Time is ticking. Alexey Medvedev on the film "Nuucha" by Vladimir Munkuev

Alexey Medvedev
The hero is dying. This is almost not a spoiler, since the seal of defeat is visible on it to any attentive viewer from the very beginning. Yakutia, the second half of the 19th century, a distant district, where Khabdjiy and Keremes, having been pushed around as slaves by a local Yakut prince, are trying to run an independent household and, finally, give birth to a healthy child. The beast and the fish have gone no one knows where. Local gods (ichchi) do not help and do not get in touch. The shaman can't help either. He beats the tambourine fervently, but "there is no one here." Even before the first word spoken in the film, we will see a heartbreaking funeral of a newborn and a suicide attempt. What else can we say about what will happen later.


A Russian exile, a man of the land, bony, sick and arrogant, appears. He's not even an oppressor. It seems that he intuitively reasoned for himself this way: if I was sent to the bottom of the world for noble aspirations, then I can fight for myself by all available means. What happens is that Khabdjiy remains without a home and without a wife.


It seems to me that this is important: the point for me is not that "Khabdjiy reproduces the imperial matrix" (Maria Kuvshinova), although this is also the case. And in general, I don't want to argue with the anti–colonial pathos of the film - it is and should be. But something else is important to me. Man of the land Kostya seems to say: well, let's be honest, according to the Hamburg account; here, in hell, where I was sent against my will, I can do this – catch a fish, rape someone else's wife, be rude to the local prince. And what can you do?

All of this is enough to scare away any viewer from the film, except perhaps a stoned cinephile. But, actually, the purpose of this short essay is to explain why the film at the same time turned out not boring and not as sad as the plot summary promises. Actually, none of us mind sad movies. But this one isn't exactly like that. Or not at all.

Yakut cinema has gone through several stages in the 21st century. First - local genre films, sometimes shot on VHS, for the local public who wanted to watch movies in their own language. At the same time, in parallel, strong theater directors (such as Sergey Potapov) still tried to shoot one hundred percent independent cinema. And often it turned out ("God Dyesegey", 2015). There were also local victories at Russian film festivals: "His Daughter" by Tatiana Everstova (Vyborg Grand Prix-2016), "The King Bird" by Eduard Novikov (Golden George-2018), "Scarecrow" by Dmitry Davydov (KINOTAVR Grand Prix -2020). And even rare outings to Busan and the Berlinale. And this is also a very understandable phenomenon – in the absence of support for your movie, for your own utterance, for your intonation, you can lean on your neighbor's shoulder. But is it a comrade?


And here is the victory of Vladimir Munkuyev's "Nuucha" in the competition "East-West" of the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Not much, but a normal application for a place in world cinema. The first, perhaps. And quite serious.
"Nuucha" (I prefer the colloquial version of "nyucha") is "Russian" in Yakut. Such a name will be assigned by the Khabjiy to the alien exile. The first step on the ladder of dehumanization, which does not go to the sky. The folk etymology, of course, is unlikely: the Cossacks came to the locals and asked: "Well, what?"
What is this film about, if not about the bestiality of Russia - the colonizer? Perhaps it's about the fact that there wasn't much bestiality either (there was, don't get me wrong, but we're talking about a specific movie!). There was a dynamic of forces: the oppressor became a slave and vice versa. And so an infinite number of times! And it is this dynamic of forces that forms the basis of the plot of "Nuucha", which makes this film so similar to an American western. And it is this dynamic that makes the film so fascinating, despite the slow rhythm.


The main character, who is the main loser, nevertheless manages his wife. His all-powerful prince is afraid of the Russian authorities, the Cossacks and his mother. A rightless exile, whose money is being stolen for maintenance, may turn out to be an alpha male on a short patch of the Yakut district. And Keremes, as a result of all these battles, turns out to be almost the only carrier of free will who is ready to run away with her first husband and return to the second. Just for the circumstances. But, oddly enough, in the space of the film, this is freedom.


And it's also a film about the right – not just to shoot your own story, but to create it. Let's take Russian films about our history of recent years, seemingly continuing the traditions of Russian cinema. Here, Nikita Mikhalkov is filming about the Civil War. A young directors shoot about the blockade, "Nord Ost", etc. Alas, there is not a single drop of truth in any of these films. Not because the directors are lying. They just don't know, don't know how, don't want, don't feel. Simply put, they have already died. Things happen.


Okay, they're dead. But we are alive! Our hero died. The story of the hero's folklore death rhymes with the colonial history of the empire's suppression of local identity. But it is thanks to this rhyme that what in the second case is perceived as an unconditional defeat, thanks to the first reference can be perceived as a victory.

There is always a story, a narrative. After the death of newborns, burying living old women in the ground, complete defeat and suicide. And he - the narrative - supports people, supports national identity. At the same time, the paradox is that the late "national epic" is born at the moment when the nation enters the "international arena". Therefore, it is created not from within folklore, autochthonous spaces, but precisely on the border. Munkuyev is buryat, who was born and lived for many years in Yakutia. The author of the stories that formed the basis of the film is Vaclav Seroshevsky, a Pole. The producers and half of the crew are Russian. Actually, the connection with the indigenous Yakut culture was carried out primarily thanks to the actors and the line producer Irina Engelis, who herself, for a moment, is “a sakhalyar” - of Yakut and Latvian roots. Let's remember how the American epic was created in the classic Hollywood of the 20-30s – were there many "Native Americans" there?


(Note in parentheses that the epithet "indigenous" is not entirely appropriate. Let's not forget that one of the variants of the etymology of the word "Yakut" is a stranger who came to the lands of the northern peoples from the south with his horses and Turkic culture. Therefore, the self-name of the Yakuts is Sakha, it's not bad to remember that.)


The hero is dying. Actually, he is not a hero at all – he is an everyman of medieval mysteries, unable to withstand the harsh friction of the world on his senses (sorry, it seems this is a free quote from the last Pelevin, but too lazy to look for the exact wording). And there remains the whisper of nature, which was not only born before the appearance of lips, but also continues to sound after these lips have closed forever. This is the meaning of the final landscapes shot by Denis Klebleyev, not pictorial at all, but meditative, eternal and at the same time almost reasonable, asserting their own power and right to exist. And they, in a sense, provide a solution to one of the important philosophical problems – does history and the concept of time itself exist outside of its carriers? Is the universe experiencing something without us – at least changes in the landscape? Or is it just an inextricable continuum of the past and the future, along which we trace our instantaneous trajectories, like elementary particles in a Wilson chamber? What happens when local gods leave, when the last bearer of national identity dies, when languages and cultural monuments disappear? This is what happens: in the vacuum that has formed, we understand that this is not quite a vacuum, not quite a void. What a whisper sounds. And it can be picked up at any moment and amplified to a powerful chorus. And woe to those cultures where whispers are no longer heard.


A whisper sounds. Time is passing.