Film in Russia: A Tool of Resistance to the State

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Film has traditionally been used as a medium through which to criticise and oppose the policies and ideals of a state. A new Russian film, A Winter’s Journey (2013), does just that. Everyone who follows international news on a regular basis will have something of an idea regarding the appalling nature of LGBT rights in Russia right now. Films such as this are likely to be severely affected by the harsh Russian laws regarding LGBT rights, with the makers of the film believing that few will ever see the film in their home country because it may be seen to violate ‘homosexual propaganda’.

The makers of A Winter’s Journey arguably deviate from the accepted association held by many Russians between homosexuality and pornography, homosexuality and abuse, homosexuality and child assault. For there is neither the slightest hint of pornography present, nor do children feature in the film. Instead, the film focuses on a passionate romance between a classical gay singer and a street-wise petty criminal, and the furthest the two go in physical intimacy is sharing a kiss – though that’s probably taboo enough for Russians.

Rather than equating a homosexual relationship with pornography and sensuality, the makers focus more on the conflict enacted by social class and ‘a romantic attitude to life’. As such, both actors and directors alike refuse to classify the film as a gay romance. Whether or not they present homosexuality sympathetically is another question, for the makers admitted that they deliberately chose to make the lead character gay in order to underline ‘his loneliness and conflict with the world’. Film critic Dmitry Savelyev, while praising the film, was quick to describe the theme of gay love as ‘influences… alien to our people’.

Only a handful of Russian films in modern times have featured gay characters, including The Creation of Adam (1993) and Jolly Fellows (2009). It’s chilling to think that homosexuality was only legalised in Russia twenty years ago. So whether A Winter’s Journey really criticises the policies of the Russian state is hard to say, but it does, perhaps, provide some hope that film makers still intend to portray homosexual relationships in film in a sympathetic light, rather than depicting them in a hostile fashion following the opinions of their policy-makers.

The makers of the film should be praised for daring to create a film which portrays gay love in an honest fashion, particularly given how dangerous it was for them to do so in view of the current situation in Russia, where LGBT individuals fear for their lives.

by Conor Byrne

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