With the support of the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, the Moscow Government and the Department of Culture of the city of Moscow



In the bounds of the 42 MIFF program “A Siege Diary” rhymes (in a bit of macabre way) with the opening film. Even though one might ask what can relate a picturesque fest to a film, which can’t even rightfully be considered black and white, but a picture that chooses to be grey, presenting a purposely bland image. In “Silver Skates” Saint Petersburg was frozen in majestic ice, and the characters at costume balls couldn’t help but recall the characters of “The Snow Queen” and toasted merrily to the happy 20th century. And then it came and the action takes place in the same locations (for instance, on Nevsky Avenue), and we witness the apotheosis of the 20th century terrifying events. The striking city is lit from the very rooftops with magically looking ice and even the dead bodies – you can see them in almost every frame – look like abstract white figures here. Through the mournful wail of sirens, bombs, and the metronome rattle we hear the muffled voiceover of director Andrey Zaytsev: “Never did Leningrad look as beautiful as in that winter of the siege”. Thus, turning to fairytale motives towards the film’s ending comes off as quite natural. “Here’s Gerda who came to the Snow Queen through the whole kingdom”, - that’s a father talking about his almost gone daughter who doesn’t even recognize from the start. The text is from an autobiographical novel by Olga Bergholz, “The Day Stars”. The novel was published back in 1960 when only heavily censored memoirs of the siege got published: the Soviet government didn’t want to deal with the abundance of the tragedy and obviously, it didn’t want any “complicated” questions about the siege. All of that came later – just like the secret diaries of Bergholz herself that were recently published and thus, rediscovered the writer for contemporary discussions. Andrey Zaytsev purposely keeps the film in the bounds of the Soviet discourse about the siege, shifting the focus from what to how. The “what” – both in the text and in the image – doesn’t add anything new to what every good school student already knows, and this mundanity of the intonation is what knocks the viewer senseless. But the “how” turns the heroine on the verge of death into an almost neutral, impersonal bystander. Lelya, a person without age (the hunger had aged everyone in the same manner), without looks or gender (the inhabitants of Leningrad all turned into similar, rolled up in shawls figures) keeps track of everything with an absent gaze. She movies slowly through the city, and everyone around her barely walks – together with the metronome it creates a unique effect of a still life where every episode can have no end, and the “Odyssey”-like journey can have no real destination. The heroine does have a destination and a goal but in this still and frozen rhythm, it seems almost insignificant if it’s reachable. Lelya wants to see her father who worked at the opposite side of the city. The city was deprived of means of communication and transport, so people found themselves separated from their loved ones just as if they were left on the opposite sides of the world. But the fact it is briefly mentioned that the heroine hasn’t seen her father in a long time and the way she says “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” in the end, draws the viewer to the conclusion that there is something more to it. Perhaps, it’s a conflict that has been tormenting Lelya for a long time; after all, it’s no accident that her colored flashbacks about the peaceful life are the scenes from her childhood, all involving her father. It seems like this narrative would get developed but the director doesn’t let it happen. Actually, the director doesn’t let the heroine do much except overseeing the world blankly. He doesn’t let himself much either – even in the episode where a metallic butterfly (a piece of jewelry) seems to be ready to jump up and fly away – at least in dying Lelya’s imagination. The only withdrawal from the static horror of the siege happens in the form of a tramway that suddenly “came to life” and started moving, together with “living” passengers – there is something distinctively Kafkaesque about it even if the base is completely realistic. The main principle of Andrey Zaytsev in this film seems to be “nothing in excess” which can be considered as a variation of the famous dictum that after Auschwitz it shouldn’t be possible to write poems. 

Igor Savelev 
The Festival Daily