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Birth equals rebirth? Space, narrative, and gender in The Commissar

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Askoldov's film The Commissar resonates across three decades: set during the post-revolutionary struggles of the 1920s, it was made around the time of the Prague Spring and released only during the glasnost era of the 1980s. For all its historical interest and specificity, however, The Commissar also invokes very ancient archetypes in its narrative-based exploration of gender and ethnic identities.

For perhaps obvious reasons most writing on this film has focused on its political circumstances. This article seeks to offer a new account around the three concepts of the title: space, narrative, and gender. The central premise is derived from Bakhtin and his claim that chronotopes function as organizational centres: it is in the chronotope that the plot is developed and advanced. This article considers a number of key chronotopes and related features, including the home, the provincial town, and the desert. It examines plot movement, basing the argumentation on Lotman's typology for plot: The elementary sequence of events in myth can be reduced to a chain: entry into closed space emergence from it. This chain may be reinterpreted as death sexual relations rebirth. In this respect, the article investigates whether the heroine, Vavilova, is reborn as a woman by giving birth, or whether she should be seen as the hero, or, again, whether her actions are transgressive of both the plot typology and social norms.

Keywords: Bakhtin; Lotman; gender; identity; narrative; space

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/srsc.1.1.27_1

Affiliations: Keele University.

Publication date: November 7, 2006

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  • Studies in Russian & Soviet Cinema focuses on pre-revolutionary, Soviet and post- Soviet film, its aesthetic development, and its position between ideology and industry. SRSC invites contributions that constitute original research. The journal seeks to promote research from established scholars as well as to encourage researchers new to the field.
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