For Marx: The New Left Russian Cinema



Class conflict, Contemporary Russia, Gender and sexuality, The New Left, Post-socialism, Political cinema


What can politically engaged aesthetic productions from the former Soviet Union tell us about socialism? As recently as ten years ago, popular audiences and scholars alike might have answered this question by invoking the dissidents who fled the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Throughout the twentieth century, dissidents provided popular and critical “Western” discourses with vivid tales of both the treachery of leftist utopianism and the courage of individual resistance. Today, the outdated imperialist ideologies that undergird this approach have become readily apparent, while a vital strand of post-socialist leftism has surfaced once more across the former Second World.

The emerging Russian filmmakers I discuss in this article offer visions of radical politics and aesthetics that learn and diverge from the state socialism that shaped their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Russia offers a stage for intellectual and artistic upheavals exceptional both for the political traditions they juxtapose, and for the foregrounded awareness of the ambivalent legacies of these traditions. Tackling a range of contentious subjects from sexuality to police brutality, these films met with controversy in Russia while securing the reputation of their directors on the international festival circuit. I examine three recent films — Svetlana Baskova’s For Marx... (2012), Angelina Nikonova’s Twilight Portrait (2011), and Lyubov Lvova and Sergei Taramayev’s Winter Journey (2013) — all by female directors or co-directors, and all seeking to imagine and image social alterity after state socialism.

All three films were made between 2011 and 2013, barely missing the notorious legislation against homosexual propaganda passed in Russia in the summer of 2013. For Marx... offers an explicit engagement with Louis Althusser and lost legacies of Marxist thought, as well as with Sergei Eisenstein’s cinema viewed from the other side of the twentieth century. The new Russian left announces its presence forcefully in this darkly comic parable of class struggle in post-Soviet Russia, rediscovering the thematic and formal markers of Soviet cinema as if from a position of (impossible) innocence. Twilight Portrait opens with an act of police brutality and sexual violence but defies genre at every turn, sampling the revenge fantasy, erotic thriller, and parable of political eros with equal conviction. In Winter Journey, a classical singer falls in love with a street thug in a tale that frames same-sex love as less complicated than class difference in post-Soviet Russia.

In unexpected ways, all three films interrogate the perils and possibilities of “going to the people” in the twenty-first century. Baskova spent months conducting field research with independent labor union organizers across provincial Russia and cast activists alongside professional actors recognized as People’s Artists of the Soviet Union. The other two films use erotic/romantic fabulae to interrogate post-Soviet class struggle through lenses of gender and sexuality. An unspoken motto emerges through my comparison — lines that have appeared in Cyrillic and Latin graffiti alike across the former Second World: If the revolution is not feminist, it will not be.




How to Cite

Bozovic, M. (2016). For Marx: The New Left Russian Cinema. Cinema: Journal of Philosophy and the Moving Image, (8), 108–130. Retrieved from