Monthly Archives: May 2023

  • Pamfir                  Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk

    Pamfir                         Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk (Ukr; 2022) Oleksandr Yaksentyuk, Stanislav Potiak, Solomiia Kyrylova

    viewed Tyneside Cinema 11 May 2023; ticket: £10:25


    Sukhollytkyy-Sobchuk’s ‘Pamfir’ seemed to me to be a strange convoluted chaotic film. At its core ‘Pamfir’ is located in the tensions generated in Ukraine between individualistic and collective ethos, between the visceral demands of village life and the experience of corruption as a social constant. ‘Pamfir’ is visceral in look, of the body and of the marks that corruption makes upon the body; and the atmospherics of Sukhollytkyy-Sobchuk’s scenario create an atmosphere of delirious despair.

    It’s to be noted that Sukhollytkyy-Sobchuk wrote and shot (but didn’t edit) his film before the Russian invasion of his country. The film can perhaps be understood as a sort of psychic prelude to that event and its consequences. In this I was reminded of Kirill Serebrennikov’s movie ‘Petrov’s Flu’, a Russian film made in 2021 which comes across as a prelude to Putin’s war, a dispatch from the collective state of mind of Putin’s Russia. In Serebrennikov’s film life is an alcohol fuelled hallucination experienced as a constant state of fear punctuated by acts of paranoiac violence: a collective death trip. Seen in Feb 2022, a few days after the invasion of Ukraine, Russian brutality, its capacity for destruction and self deception, the incoherence and nightmare quality of Putin’s Special Military Operation were all prefigured by Serebrennikov (who I believe has left Russia). Serebrennikov had looked into the hellish foundations of Putin’s state and shown us the demons that occupy and drive it.

    In like manner I read Sukhollytkyy-Sobchuk’s film as a dispatch from Ukraine. It’s film says something about an underlying schizo situation that defines his country.

    The film opens with a primitive arresting image: a Shaman like figure, enveloped in a straw body costume, grasping a skull capped staff and wearing a grotesque animal mask, sits on hay bale in a barn facing the camera square on. As the scene unfolds (comprising of a single shot like much of the filming) the figure is revealed to be the returning paterfamilias Pamfir (Pamfir is his nickname; actual name is Leonid). The costume and mask he has donned is his way of turning his coming back into a surprise joke. The costume is one of a number that Pamfir’s son Nazar and friends are making for the upcoming collective celebration of a pagan festival. References to the festival (which is possibly an early winter festival like Samain) run through the scenario, and are returned to multiple times. The feeling from Sukhollytkyy-Sobchuk’s script is that, as in most of the West, this festivity based on primitive masked dance and re-enactment, is form without content. It has become a pretext, an excuse to revel, but it is no longer part of way in which the villagers actually understand or relate to life. The festival is celebrated as part of the annual round of life, but compartmentalised. This in some respects is strange; the life of the village and its people, its deep rural isolated location, the physicality of human and animal relations, suggests that the people might retain some element of a shared vital connection with a pagan pre-modern tradition. But they don’t. They are corrupted by other forces.

    The people now have a new religion. Here in Pamfir’s village, the old Ukrainian Orthodox Church is represented as having no presence. There are no signs of orthodox priests, no bearded patriarchs walking through the village sprinkling holy water. There is a new religion. The village has been colonised, converted to a form of American style evangelicalism in which interpretation of the Bible is put to the service of the American way of life with its insistence on the primacy of individual salvation and its distrust and devaluation of collective endeavour. God is on the side of the little man, behind him all the way. The Pastor sermonises during the service: “God puts each of us to the test but never asks of us more than we can do.” And Olena, Pamfir’s wife, tells him: “God transforms pain into duty.”

    Sukhollytkyy-Sobchuk’s ‘letter’ ‘Pamfir’ teases out the contradictions endemic in the Ukrainian psychee between a past collective form of life and the new American style individualistic modernism.

    As an individual Pamfir is helpless to determine his own fate, whether or not God is on his side. He is a strong and self reliant but is crushed by both the social and corrupt collective forces that surround him. He cannot fight the lesions of corruption which strangle the village. Unemployment and perhaps the force of his own character mean he cannot get work that pays enough in his own village. To sustain himself and his family he resorted to smuggling (cigarettes to Romania – the village is very close to the border) and when caught doing that, he traveled to Poland to find work. On his return his wife and son are both want him to stay with them. His individualist ethos and pride, make this impossible for Pamfir. His work papers destroyed in a fire caused by his son, Pamfir decides to undertake the smuggling run last time. But times have changed. Whereas cigarette smuggling was once possible as an individual enterprise, the business has now been taken over by a criminal gang whose boss has the resources to pay off the police and border guards. Smuggling is stitched up territory. Smuggling has become part of the endemic corruption of the state, and an individual has no chance of disturbing this criminal monopoly. Pamfir’s last ditch attempt to smuggle is doomed to failure which consequently plays out in disaster and in the end he is shot like a dog.

    ‘Pamfir’ may be read as an analogous microcosm to Ukraine’s pre-war state, buffeted between remembrance of a mythic collective history and the vistas of a promised individualised future, squeezed between endemic corruption and a yearning for self affirmation. But on my reading at least it ends with a metaphysical proposition.

    Pamfir is forced to deliver a package from the criminal gang to their opposite number in Romania. The route he is instructed to take from Ukraine to Romania is by means of a narrow pipe that has been laid across the border. Instead of taking the package himself Pamfir gets his son Nazar to do the job. The concept of the narrow bore pipe suggests of the idea of rebirth for Nazar. The father dies, the son is reborn. As Pamfir is shot dead beside the entry to the pipe line, the son crawls through it as through a birth canal; albeit one that leads to Romania. A joke perhaps, but Romania is filmed as if seen in a vision. On getting through the pipe it is as if Nazar has not so much come to another country but into another dimension. A dimension of purity. As he walks over the ground towards the Romanian border guards, snow has fallen. The world is become white, purest white, the white of rebirth, unsullied, presenting a vision of the purity of the soul. ‘Pamfir’ for all the dark tropes actions and despair it depicts – ends on a note of hope.


    Of course Romania, is a member of the EU. It’s also a country that is and has been notorious for corruption. But at this point being in the EU is kin if not a state of grace then at least the possibility of a hope to which Ukraine aspires and for which she is fighting a war of necessary, unto death.

    Adrin Neatrour

  • Alphaville – Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution   – L Godard

    Alphaville – Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution   – L Godard (Fr; 1965) Eddie Constantine, Anna Karina

    viewed: Star and Shadow Cinema 7th May 2023; ticket £7

    back to the future – why/because…

    At the start of the movie the distorted voice over in Godard’s ‘Alphaville’ observes: “Sometimes thought is too complex to be represented by the spoken word.” Hence we have ‘Cinema Godard’. Godard’s ‘Cinema’ of course uses verbal means (and graphics) to posit and develop ideas. But his films are also characterised by allowing us: ‘seeing’. Godard exploits both his film’s structure and visual imagery to represent things about about the world we live in. For instance he points up the contradictions of capitalism and Western life using the interplay and juxtaposing of the symbolic and actual images, to render complex ideas simply and immediately graspable. To see is to understand.

    To create and develop his idea forms Godard brings into play the wide range of cinema resources. Graphics are an important part of the repertoire. Godard’s opening titles (and the accompanying sound) function as a portal into his films. Their purpose is to communicate to the viewer that they are entering into another world, a cinema of ideas. Godard’s graphic techniques are simple but work with effect. They exploit pace, scale, colour, animation of fonts in unusual ways, creating new ideations out of familiar material. Of course Godard’s playful graphics run through many of his films from intertitles to the end credits. In ‘Alphaville’ the opening credits effect a mood of pastiche. The credits are intercut with the leitmotif of a menacing (but obviously absurd and harmless) flashing light, which is overlaid with a parody of tense musical ‘stings’, such as used by Don Siegel in the ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. The names of the cast appear in random order flickering to life against images of two strange paintings. The music the paintings the computer style of the graphics lettering pre-empt a film that in look and play out is unabashedly absurd. But which in the philosophical traditions of absurdist art, contain a hard core social commentary.

    Godard’s music is never used with the usual movie reasons: event affirmation and/or reinforcement of emotional mood. The purpose of this sort of music is to unify sound and image in order to exploit and overwhelm the sensory motor receptors of the audience. Godard’s tracks are used with opposite intent. He works to separate image and music. In Alphaville he separates them by use of humour as a device; the device of humorous exaggeration. His intent in this separation is to alert the audience to their susceptibility to manipulation, to prompt them into questioning the basis of manipulation. At moments of ‘high drama’ Lemmy Caution’s quest through Alphaville is rendered absurd by use of multiple repetitions of a discordant musical sting, of the sort used in ‘film noir’ to mark out a moment of dangerous realisation; but in Alphaville it’s used to signal to the audience the empty mechanics of the plot line. Likewise in Alphaville his repeated use of a soft romantic melodic leitmotif parodies typical ‘noirish’ male/female dyads such as those between Bogart and Bacall in Hawk’s ‘To Have and Have Not.’ (interestingly the age gap between Constantine and Karina is similar, but no one for a moment will imagine real attraction between them). The exaggerated lyrical score overplaying Lemmy and Natasha’s relationship works to effectively undermine if not dispel any notion of its credibility outside the demands of the script.

    Encased in an absurd plot structure in which modernist quartiers of Paris double for the futurist city of Alphaville, Godard addresses one feature of the present that in 1965 he saw as a threat to our humanity. The increasing development and exploitation through computers of the logic underlying the development of capitalism. A logic that through the relational structures of capitalism – work – consumerism – the commodification of relationships – was to feed into and refine our own human psychic responses and development. The ultimate logic of capitalism is to reduce everything to the equations of maximal profit and structural efficiency. All the extraordinary advances in science and technology are immediately subsumed to the purpose of making profit and the development of monopolies is logically the most efficient means to maximise profit: Coca Cola.

    Seen in 2023 Alphaville is as relevant today as in 1965 to the situation in which find ourselves as regards the development of computers and consequences that algorithmic logic have in controlling so many aspects of life: the economic – the social – the personal.

    Godard focuses on the incremental development of the computer logic languages that were in 1965 starting to become an omnipresent in industry and government. Godard immediatley saw that it was only a question of when not if, that computers would enter the social personal and intimate zones. If the primary and secondary forms of capitalism worked to possess the body the next stage of capitalism would work to possess the mind. Godard understood when the power of computer logic was harnessed by large corporations to accelerate consumption, we would all to a greater or lesser extent become the slaves of capitalist algorithms. The latter statement may not be explicit in Alphaville, but it is implicit. What is explicit in Alphaville is Godard’s perception that only escape from mechanical enslavement lay in the very essence of our human nature: our conscience and our capacity to love. Our conscience sets us apart from machines because it is a personal moral sense of right and wrong, the capacity for taking responsibility for things we have done. As machines are not responsible for the things they do, they are programmed, conscience bypasses them.


    And love. Love is illogical.


    Just to return to the point made earlier about Godard’s use of film to make us see complex things simply. In one scene Lemmy chances upon an execution site. The execution ritual is set in a modern swimming pool. The condemned men step up onto a diving board, they are shot, they fall into the water their bodies retrieved by groups of synchronised female swimmers. The imagery is absurd, but in this visual concatenation of death and fetishistic spectacle is a condensation of the contradictions of algorithmic capitalism. It kills us but our dead bodies do not sink are kept afloat by the blandishments of beautiful models holding out the promise of life after death.

    adrin neatrour