Vol 1, No 6, 2 August 1999
K A R L O V Y V A R Y:|
Boredom and Oppression:
Alexandr Rogozhkin's Blokpost
Andrew J Horton
With a film that follows up on his interest in national differences, Rogozhkin was this year's winner of the Best Director award at Karlovy Vary.
A raid by Russian soldiers on a house in the Caucasus yields a surprising find - a young crippled local boy with a mine and a hammer. The soldiers stare in disbelief as the lad bashes away at the mine with all his might before deciding it is best to scarper. In true cinematic style, the house dramatically explodes behind them, as they make their escape. Although they have survived this attempt to kill them, they are not out of trouble yet; the locals are rather of the opinion that the Russians were responsible for the blast, and a riot ensues. In calming the crowd, a woman and a local police commander get shot, and it is clear that the case will be investigated. Whilst the enquiry takes place, the soldiers are posted to a far-off and inhospitable border checkpoint, and this is where the conflict really flares up.
Alexandr Rogozhkin tries in his Blokpost (Checkpoint, 1998) to strike a careful balance between showing the innocence and the naivety of the young Russian soldiers - who really do not want to be there at all - and the attempts of the Russians authorities to try and be just and fair, whilst at the same time depicting the appalling consequences of the Russian military rule of the region. The bored soldiers trade bullets with the locals for pot and sex. As a chain of minor misunderstandings leads to the death of a local shepherd and leaves the villagers baying for blood, the uneasy truce which has previously held the two sides at bay breaks down.
This is brave film-making with an admirable end, but it fails in comparison with the heights of Rogozhkin's previous success - Osobennosti natsionalnoi okhoty (The Peculiarities of the National Hunt, 1995), a film which also deals with differences between nations and which brought Rogozhkin to international attention. Admittedly, fame has largely eluded him in the Anglo-American world and Osobennosti is little-known amongst English speakers. However, in the Czech Republic, for example, Osobennosti was a great success at the 31st Karlovy Vary Film Festival and has since been extensively advertised in cinema magazines as being available on video with Czech subtitles. The local popularity of Rogozhkin might explain how Blokpost made it into the competition at Karlovy Vary, when stronger films were left out. It might also explain how it managed to win Rogozhkin the award of best director at the festival.
Blokpost also fails to hold its own amongst other films which explore the theme of tension in the Caucasus. The notable rival here is Sergei Bodrov's Oscar-nominated Kavkazskii plennik (Prisoner of the Mountains, 1996), which with breath-taking cinematography and a subtle and sensitive script brings an almost Shakespearean sense of tragedy to the conflicts between Russia and the Central Asian states.
Blokpost, by contrast, is closer in subtlety to an Australian soap-opera, and its lower budget (it was originally made for TV) means that there is none of the visual appeal that Bodrov provided. Blokpost lacks the appreciation of the delicate shades of personal feelings and the delicate observation of human behaviour. Instead, it is all broad, sweeping strokes of the bare primary colours of love, death, hatred, revenge and other such well-worn cliches. The dialogue mostly just pads out some mundane and unoriginal details about how the soldiers got their nicknames. Over all, pretty standard war movie fare. For a director who is pursuing a humanistic agenda, the failure to capture the day-to-day human feelings of his characters is a somewhat surprising flaw.
Blokpost has almost exactly the same plot features as Pasikowski's Demony wojny wedlug Goi (see accompanying article): tension and misunderstanding between the "peacekeepers" and the local population; conflict between political necessity and practical reality; a military unit under investigation; and an attractive female Westerner (a reporter in Demony, a human rights investigator in Blokpost). However, whereas Demony is a grossly offensive piece of film-making on Pasikowski's part, Blokpost is merely not quite up to scratch for Rogozhkin. Looking beyond the trite dialogue and simplistic storyline, it is easy to see that Rogozhkin had his heart in the right place when he made Blokpost.
Andrew J Horton, 22 July 1999
Click HERE to read the first in this pair of articles: another conflict between "peacekeepers" and local guerrillas, this time in the Caucasus.
Kinoeye at Karlovy Vary
The following is a list of other films shown at Karlovy Vary which have been covered by Kinoeye.
Tockovi (Wheels) by Djordje Milosavljevic, Yugoslavia
Gengszterfim (Gangster Film) by Gyorgy Szomjas, Hungary
Nekem lampast adott kezembe as Ur Pesten (The Lord's Lantern in Budapest) by Miklos Jancso, Hungary
Krava (The Cow) by Karel Kachyna, Czech Republic
Okraina (Outskirts) by Peter Lutsik, Russia
Pasti, pasti, pasticky (Traps) by Vera Chytilova, Czech Republic
Kinai vedelem (Chinese Defence) by Gabor Tompa, Hungary
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