Moscow State Central Cinema Museum was not just a vitally important Russian
cultural institution. It was also the canary in the coal mine. During late
Perestroika and the early Yeltsin years, the Museum’s cinematheque became a
catalyst for open debate and the free exchange of ideas. Those days ended with
Putin’s rise to power. Evicted from their stately building, the Museum’s legendary
director Naum Kleiman valiantly held the Museum’s staff and programming
together until he was pushed out by the cultural ministry. Kleiman takes stock
of his losing battles and the grim outlook for Russian civil society in Tatiana
Brandrup’s Cinema: a Public Affair (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 New York Jewish Film Festival.
really gets to the nub of the issue in the film’s opening seconds, arguing Russia
has always lacked social institutions strong enough to counterbalance the
perennially domineering state. In its own small way, the Moscow Film Museum was
instituted to address this imbalance. Initially, Kleiman only reluctantly
accepted the directorship, hoping to return soon to his position with the
Sergei Eisenstein archive.
can’t get much more Soviet than “Eysen,” as they call him, but for Kleiman and
several museum staffers, the notoriously banned Ivan the Terrible Part 2 is his true touchstone film. Frankly, it
is a minor miracle Putin’s flunkies have not renewed Stalin’s prohibition. After
all, they have forbidden the public exhibition of films with cursing.
nobody understands the erosion of Russian freedoms of thought and expression as
keenly as Kleiman, yet he remains a reasonably happy warrior. His enthusiasm
for cinema remains infectious and undiminished. For obvious reasons, he is the
focal point of Brandrup’s documentary, but he never gets dull. He often relates
to films under discussion on multiple levels, simultaneously. The precise
details of how the Museum was dispossessed remain murky, apparently as the
parties involved intended. However, Brandrup and the Museum partisans openly
identify one particularly duplicitous figure, besides Putin. That would be
Nikita Mikhalkov, the chairman of the directors’ union.
Public Affair manages to be
rapturously heady when addressing the transformational virtues of cinema and bracingly
candid (if not downright depressing) when illuminating the state of Russian personal
liberties (or the lack thereof). Arguably, Kleiman is lucky to be alive. If you
doubt it, just ask Boris Nemtsov or Anna Politkovskaya. By turns charming,
compelling, and deeply galling, Cinema: a
Public Affair is the can’t-miss high point of this year’s NYJFF. Very
highly recommended, it screens this coming Tuesday night (1/19) and Wednesday
afternoon (1/20), at the Walter Reade Theater.
Labels: Documentary, Naum Kleiman, NYJFF '16, Putin Regime