I have been at the library for the past few hours beating my head against a very hard brick wall. I found the bibliography of post-1917 Russian literature reference books for which I had been searching. I thought that the section headed "Bibliographies on Russian Emigre Literature" would be my savior. That hope was false. No one believes in organizing things by topic. I don't care what Fel'zen wrote if it wasn't about Lermontov.

So I was going to prolong my agony and write about Father and Son briefly before finishing up the umpteen gazillionth pointless article on narratology assigned by my supervisor, who also teaches one of the most pointless classes...ever, but I can't do it.

I just can't do it. I haven't been able to organize anything. At first I was going to start with the mise-en-scène: the numerous rickety planks connecting the eponymous duo's apartment to the roof, connecting the same apartment with Sasha's; the staticky radios, which I'm sure are a reference to Tarkovskii's Stalker, but even so, are related to the planks as symbols of communication; the roof; and my favorite, the gun on the wall of the father's bedroom. Every couple of months someone asks on the SEELANGs listserv: "Chekhov supposedly said that if you see a gun on stage in act 1, it must go off in act 5. What's the citation?" I don't think there ever is a correct answer, but it's a saying now. The gun in Father and Son never goes off. Nice.

Then I was planning on commenting intelligently on the cinematography, in particular the framing. Many shots are framed by doorways, window frames, building walls. This also reminded me of Stalker. Of course it serves to heighten the exclusive nature of the father and son's relationship. The scene in which Aleksei (the son) and his girlfriend break up occurs with each of them pressed against the opposite sides of a cracked window. A couple of the camera angles were also striking: when Aleksei goes to his ex-girlfriend's house. She's on a balcony and he's on the street. He's shot at from such a high angle that it makes her balcony seem to be several floors higher than it is.

After this I was going to discuss the situational parallels: the two pairs of fathers and sons, although one father is missing. The two excluded parties: Aleksei's girlfriend and Sasha. The ex-girlfriend breaks off the relationship because she knows that she can't compete with Aleksei's father. Sasha, on the other hand, asks to move in and is then rejected because he already lives next door. Sasha's exit over a rooftop while holding a kitten almost broke my heart, "You know where I'm going." Then there was the opening and closing. The opening is the father comforting Aleksei after a nightmare. At one point the father asks, "Where are you?" Aleksei describes and appears in a bucolic setting. The father asks, "Am I there?" At first he isn't, but then Aleksei concedes, "I see you" as the father walks into the frame. The end is nightmare-less, but the father is in a different space: he's on the roof and it's covered with snow. Aleksei asks, "Where are you?" and later, "Am I there?" The father looks at the son's window, which is closed and answers, "No, you're not." He then sits down in the snow, facing the sea, and rests his face on his knees. Roll credits.

The entire film creates this confined and confining atmosphere. The love between father and son is palpable, it weighs so much, but at the end, everyone's alone.

This is why Lost in Translation faded so quickly from my memory. Father and Son touches on the same themes but with the philosophical bravura wielded so deftly by Russians and ignored by North Americans. Sokurov's technique was also more obvious and I appreciate artificiality more than verisimilitude. Sofia Coppola's film, regardless of its merits (chief among them are Bill Murray and humor), just seems smaller now. Lighter. I still liked it, I just won't be thinking about it or wanting to see it again. The Sokurov, well, I'm waiting for it to come out on DVD so that I can watch it again. Hopefully the second time around I won't cry. -Zh.


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