The Muslim

[Мусульманин]

film still

Russia. 1995. 110 min. Color
Russian with English subtitles
Directed: Vladimir Khotinenko
Written: Valerii Zolotukha
Cinematography: Aleksei Rodionov
Music: Aleksandr Pantykin
With Evgenii Mironov, Nina Usatova, Aleksandr Baluev, Evdokiia Germanova

A Russian soldier, Nikolai Ivanov, returns home after seven years of captivity in Afghanistan. The film explicitly links his name with St. Nicholas. In Afghanistan, however, Nikolai converted to Islam and observes the rituals of his new religion in his home village. While he was away, his father committed suicide and his brother spent time in jail. In the new, postsoviet Russia, the villagers waste their days drinking and yearning for money. They call Nikolai "the Muslim" and violently oppose his moral way of life. Nikolai's brother juxtaposes his Orthodox faith, which is shown as non-existent, to the supposedly satanic and alien rituals of his Muslim sibling.

Set in post-perestroika Russia, the film boldly mixes the fragments of Russian Orthodox, Soviet, Western, postsoviet, and Muslim cultures in its search for an answer to the question: is it possible to articulate a narrative of coherent post-imperial identity?

In Russian history, there has always been a feeling that the world people live in is incomplete. And there has always been a desire to find something external which, if transplanted into this world, would somehow change it, turn it around and, thereby, make it more perfect. And this is the feeling we have now. There is an anticipation that someone will appear and somehow will make us live right.

--Valerii Zalotukha (scriptwriter), Iskusstvo kino 9 (1995): 15.

The image of Kolya praying in a field of wildflowers possesses a strange lyricism, like the eerie lake where swimmers keep drowning. According to legend, there is a sunken church at the bottom, and anyone who reaches its cupola will be born again sinless. Cinematographer Aleksei Rodionov (Go and See, Orlando) has a lot to do with creating the film's spiritual landscapes, in contrast to the dirty, miserable village.

--Deborah Young, Variety (25 September 1995): 96.

Director

Vladimir Khotinenko (b. 1952) established his reputation as a filmmaker (directing, acting, and artistic design) at the studios in Ekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk) before moving to Moscow. In 1981 he graduated from the Filmmakers' Courses (Nikita Mikhalkov's workshop) and since then has taught film directing at the State Filmmaking Institute (VGIK). Khotinenko's Mirror for a Hero became one of the milestones of perestroika cinema. The Muslim won the Special Grand Prize of the Jury at the Montréal Film Festival, as well as several Nika awards from the Russian Academy of Cinematographic Arts.

Filmography

1984 Alone and Unarmed (co-directed with P. Fattakhutdinov)
1986 Shooting in the Back-Country
1987 Mirror for a Hero
1989 S.V. (Sleeper Car)
1990 The Swarm
1992 A Patriotic Comedy
1993 Makarov
1995 The Road (a short in The Arrival of a Train)
1995 Muslim
1999 Strastnoi Bulevard



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