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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Live and Remember

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We follow in our judgements a code set by the community. But, beyond any allegiances, each of us is a unique human being. Our life has a purpose of its own. Is it about community? No, it goes beyond, toward ourselves: finding our way, understanding our fate.

A peasant was taken to the war from the very beginning and he realized that the chances to remain alive were very small. He understood that this was his fate, and he fought together with his comrades against the enemy. After several years the war was coming to its end. Now the chances of survival were high, while the possibility to be killed remained real, either: after all, a bullet could have found its way even in the last minute of war. What had been just matter of normalcy for all those years, would  have been now just stupid bad luck.

The man got wounded and he was sent to the military hospital. It seemed that the medical commission would let him home. Surprisingly they decided in the last day to send him back to the front.

He went to the station to take the train to his military unit. What if taking the train home firstly, and then go back to the front? Probably two days more, they would probably not observe the delay. Or would they? He let the first train go, to the front, also the second train, home. He just remained on the platform, undecided. Hours passed, then a day, then more. As time was flowing, the liberty of choice was vanishing. After several days it was already too late: going back to his regiment meant facing the court martial. Eventually he took the train home: now he was a deserter and had to hide from the other villagers.

He let only his wife know about him. She took it as her fate. They shared everything: their life, their joys and sorrows, their guilt. She started to help him secretly, going during the nights to the island where he had his hide-out.

The wife got pregnant. For him it meant all this happened to follow a purpose. A kid would continue them. For her it was more complicated. First hand how to present the thing to the other villagers? She pretended she had cheated her man. Everybody blamed her, except for her father-in-law. He told her, I know you very well, you are not one of those cheating their husbands. You must tell me at least if he's alive! She denied of knowing anything. The old man cursed her, she remained mute, stubbornly.

Live and Remember (Живи и помни), the book of Valentin Rasputin: the title calls in mind the deep meaning of remembrance: time getting irrelevant, moment getting timeless. Dissolution of past, present and future, irrelevance of anything but life: live and take care on what you observe.

Published on 1974, the book was immediately hailed as a superb - if atypical - example of war literature... a masterly psychological portrait of two characters caught in a hopeless situation... a very Russian story (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/711258.Live_and_Remember).

I read the book in a Romanian translation, sometime at the beginning of the 1980's, and it produced a profound impression on me. And then, during the years that followed, it came to my mind many times: the tragic story of Andrei and Nastyona, and its subtle meaning. And the paradoxical way of putting the problem.

A movie was made based on this book, in 2008. Director Aleksandr Proshkin looked for slightly different accents. The man is a deserter and  lives hidden on an island nearby the village, this comes in the movie matter of factly, the whole chain of events leading to this is just assumed, and the subtle motivation discussed in the book is no more. Instead, the movie is interested in the man's decay down to wilderness, masterfully caught: the naturalness of the way images of lonely wolf and lonely man are juxtaposed is a superb example of using the Eisensteinian lesson on intellectual montage. Another great achievement of the movie is the way the woman is presented: simultaneously living in two contradictory worlds, participant at the village life while secretly helping her husband, perfectly credible in both hypostases. The movie has also a slightly different ending: after many years the husband (that somehow survived) comes again, to find his village vanished - only deserted homes in full decay. I think it is an accolade to the whole creation of Rasputin, so focused on the tragedy of traditional life destruction.

And over all this, the river, Angara, in all its greatness, as an image of Cosmos, supporting all these opposites, witnessing everything, understanding all, and giving an unexpected sense to all that happens. People and communities come and go, the same is with the good and with the bad, with times of happiness and tragedy - the river has always been there and will remain there for ever, frozen in winter, relinquishing its banks of ice during spring thaw, flowing with majesty in summer and autumn, and maybe telling us that none of our stories are that important.

(Valentin Rasputin)

(Russian and Soviet Cinema)



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