Ordered to Forget
Color, 87 minutes
Russian and Chechen with English subtitles
Director: Khusein Erkenov
Screenplay: Ruslan Kokanaev, Sultan Zaurbekov
Camera: Anatolii Petringa
Composer: Vladimir Dashkevich
Cast: Shamkhan Mitraev, Kheda Akhmadova, Roza Khairullina, Timur Badalbeili, Roman Kuznichenko, Movsar Ataev, Aleksandr Novin
Producer: Ruslan Kokanaev
Production: Kinokompaniia “Grozny-fil’m” im. Sheikha Mansura
Khusein Erkenov’s Ordered to Forget revisits one of the darkest moments in the Soviet imperial encounter: the 1944 forced deportations from their homelands of entire ethnic groups—Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, Chechens, and others—accused of collaborating with the Nazis. The film takes as its subject one of the most violent events in this process, the massacre of the 700 Chechen inhabitants of the village of Khaibakh in an attempt to avoid being set back by delays in their deportation.
The depiction of this history is framed by scenes in which a young contemporary Chechen boy travels with his father and grandmother from Grozny to Khaibakh to visit the grave of his grandfather. The journey from the sparkling capital (rebuilt following the Chechen wars) to the countryside mirrors the film’s movement from the present to the past, inviting viewers to learn of the terrible fate of that village alongside the child. This occurs in an extended flashback, which follows the child’s grandfather, Daud, as he takes to the mountains to avoid persecution following the arrest of his father, and marries Seda, who flees Khaibakh for a similar reason. The fugitive status preventing them from returning to their native village, however, saves them from sharing the fate of its other residents. Instead they act as witnesses, intervening to ensure that what they saw would not be forgotten.
Erkenov also revisits and revises the cultural organization of the Soviet Empire by making a film that is in many regards a work of national cinema on the Soviet model. The Soviet film industry organized national film studios in each of the major republics with a mandate to create cinema that linked the specifics of their national culture to the larger Soviet project. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union many national territories, like Chechnya, not deemed significant enough to merit a studio of their own, have begun to release films that are in many ways grounded in a conception of national identity similar to the one, under which the Soviet film industry operated. Ordered to Forget features many of the customary markers of national identity—language, music, landscape, costume, and dance. Rather than using them to integrate the nation into the imperial project, however, it uses them to simultaneously show the violence of the Soviet encounter with the indigenous, and to highlight moments of continuity between the past and the present.
Many of the more powerful, disturbing, and shocking sequences in Ordered to Forget explore the role of orders in the ethical underpinning of Soviet society. The order is repeatedly invoked by characters in the film to deny themselves responsibility (“This order was signed by Stalin, himself”) or agency (“The orders of an NKVD colonel are not up for debate”). The maniacal expression of the face of a murderous young soldier at the film’s climax suggests that the absolute nature of these commands served to cover for darker impulses in many. The actions of other characters also challenge this comforting sense of helplessness and inevitability, as they refuse to obey, at the cost of their freedom, their homes, and their lives. Unforgiving in its depictions of those who follow orders, the film may feel too clear cut in its depiction of good and evil. The horror of the events depicted, however, might serve to justify this Manicheanism.
The film’s title incorporates viewers into this moral economy as well, reminding them that the experience of the film transforms them into witnesses of a history that many would prefer not be remembered. Claiming to have examined the archives without finding a single document verifying the story of the violence reported to have occurred in Khaibakh (which had until that point been widely accepted as true), the Russian Ministry of Culture refused to grant the film a license for distribution, citing it for the “falsification of history” and suggesting that it could provoke ethnic hatred. As a result the film has only been screened a handful of times including at the Moscow International Film Festival (where it was an unannounced, last minute addition to the program).
The film’s final image, a harrowing still photograph of the sole survivor of the Khaibakh massacre, Mumadi El’gakaev, offers a powerful response to those who would deny that the events depicted in the film took place. Using El’gakaev’s participation in the making of the film to legitimate the account presented in Ordered to Forget, Erkenov essentially counters the authority of the archives—which are always incomplete, always reliant on those who choose what to record and what to preserve—with that of human memory.
Khusein Erkenov is a scriptwriter, film director, and producer (in 1991 he founded his own production studio, Erkhus). In 1988 he graduated with honors from the Directing Department of the State Institute for Filmmaking (Sergei Gerasimov’s workshop) and directed his first film in 1990 (A Hundred Days Before the Command). Since then he has directed six feature films. He is a member of the Russian Union of Filmmakers and of the Russian Guild of Film Directors. His films have received awards at several international film festivals.
2014 Ordered to Forget
2010 Climb to the Moon
2005 I Adore You
2002 The Black Ball
1993 Don’t Shoot the Passengers
1991 The Chill
1990 A Hundred Days Before the Command