Thursday, November 7, 2013

Ethnography of Mirage

The Days of the Eclipse (1988) - Sokurov
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Strange and heady, Sokurov's semi-Sci-fi is a surrealistic meditation of the USSR on the eve of its dissolution. It starts with the POV shot of a celestial being flying over the barren, arid Turkmenistan landscape and crashing down to earth, accompanied by laughter of a child and Ennio Morricone inspired carnival music. Then we are introduced to its inhabitants - old, toothless people with decidedly Asiatic features. Sokurov points out many times throughout the film that this dusty small village in the desert could simply be a mirage.

Dmitri, a fresh faced young doctor/writer from Moscow is our prince Myshkin: he is more of an ethnographer, observing the foreign landscape and its inhabitants. The unrelenting heat makes many of the residents sleepless and Dmitri shirtless most of the time. His adobe is strewn with papers, exotic animals and strange artifacts and uninvited visitors. His life is total chaos: he talks to a recently deceased friend at the morgue, gets into a fist/kick fight in the street while trying to intervene the fight between two men and gets taken hostage by an armed military man.

The Days of the Eclipse can be read as a palimpsest of a Soviet federation's history: not quite understanding different ethnic groups with completely different culture and religion under one large umbrella. And its past still haunts even in the remote valley in the desert. The most beautiful scenes are the ones with celestial cherubic blonde kid appearing at his doorstep. He tells how handsome Dmitri is, but sees time passing in his face. Perestroika is good looking and all, but is it going to last?

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