The Island

Russia, 2006
Color, 112 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Pavel Lungin
Screenplay: Dmitrii Sobolev
Cinematography: Andrei Zhegalov
Production Design: Igor Kotsarev, Aleksandr Tolkachev
Music: Vladimir Martynov
Cast: Petr Mamonov, Viktor Sukhorukov, Dmitrii Diuzhev, Iurii Kuznetsov, Viktoriia Isakova, Nina Usatova, Iana Esipovich
Producer: Sergei Shumakov
Production: Pavel Lungin Studio

Coming out in 2006, The Island swept six Nika (Russian Oscar) awards, was screened at the Venice Film Festival, and provoked a barrage of critical responses. The film is set in two temporal planes united by the protagonist. As a young man during WWII, he betrays his comrade to the Nazis to save his own life. Thirty years later, i.e., in the 1970s, we meet him as a monk, Father Anatolii, in an isolated monastery in the Russian North. He prays (but rarely in the church), performs penitence (through hard labor), provides advice to and performs exorcism on the pilgrims who flock to the island to see him. His eccentric behavior seems unorthodox to his fellow monks, especially his preparations for an untimely death.

Those viewers and critics who have embraced the film, praise it equally for the spiritual message and visual appeal; those who attack it, do so on the grounds of its ideological message and visual banality. On the cinematic side, the contested territory is the "Tarkovsky style." With its minimalist plot, the film relies on cinematography and acting. The cameraman, Andrei Zhegalov, worked on several of Aleksandr Rogozhkin's films, including The Cuckoo (2002), which features a similarly barren and stern northern landscape. On the "messianic" side the controversy is about what exactly is being reified in the film: Orthodox faith or the state church?

But the issue of audience interpretation aside, there remains the directorial persona of Lungin himself. Prior to The Island, he had been making popular films on "burning issues": anti-Semitism in Taxi Blues, the "new Russians" in Tycoon, emigration in Roots. Within this paradigm, The Island is no different from the massive wave of classical literary adaptations on Russian TV: an easy viewing with an added benefit of patriotic traditionalism. By setting the film's overture during the Great Patriotic War—the poster event of the new "great Russia"—and the "time of miracles" during Stagnation, Lungin offers nostalgia with a positive (i.e., educational) twist.

Casting, it seems, points one in the direction of this new mass cinema. Father Anatolii is played by the rocker-turned-hermit Petr Mamonov. The other two monks are played by Viktor Sukhorukov and Dmitrii Diuzhev, both of whom had built their cinematic (and in case of Diuzhev also a TV) career playing gangsters and other unsavory characters of the new post-Soviet Russia. Their appearance in a "Russian Orthodox film" might raise some eye brows, but only if one forgets that this is spiritual cinema for mass consumption.

Pavel Lungin

Pavel Lungin was born in 1949 in Moscow. He graduated from the department of applied linguistics at the Moscow State University, and in 1980 — from the Graduate School of Scriptwriters and Film Directors. A second-generation screenwriter, Lungin had scripted a half-dozen Soviet films by the time he began directing at age 40. Lungin's directorial debut Taxi Blues (1990), for which he also wrote the script, brought him popularity and critical acclaim, and won the Best Director Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Since the 1990s Lungin divides his time and filming between France and Russia. In 2005 Lungin made a TV mini-series based on Nikolai Gogol's works. After the release of The Island, which garnered over a dozen prizes in Russia and abroad, Lungin has been working on a film about Ivan the Terrible. Lungin owns a film studio and has been producing his films since 2005.


2007 Lilacs
2006 The Island
2005 La maison haute (TV documentary)
2005 The Case of the Dead Souls (TV mini-series)
2005 Roots Link 1 | Link 2
2002 Tycoon Link 1 | Link 2
2000 The Wedding
1996 Line of Life
1992 Luna Park
1990 Taxi Blues

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