to compile a good, wide range of films. It’s not in any way a comprehensive look at Baltic cinema, but it’s certainly a good start, an intormative introduction. And of course we are trailblazing here.’ (Stuart Bathgate)
The List 27 October — 9 November I989 5