Брат is a unique portrait of 1990s Russia. It shows the violence, desperation, poverty and moral decay of a nation in search for a new identity after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s a cult movie in Russia and for me an undisputable masterpiece with profound meaning.
More Jiang Wen! I got quite a lot out of “Violence, Sixth Generation Filmmaking, and Devils on the Doorstep” in Gary G. Xu’s book Sinascape: Contemporary Chinese Cinema. Once again, a scholar points out why what Jiang Wen accomplishes in Devils on the Doorstep is different, important, and subversive.
Here is Gary G. Xu’s central argument in this chapter (emphasis mine):
None… has gone as far as Jiang Wen’s Devils on the Doorstep has in representing violence and in exposing the violence of representation. Situated in the most traumatic event to hit twentieth-century China, World War II, Devils on the Doorstep portrays people’s mental state in the middle of violence. In this film, Jiang Wen is able to relate his thinking on the nature of violence to the discourse on modernity… The dominance of the Great Wall in the background of the filmic images draws our attention to issues of “national character” and Chinese nation-building, the most fundamental “myth-making” of Chinese socialist ideology. All these are done through Jiang Wen’s bold filmic experiments, such as the black-and-white cinematography, the claustrophobic aura, the fanatical acts, and the pastiche of motifs from old films of the 1950s and 1960s. These experiments… not only provide the most suitable form for Jiang Wen’s examination of violence and national trauma but also call attention to the violence of representation through questioning the viewing pleasure based on masculinist aesthetics. What Jiang Wen’s project ultimately suggests is that we cannot truly understand violence without considering trauma and vice versa. When understood together, trauma and violence provide a powerful tool for disrupting the notion of grand history, which, in its typically linear fashion, constructs a myth of revolutionary progression and provides legitimacy for the Chinese nation-state. While people’s actual suffering and struggles are drowned in the linear history of the Chinese revolution, the history ruptured by trauma and violence rescues their suffering and shows it through the imaging power of cinema.