Ethnography, Incongruity, History: Soviet Poetic Cinema

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Papazian, Elizabeth A.. Ethnography, Incongruity, History: Soviet Poetic Cinema. The Russian Review. 82: 2023; 68–90.


This essay examines the entangling of the poetic and the ethnographic in the art cinema of the 1960s as an indicator of a broader collision of epistemological/discursive regimes in postwar Soviet cinema—and ultimately, a clash between two fundamentally opposed approaches to the discursive production of history. In the Soviet poetic cinema of the 1960s, the temporal-spatial frameworks of the Stalin era are disrupted, shifting first of all, to what Tarkovsky called a lived experience of time—that is, to the subjective emotions and experiences of individual people; second, to localized histories that may not coincide with the supra-national Soviet developmental narrative; and third, to the positing of an archaic, even pre-historical temporality as a kind of lost ideal. I argue that poetic cinema serves as a site for playing out the contradiction among temporalities and spatialities in post-Stalin culture, and therefore among opposed sense-making projects and representational modes, creating the possibility for subverting the colonial function of Soviet cinema.