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Religion in Russian Cinema: Film: 'Остров' ('The Island') introduced by Mark Le Fanu

The collapse of communismin the early 1990s meant among other things the renewal of religious freedom, and a revival of official partnership between Orthodoxy and the state. The fringes of religion, however, continued to be as quirky as they always are: Orthodoxy has seldom been orthodox. Lounguine’s film addresses itself to mining the psychology of one of the oldest of Russian “types”, the holy loner, half sage and half madman. Father Anatoly (Pyotr Mamanov) is a charismatic monk, living in a remote island monastery. The setting is the 1970s (though perhaps it could have been any time). A series of visitors to the island – most of them unwelcome – allow Lounguine to explore the complexities and contradictions of faith in a way that struck viewers when the film came out in 2006 as strikingly original. We are rather far, here, from the “high art” of Tarkovsky and a film like Andrei Roublev , but what Lounguine has to say on the matter has its own humorous intelligence and authenticity.

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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