Hammer and Sickle

Russia, 1994
Color/black-and-white, 93 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director and producer: Sergei Livnev
Scriptwriter: Sergei Livnev and Vladimir Valutskii
Cinematography: Sergei Machil'skii
Sound design: Gleb Kravetskii and Leonid Veitkov
Music: Leonid Desiatnikov
Cast: Aleksei Serebriakov, Evdokiia Germanova, Alla Kliuka, Avangard Leont'ev, Tat'iana Agafonova,
Vladimir Steklov, Gosha Kutsenko
Production: Gor'kii Film Studio

Livnev’s Hammer and Sickle and the Unmaking of Soviet Camp

Sergei Livnev’s Hammer and Sickle emphasizes the artificiality of high Stalinism by drawing attention to the stylized nature of Stalinist cultural production. Centered on a successful sex-change operation, the film stresses the constructed and performative nature of the Stalinist gendered subject. In spite of the film’s focus on stylization and gender performativity, the film is essentially anti-camp because, in its search for authenticity, it refutes both the Stalinist high style and Soviet gender performance.
Following the protagonist’s transformations from peasant woman to model Soviet man and, finally, to a living museum, the three parts of the film fall into three genre categories: science fiction, ironic comedy, and melodrama. Set in the 1930s, the film tells of a state-sponsored sex-change operation. When a young peasant woman, Evdokiia Kuznetsova, is turned into Evdokim Kuznetsov, s/he is thrown into the center of the Stalinist project. Despite the apparent success of the operation—Evdokim gradually becomes a model Soviet man—he eventually realizes the artificiality of his position and tries to assert his subjectivity independent of the state.

The beginning of the film alludes to the Frankensteinian aspect of the Soviet approach to nature, where science enables radical transformations of man and the environment. Later, however, the state’s reaction to the trans-gender operation shows the tension between the desire for revolutionary change and the need to uphold conservative traditions. At first, the metamorphosis of a Soviet woman is hailed as a victory of Soviet science, but later it is described as a conspiracy of enemies of the people. These Soviet contradictions are dialectically combined in Evdokim’s new life as a model Soviet man, who is simultaneously traditional and revolutionary in his masculinity.

While Evdokim’s initial introduction into masculinity is scientific and violent, the later stages of this process are performative. Thus, Evdokim engages in such performances of gender as lifting weights, learning to urinate standing up, and making love to a woman. Moving from the periphery to Moscow, Evdokim similarly performs an ideal Soviet subjectivity. As an embodiment of a Soviet ideal, Evdokim becomes a Stakhanovite worker, an outstanding student, a builder of the Moscow metro, a family man, and a member of the Supreme Soviet. Here the film ironically replicates traditional socialist realist novels, since Evdokim’s development is guided by a father figure—a KGB official, Aleksei. The emphasis on the material trappings of the Stalinist elite, such as a Moscow apartment and a convertible car, however, subverts the ideological meaning of a socialist realist plot.

At the same time, the protagonist’s body and life are replicated in various state media. Evdokim becomes Vera Mukhina's model of a worker for her Worker and Collective Farmer [Rabochii i kolkhoznitsa, 1937] monument. The film parodically reproduces cinematic depictions of the New Man in newsreel footage of Evdokim’s achievements and in the journalist and sculptor’s filming of Evdokim’s life. The high Stalinist style is then constantly reproduced as a parodic replica of itself. In this respect, the film enters into a dialog with Ivan Dykhovichnyi’s Moscow Parade (Prorva, 1992) with its aesthetic admiration of Stalinist visual culture and music.

In Hammer and Sickle, the Stalinist high style is juxtaposed to the protagonist’s search for authenticity. Thus, he finds his former lover, Vera, in a communal apartment that sharply contrasts with his privileged living conditions. Despite his achievement of a Soviet ideal, Evdokim grows more and more dissatisfied with his life and searches for a more authentic experience that is cast in a melodramatic tone. Ironically, the search for authenticity results in the protagonist’s paralysis and his internment into his museum as a living statue—an even less authentic version of Evdokim’s existence, since it misrepresents the protagonist as the quintessential Soviet hero. This desire for authenticity denies the viability of a gendered Soviet performance.

Rather than being playful, gender performance in the film appears as ironic and frightening. Evdokim’s initial transformation is a result of violence by the state, and his development into a model Soviet man is a simulation of masculinity. Similar if less radical gender transformations can be seen in Evdokim’s wife, Elizaveta Voronina, and his daughter Dolores: both characters become more masculine in the course of the film. Significantly, their acquired masculinity has dark overtones. By contrast, Evdokim’s existence as a woman appears as a more authentic experience, which is seen in his persistent flashbacks of Evdokiia’s love-making. Evdokim’s obsessive memory of his past as a woman can be interpreted as the film’s conservative approach to gender. Alternatively, the protagonist’s desire for authenticity can be seen as an attempt to connect a humanistic view of subjectivity with a postmodernist plot.
Due to its focus on authenticity, the film should not be characterized as a never-ending simulation as described by some critics. On the contrary, the film posits authenticity and holistic subjectivity as the prerequisite for human happiness.

Irina Anisimova

Sergei Livnev enrolled in two departments of the State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK)―cinematography and scriptwriting, receiving his degree in cinematography in 1985 (the studio of V. Iusov), and scriptwriting in 1987 (the studio of A. Biziaka). Livnev has written seven screenplays for both films and television, has worked as a producer on a number of projects, including collaborations with Valerii Todorovskii and Igor' Tolstunov, and joint Russia/USA collaborations. From 1995 to 1998, he was the director of the Gor'kii Film Studio. Hammer and Sickle had very limited screening in Russia: because of a lawsuit, successfully brought by an art director and production designer. It was not released in theaters and appeared only at film festivals.


1994 Hammer and Sickle
1991 Kiks

Print Friendly, PDF & Email