Larisa/Ascension Pushkin House 26 November


This was a double-bill of films connected with Schnittke in the screening room of Pushkin House, which turned out to be in the basement.  And they were part of the Schnittke festival, since he did the music for Ascension, while Larisa Shepitko was the director and was killed in a car crash at the age of 41, so first of all there was a documentary about her.


So I appreciated that–a very Russian combination of naked emotion and seeing the world as a clash of moral values.  As an embodiment of moral values, more like.


Then we had ‘Ascension’, aka ‘The Ascent’ in English.  The film dealt with the fate of two members of a partisan brigade–Rybak (fisherman) and Sotnikov (~centurion): a fine pair of biblical names–are sent to get hold of some food and in general Sotnikov (who has ?bronchitis ??TB) is a liability while Rybak looks after him and gets things done.

Then they are captured and interrogated; Rybak tries to save his skin while Sotnikov undergoes torture and then emerges (looking very Christlike) as the spiritual force driving his cellmates (a peasant woman who sheltered them, a Jewish girl and the German-appointed village headman) to accept their fate and defy their persecutors.  Then they are hung, apart from Rybakov who has agreed to join the police and then tries to hang himself Judas-like in the shithouse.

But I wasn’t moved by this–the Christian iconography was all too blatant (though it would have been interesting if the Soviet period was still with us)–while Jesus did not preach undying hatred of one’s enemies.  In fact, I felt some sympathy with the Satanic (or Grand Inquisitorial) figure of Portnov:  Why won’t these people just be reasonable and see what’s in their best interests?

And at the end with the executions we had some highly dissonant and effective music from Schnittke.

I wasn’t distressed by the suffering and death of the positive characters since (on the one hand) they were too schematic and (on the other hand) they had all–even the little Jewish girl, who decided to hide and not say who had helped her–taken a conscious decision to struggle against absolute evil and knew what the price might well be.

And the film provoked me to think that the Biblical Satan had not done a very good job of tempting the Biblical Jesus.  The Kingdom of God has still not come after nearly 2000 years.  But there are these Christians who believe in and love you.  Now see what they are doing to your people, the Jews.  Give it up lad, give it up.

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