Thursday, 19 October 2017

Later Life Learning Week Six: Demagoguery and Courage during the Cold War

  “The junior Senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatred of uninformed and credulous people that he has started a prairie fire, which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.”
J. William Fulbright, US senator, 1954

"It's a very important thing to learn to talk to people you disagree with."
—Pete Seeger

 "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it."
Edward R. Murrow 


 "Seen today, "The Manchurian Candidate" feels astonishingly contemporary; its astringent political satire still bites, and its story has uncanny contemporary echoes. The villains plan to exploit a terrorist act, "rallying a nation of viewers to hysteria, to sweep us up into the White House with powers that will make martial law seem like anarchy." The plot cheerfully divides blame between right and left; it provides a right-wing demagogue named Sen. John Iselin, who is clearly modeled on Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and makes him the puppet of his draconian wife, who is in league with foreign communists. The plan: Use anti-communist hysteria as a cover for a communist takeover."
—Roger Ebert
  
the full review

 
Bridge of Spies

 " Bridge of Spies is a tonic in polarized times.
It's based on the true story of James Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer who took on the case of accused Soviet spy Rudolf Abel in 1957. Director Steven Spielberg has crafted a complex film that makes you question the drive to demonize adversaries and, even more, to break constitutional rules to pursue punishment.
Played with self-deprecating charm by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, Donovan is a regular guy with a loving family, who happens to be a good insurance lawyer. With the down-home decency of a Frank Capra-esque hero, he succeeds more than he fails because he treats people as human beings and appeals to others to do the same." 
From a review from the Dallas News

See my review of  Bridge of Spies

 For a tribute to Seeger's life and career, you might wish to read Susan Green  in Critics at Large



We will be showing clips from the 2007 documentary Peter Seeger: The Power of Song

Roger Ebert says that the film is a tribute to the legendary singer and composer who thought music could be a force for good, and proved it by writing songs that have actually helped shape our times ("If I Had a Hammer" and "Turn, Turn, Turn") and popularizing "We Shall Overcome" and Woody Guthrie's unofficial national anthem, "This Land Is Your Land."


Edward R. Murrow
In Good Night, and Good Luck, Director, George Clooney, pays homage to one of the icons of American broadcast journalism, Edward R. Murrow, in this fact-based drama. In 1953, Murrow was one of the best-known newsmen on television as host of both the talk show Person to Person and the pioneering investigate series See It Now. Joseph McCarthy, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin, was generating heated controversy in the public and private sectors with his allegations that Communists had risen to positions of power and influence in America. Among them was an Air Force pilot, Milo Radulovich, who had been cashiered out of the service due to McCarthy's charges that he was a Communist agent. However, Radulovich had been dismissed without a formal hearing of the charges, and he protested that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Murrow decided to do a story on Radulovich's case questioning the legitimacy of his dismissal, which was seen by McCarthy and his supporters as an open challenge to his campaign. McCarthy responded by accusing Murrow of being a Communist, leading to a legendary installment of See It Now in which both Murrow and McCarthy presented their sides of the story, which was seen by many as the first step toward McCarthy's downfall. Meanwhile, Murrow had to deal with CBS head William Paley, who was supportive of Murrow but extremely wary of his controversial positions, while Murrow was also trying to support fellow newsman Don Hollenbeck, battling charges against his own political views, and working alongside Fred Friendly


The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia during the era of its domination by the Soviet Union after World War II. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, and continued until 21 August when the Soviet Union and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country to halt the reforms.

The Prague Spring reforms were a strong attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel.
The reforms, especially the decentralization of administrative authority, were not received well by the Soviets, who, after failed negotiations, sent half a million Warsaw Pact troops and tanks to occupy the country. 

A large wave of emigration swept the nation. A spirited non-violent resistance was mounted throughout the country, involving attempted fraternization, painting over and turning street signs (on one occasion an entire invasion force from Poland was routed back out of the country after a day's wandering), defiance of various curfews. While the Soviet military had predicted that it would take four days to subdue the country the resistance held out for eight months, and was only circumvented by diplomatic stratagems. There were sporadic acts of violence and several suicides by self-immolation (such as that of Jan Palach), but there was no military resistance. After the invasion, Czechoslovakia entered a period of normalization: subsequent leaders attempted to restore the political and economic values that had prevailed before Dubček gained control of the Party.  Gustáv Husák, who replaced Dubček and also became president, reversed almost all of Dubček's reforms. Czechoslovakia remained controlled until 1989, when the velvet revolution ended pro-Soviet rule peacefully, undoubtedly drawing upon the successes of the non-violent resistance twenty years earlier. The resistance also became an iconic example of civilian-based defense, which, along with unarmed civilian peacekeeping constitute the two ways that nonviolence can be and occasionally has been applied directly to military or paramilitary threats.

I wrote a piece about the politics of the Danube which included my, and the people I encountered, impressions about Havel and Dubcek 


Vaclav Havel addressing a crowd in Prague's Wenceslas Square in 1989.





Andrei Sakharov











Andrei Sakharov is often called the "father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb," but most people know him as one of the twentieth century's most ardent and unrelenting champions of human rights and freedoms. It was for his work as an outspoken dissident to the Soviet regime that the Nobel Committee awarded him the Peace Prize in 1975. The citation called him "the conscience of mankind" saying that he "has fought not only against the abuse of power and violations of human dignity in all its forms, but has in equal vigor fought for the ideal of a state founded on the principle of justice for all." The Soviet authorities denied him permission to go to Norway to receive his award. 

Sakharov was recruited to work on the Soviet nuclear weapons program in June 1948 by his professor Igor Tamm. Later he wrote, "no one asked whether or not I wanted to take part in such work. I had no real choice in the matter, but the concentration, total absorption and energy that I brought to the task were my own." In a matter of months, the young physics graduate student came up with a totally new idea for an H-bomb design, one that he would call the "Layer Cake." 
His work on the nuclear program ultimately led Sakharov down the road toward dissent. Following the test of the first Soviet superbomb in 1955, Sakharov became increasingly disturbed by the consequences of his work: "When you see all of this yourself, something in you changes," he wrote. "When you see the burned birds who are withering on the scorched steppe, when you see how the shock wave blows away buildings like houses of cards, when you feel the reek of splintered bricks, when you sense melted glass, you immediately think of times of war... All of this triggers an irrational yet very strong emotional impact. How not to start thinking of one's responsibility at this point?" 

In 1957 his concern about the biological hazards of nuclear testing inspired him to write an article about the effects of low-level radiation. In it he concluded that, the detonation of a one-megaton bomb would create 10,000 human casualties. "Halting the tests," he wrote, "will directly save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people." Over the next ten years he became more and more concerned with civic issues. And in 1968, while still working on the Soviet nuclear weapons program, Sakharov wrote an essay that would thrust him into the international spotlight.
"Reflections on Progress, Peaceful Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom", attacked the Soviet political system. In it Sakharov argued for a "democratic, pluralistic society free of intolerance and dogmatism, a humanitarian society which would care for the Earth and its future." A copy of the article was smuggled out of the Soviet Union and published in the New York Times. By the end of 1969 more than 18 million copies of the essay were in circulation worldwide.

Following the publication of "Reflections," Sakharov was fired from the weapons program. He became an increasingly vocal advocate of human rights and when he denounced the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, the Soviet authorities were quick to respond, banishing him to internal exile in Gorki in January 1980. His long years of isolation finally ended in December 1986, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev invited Sakharov to return to Moscow. 

Sakharov worked tirelessly to promote democracy in the Soviet Union until the very last day of his life. He was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies and appointed a member of the commission responsible for drafting a new Soviet constitution. On the day he died, December 14, 1989, he made a plea before the Soviet Congress for political pluralism and a market economy. Later that evening his wife and fellow dissident Elena Bonner found him dead in his study.
 Anyone interested in reading a novel about the dissident culture during the Khrushchev and Brezhnev eras might wish to read my review of   The Big Green Tent

As one of my top ten books of 2016, I wrote,

“Nina Willner has written a powerful, moving family memoir spanning three generations divided by the Iron Curtain in Forty Autumns: A Family’s Story of Courage and Survival on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall. When her mother, Hanna, escaped to Berlin's Western zone as a young woman in 1948, she left behind her parents, siblings and the taint of suspicion that her family carries for decades. Their separation widens after Hanna marries an American army intelligence officer and moves to the United States. In describing the life of her family in East Germany and their suffering under the Communists – her grandfather was forced out of the teaching profession into impecunious retirement and the isolation of internal exile – Willner delineates a grim picture of an open-air prison. One of the most remarkable features of her memoir is how Willner links her own family with the larger tableau of world events to the extent that Gorbachev becomes the deux ex machina responsible for tearing down the Wall and reuniting both sides of the family. What lingers are the personal stories, especially exemplified by the author’s grandmother, Oma, whose hopeful optimism and generous spirit determines a way to build a Family Wall that offers the family sanctuary from the destructive forces of the outside world, and the author’s aunt, Heidi, who subversively lives her life with quiet dignity and integrity beneath the radar of the omniscient Stasi secret police.”


For 28 years, the Berlin Wall split a city in two and divided a nation with two million tons of concrete, 700,000 tons of steel, attack dogs, tank traps, death strips and tripwires. While its dangers kept most GDR citizens at bay, others were spurred on to overcome it, by digging under it, hiding in car trunks, flying over it in a hot-air balloon, and even surfing around it... Busting the Berlin Wall examines the most daring escapes, and interviews former border guards, politicians, spies and escapees, and how quickly it collapsed.


In The Lives of Others, a true believer who has devoted his life to ferreting out "dangerous" characters is thrown into a quandary when he investigates a man who poses no threat. It's 1984, and Capt. Gerd Wiesler is an agent of the Stasi, the East German Secret Police. Weisler carefully and dispassionately investigates people who might be deemed some sort of threat to the state. Shortly after Weisler's former classmate, Lt. Col. Grubitz, invites him to a theatrical piece by celebrated East German playwright Georg Dreyman, Minister Bruno Hempf informs Weisler that he suspects Dreyman of political dissidence, and wonders if this renowned patriot is all that he seems to be. As it turns out, Hempf has something of an ulterior motive for trying to pin something on Dreyman: a deep-seated infatuation with Christa-Maria Sieland, Dreyman's girlfriend. Nevertheless, Grubitz, who is anxious to further his career, appoints Weisler to spy on the gentleman with his help. Weisler plants listening devices in Dreyman's apartment and begins shadowing the writer. As Weisler monitors Dreyman's daily life, however (from a secret surveillance station in the gentleman's attic), he discovers the writer is one of the few East Germans who genuinely believes in his leaders. This changes over time, however, as Dreyman discovers that Christa-Maria is being blackmailed into a sexual relationship with Hempf, and one of Dreyman's friends, stage director Albert Jerska, is driven to suicide after himself being blackballed by the government. Dreyman's loyalty thus shifts away from the East German government, and he anonymously posts an anti-establishment piece in a major newspaper which rouses the fury of government officials. Meanwhile, Weisler becomes deeply emotionally drawn into the lives of Dreyman and Sieland, and becomes something of an anti-establishment figure himself, embracing freedom of thought and expression. One of the most powerful scenes is watching Weisler listening to Dreyman playing a moving piano piece after hearing about his friend’s suicide. The film raises the interesting question as to whether art can change people. 

Ryerson Life Institute Week Four Ideology, Artists and Repression after the Bolshevik Revolution

 

"Man in a Suprematist Landscape" by Kazmir Malevich

Revolutions are produced by men of action, one-sided fanatics, geniuses of self-limitation. In a few hours or days they overturn the old order. The upheavals last for weeks, for years at the most, and then for decades, for centuries, people bow down to the spirit of limitation that led to the upheavals as to something sacred.
Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
We resembled the great Inquisitors in that we persecuted the seeds of evil not only in man’s deeds, but in their thoughts. We admitted no private sphere, not even inside a man’s skull.
Darkness at Noon
Arthur Koestler

“Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”
Just Listen
Sarah Dessen



 Anyone interested in reading a compelling novel on the preparation for and the conducting of
Shostakovich's Seventh Symphony might first wish to read my review 
of Sara Quigley's The Conductor.

monograph  











In a review, I wrote: "Julian Barnes's The Noise of Time is a masterful example of a new hybrid form, the fictional biography in which there are no imagined characters; the novelist confines himself to the historical record, but enters into the consciousness of his subject. Barnes’s subject is the Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich and his ghastly “conversations with power.” Barnes limits himself to three major episodes in the composer’s life: the period during the Great Terror of the 1930s when the composer confronted the possibility that he would be sent to the Gulag or shot after Stalin wrote a blistering editorial condemning his opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District; after the war ,when he was blackmailed into attending a propaganda tour in New York to deliver a series of speeches denouncing his own work; and, provided in the third section, a 1960 snapshot of an elderly Shostakovich, sitting in the back of a chauffeur-driven car, during the reign of “Nikita the Corncob” in which he is forced to join the Party that has humiliated him throughout his professional life. There is little action as the composer waits; memories surface that in turn give way to rueful reflections. Yet the novel is one of the most insightful about the difficult role of the artist in a police state."


Osip Mandelstam
  



Unlike composers the art of poetry does not easily lend itself to coded messages that can protect the artist. Osip Mandelstam courageously recited to a small group of trusted friends in his own home, one of whom betrayed him, leading to his subsequent arrest in May 1934 for his savagely satirical lampoon that characterizes Stalin as a “murderer and peasant-slayer” with “cockroach whiskers” and “fingers as fat as worms” who surrounds himself with “fawning half-men for him to play with.” Mandelstam, who possessed granite-like integrity in his frail body received a temporary reprieve through the intervention of Bukharin, and was sent with his wife into internal exile. Hoping to save himself, he expressed a willingness to atone for his lese majesty and write poems in praise of Stalin. But as the terror deepened and enveloped millions by May 1938, he was rearrested after the dreaded knock at the door, and dispatched to the camps where he died of malnutrition and a heart attack in transit.



Although Mandelstam’s voice was stilled, his friend and fellow poet, the gifted and enormously resilient Anna Akhmatova, felt the need to continue the tradition of earlier poets and assume a moral responsibility to be the voice of memory by bearing witness to these ghastly times. Between 1935 and 1940, although she dared not speak it aloud because she was under conspicuous surveillance by the NKVD, who clearly intended to intimidate her, Akhmatova ended her silence by sculpting in words a memorial to the victims of the Stalinist terror, "Requiem" (not published in Russia during her lifetime) that expressed with searing emotional clarity what others could only feel. It was written on scraps of paper, a fragment read silently by a friend who committed it to memory and burned the paper. Grounded in personal experience, she stood in a prison queue with a food parcel for her son, after he (who was arrested repeatedly), and her lover were arrested within a couple of weeks of each other primarily as hostages to ensure her compliance. Standing in that line with women also desperate for news of their loved ones, Requiem is a testament to their suffering and by extension the anguish of a whole people. 

I review Amor Towles' astonishing novel, A Gentleman from Moscow.

Pasternak and Olga Ivinskaya

 


"And here was Pasternak giving a representative for the Milanese publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli the manuscript of Dr Zhivago – a love story he knew the Soviet authorities would never allow to be published because it didn't "conform to official cultural guidelines".
For one thing, Dr Zhivago had nothing positive to say about the new Russia. As the editors of the literary journal Novy Mir told him, they couldn't possibly print extracts from it because of its "non-acceptance of the socialist revolution". For another, the novel was, like all love stories, – indeed, like all but the most manically modernist fiction – premised on the idea of the individual human consciousness. Post-tsarist Russia, on the other hand, was centralised and collectivist and anti anything that spoke to what it saw as the bourgeois fantasy of the self and its essences."
From a review in the Guardian by Christopher Bray of The Zhivago Affair by Peter Finn and Petra Couvée. To read the complete review, click on the following link:
Within the Whirlwind
Within the Whirlwind is a relatively conventional biopic, but one done with immaculate intelligence,  plenty of creativity and the kind of good taste that seems to know innately what and what not to stick up there on the screen. Written by Nancy Larson, from  Eugenia Ginzburg's own memoir, the film tosses us, almost from the first, into the paranoid purges of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin and his apparatchiks. We quickly learn that Eugenia's husband is going to be of little help.  Whether he is frightened for his own skin or that of their children, Eugenia is soon on her own.  Few of the Russian intelligentsia of the time escaped these purges. Imprisonment was preferable to death, and Ginzburg manages to survive the Siberian gulag.

For a film that deals mainly with a time of captivity in a place of wretched deprivation, the film manages to show us a fair amount of small, kindsometimes quite surprisingmoments.  From a bowl of raspberries handed by a peasant girl into the boxcar in which the prisoners are being shipped to a dinner in the home of Russian camp commandant and the many acts of kindness between the women prisonersone of whom steps in front of a guard's rifle to protect her friendthese tiny fragments build slowly, helping the women to survive. Ginzburg is also nourished by the love of a German doctor and the solace of poetry.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Enigmatic Reunions: Linden MacIntyre’s The Only Café

 This review originally appeared in Critics at Large and is reproduced on this site because crossing a moral line is a fundamental theme in the film and book. under discussion.

Author Linden MacIntyre.

Ari Folman’s animated 2008 quasi-documentary Waltz with Bashir is the filmmaker’s cinematic effort to address and perhaps atone for his complicity in the 1982 massacre of thirty-five hundred unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Folman was a nineteen-year-old Israeli soldier at the time and he had suppressed almost all memories of the events until twenty years later a friend recounted a recurring nightmare of a pack of ravenous, fanged dogs running through the streets of Tel Aviv before stopping at an apartment building and snarling up at a silhouetted figure in a window. 

This visceral nightmare is the opening scene in the film and the effect is electric and immediately engages the viewer. Both Folman and his friend are convinced that the dream is related to what happened in Beirut years earlier because the dreamer recounts how he killed twenty-six watchdogs during the war. Folman seeks out friends and compatriots to interview who recall their experiences that often bleed into fantasies of that surreal time. The animation is particularly effective in visualizing these fantasies. The interviews became the film’s fulcrum as animated versions of likely very real people speak about their memories with Folman’s avatar. With the assistance of one of his own recurring dreams, Folman is able to piece together what did happen when a Christian Phalangist militia committed these atrocities with the unwitting assistance of the Israelis, including his personal role in that massacre. At this point, the animation gives way to actual footage of the slaughter's aftermath and its effect is extremely powerful.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Later Life Learning Week Five Efforts at Repairing the Damage of Totalitarianism and War



Colin Firth in Railway Man


The American military learned that men will inevitably go mad in battle and that no appeal to patriotism, manliness or loyalty to the group will ultimately matter.
Paul Fussell, Wartime

“It doesn’t get to me very often except when I talk about it, and I seldom do that. It’s just something that does not go away. It’s something you have to endure the way you endured the war itself. There’s no alternative. You can’t wipe out these memories. You can’t wipe out what you felt at that time or what you knew other people felt. This is part of your whole possession of life. And I suppose it does some good."
 Paul Fussell, quoted in The War: An Intimate History 1941-45, Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

I have had a wonderful life….But the dynamics of war are so intense, the drama of war is so emotionally spellbinding, that it’s hard for you to go on with a normal life without feeling something is missing. I find there are times when I’m pulled back into the whirlpool. The intensity of that experience was so overwhelming that you can’t quite let it go.
Quentin Aanenson, quoted in The War
 For my review of the book and the film Railway Man that explores "battle fatigue" after the Second World War see


Some people, you tell them to mind their own business, they do.

Other people, you tell them the same thing, they get a curious kind of tingling sensation, and go leaping after other people's business like a retriever in a good mood. Sonja Rosenberger is the other kind of person, and "The Nasty Girl" is the story of what happened after the town fathers in her village in Bavaria told her not to go poking around in the archives to discover what went on during the Nazi era.

Before the authorities made what turned out to be that major miscalculation, Sonja was an unremarkable, if high-spirited, local schoolgirl, who had won an essay contest that provided her with a free trip to Paris. But then another contest came along, and Sonja thought maybe a hometown essay would win it. Something along the lines of "My Hometown in the Third Reich." The town fathers did not share her enthusiasm. The official line in her home town was that the Nazis had not made much of an inroad there, but when she went to the village library to dig through old newspapers and archives, she found them closed to her, and she grew determined to discover what the city was trying to hide.

Roger Ebert

The directorial feature debut of Giulio Ricciarelli, “Labyrinth of Lies” has the dogged tone of an honorable, well-made television movie from the late 1950s or early ’60s. Its most admirable trait is a refusal to sensationalize its subject. There are no flashbacks to grisly acts of torture and killing, no scenes of skeletal inmates huddled behind barbed wire. Once the trials begin in 1963, witnesses are shown testifying, but their verbal accounts of what they endured are excerpted and made into a montage, their words camouflaged by Niki Reiser and Sebastian Pille’s soundtrack, which, although mournful, is never mawkish. There are no emotional meltdowns, no grandiose speeches.

Review: In ‘Labyrinth of Lies,’ the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials Break a Conspiracy of Silence

In The Reader, Michael Berg (David Kross), a teen in postwar Germany, begins a passionate but clandestine affair with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), an older woman who enjoys having classic novels read to her. Then Hanna mysteriously disappears, leaving Michael heartbroken and confused. Years later, Michael, now a law student, gets the shock of his life when he sees Hanna on trial for Nazi war crimes.

 "At age 98, director (Aron) Goldfinger's grandmother passed away, leaving him the task of clearing out the Tel Aviv flat that she and her husband shared for decades since immigrating from Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Sifting through a dense mountain of photos, letters, files, and objects, Goldfinger begins to uncover clues that seem to point to a greater mystery and soon a complicated family history unfolds before his camera. What starts to take shape reflects nothing less than the troubled and taboo story of three generations of Germans - both Jewish and non-Jewish - trying to piece together the puzzle of their lives in the aftermath of the terrible events of World War II."

For a thought-provoking review of this excellent with its uncomfortable moments see Mark Clamen's review  at http://www.criticsatlarge.ca/2014/07/goldfinger-flat-hadira-german-jewish.html

 


Mikhail Gorbachev 1990

"Gorbachev was a visionary who changed his country and the world - though neither as much as he wished. Few if any, political leaders have not only a vision but also the will and the ability to bring it to life. To fall short of that, as Gorbachev did, is not to fail."
-William Taubman, Gorbachev His Life and Times
 

Over the course of Yury Andropov’s 15-month tenure (1982–84) as general secretary of the Communist Party, Gorbachev became one of the Politburo’s most highly active and visible members; and, after Andropov died and Konstantin Chernenko became general secretary in February 1984, Gorbachev became a likely successor to the latter. Chernenko died on March 10, 1985, and the following day the Politburo elected Gorbachev general secretary of the CPSU. Upon his accession, he was still the youngest member of the Politburo.

Gorbachev quickly set about consolidating his personal power in the Soviet leadership. His primary domestic goal was to resuscitate the stagnant Soviet economy after its years of drift and low growth during Leonid Brezhnev’s tenure in power (1964–82). To this end, he called for rapid technological modernization and increased worker productivity, and he tried to make the cumbersome Soviet bureaucracy more efficient and responsive.     

When these superficial changes failed to yield tangible results, Gorbachev in 1987–88 proceeded to initiate deeper reforms of the Soviet economic and political system. Under his new policy of glasnost (“openness”), a major cultural thaw took place: freedoms of expression and of information were significantly expanded; the press and broadcasting were allowed unprecedented candor in their reportage and criticism; and the country’s legacy of Stalinist totalitarian rule was eventually completely repudiated by the government. Under Gorbachev’s policy of perestroika (“restructuring”), the first modest attempts to democratize the Soviet political system were undertaken; multi candidate contests and the secret ballot were introduced in some elections to party and government posts. Under perestroika, some limited free-market mechanisms also began to be introduced into the Soviet economy, but even these modest economic reforms encountered serious resistance from party and government bureaucrats who were unwilling to relinquish their control over the nation’s economic life.


                                _________________

In Repentance the day after the funeral of Varlam Aravidze, the mayor of a small Georgian town, his corpse turns up in his son's garden and is secretly reburied. But the corpse keeps returning, and the police eventually capture a local woman, who is accused of digging it up. She says that Varlam should never be laid to rest because he was responsible for a Stalin-like reign of terror that led to the disappearance of many of her friends. Although the film may appear to be slowing moving for North American reviewers, it is worth your patience as there are some very powerful surrealistic images that convey the horror of Stalinism. Also worth noting is how the son of Varlam justifies his father's activities while the grandson is furious.