Sabtu, 19 Maret 2011
Françoise Huguier - Kommunalka (2008)
The expression “nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there,” truly applies to this film – though interesting is a more appropriate word than nice.
Twenty people live in this St. Petersburg kommunalka- communal apartment, though we don’t meet all of them. The hallways are very run down and painted a hideous green.
Each person has his or her own room, but they share one shower and one kitchen between them. The kitchen has several sinks and at least three stoves, but still....
The advantages to this arrangement are few – if you are sick someone will probably notice and help you, if you have young children (the people in this film don’t) there’s bound to be someone around willing to look after them for you,
The disadvantages, beyond the lack of private kitchen and bathroom, are many – there’s no privacy, and if your neighbours are violent drunks or play loud music there isn’t much you can do about it.
These apartment were once assigned to people by the state and no one had to pay rent but that changed after Perestroika. As director Francoise Huguier pointed out after the screening, the Russian people went directly from socialism to a particularly savage capitalism. From what we see in the film, many of them are never going to recover from that experience.
Huguier said that so much of the news out of Russia these days is about the very rich or the mafia that she wanted to show the lives of everyday people.
When the residents tell the director about their lives, each story is unique but there are common threads, too. Most have memories of happier times elsewhere. For several that place was Georgia.
Once they leave their happy place it’s just one disaster, heartbreak or catastrophe after another.
One resident was exiled to Siberia after the Second World War, while another is the child of parents who met while in exile.
One man never knew his grandmother because she died in the siege of Leningrad. One woman lived a comfortable life as the wife of a successful businessman, but then he and most of his family was murdered. People tell her she should be grateful to be alive.
Many thought that they would only stay in St. Petersburg and the Kommunalka for a few years but here they still are, decades later in some cases.
Hearing all these stories you realize that while they are personal, they are also part of Russian history, millions of others (whatever kind of housing they might be living in now) have gone through similar experiences.
It’s a very sad and sobering thought.
- Liz Ferguson
Subtitles:: English, French