Religion in Russian Cinema: Illustrated Talk

"Since the ideology of the Soviet State was officially atheist, it might be supposed that religious themes and religious thinking are not very common in Russian cinema, at least up until the period of glasnost. Yet religion, as we know, never died out completely under communist rule, and some of Russia’s major film directors continued, in different ways, to be residually sympathetic towards its aspirations. The matter is complicated, because there is religion on the one hand and “spirituality” on the other, and though they seem to be related, they are not necessarily quite the same thing.

I thought it would be interesting to try to sort out some of these distinctions as they present themselves historically, from the pioneer days (Dziga Vertov, Eisenstein etc.) up until the time of more recent artists such as Tarkovsky, Paradjanov and Shepitko who were able to broach the topic with an altogether greater freedom and openness. Now that there is complete freedom, that is interesting too, and we will glance also at some contemporary film-makers – Sokurov most notably, and others. Russian cinema is currently going through a creative phase, and many of its more interesting energies come from these directions." - Mark Le Fanu.

Mark Le Fanu taught in the English Faculty at Cambridge for a number of years, before moving to Denmark in 1993 to teach at the newly-founded European Film College, where for a decade and a half he was director of studies in film history. His specialist topics include documentary film, silent cinema, and the national cinemas of Russia and Japan. A short study of Tarkovsky’s films, The Cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky (BFI Books, 1987) was the first book written on this director in English. Dr Le Fanu’s book on Kenji Mizoguchi – Mizoguchi and Japan (BFI Books, 2005) – was nominated for the Kraszna-Krausz book prize, annually awarded to the Moving Image Book of the Year. Le Fanu’s film essays appear regularly in Sight [&] Sound and Positif , and in the East-West Review . He currently teaches a course on the history and aesthetics of documentary in the Anthropology Department at UCL.

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