That's the Spirit

The End of the Affair's protracted windup affords ample opportunity to ponder its unsubtle message. Greene's parable not only insists that faith is belief in the invisible but strenuously suggests that monotheism exists to police love—a notion common to cultural revolutionaries as otherwise disparate as Saint Paul and Wilhelm Reich, neither of whom clothed it in such sanctimonious kitsch.

FILMFEST, MOMA's survey of current post-Soviet films, opens with a bang—namely Alexei Gherman's Khrustaliov, My Car! (screened once during the 1998 NYFF). Like Gherman's previous features, Khrustaliov is set on a historical cusp—unfolding over three days during the winter of 1953, when, his condition as yet unknown to the Soviet people, their Great Stalin lay dying. The Terror of 1937 seems about to repeat itself, and Gherman initially plays it as farce, tracking his protagonist, General Yuri Glinsky, through the snow-shrouded hysteria as this military surgeon reels from one enigmatic scene to the next, hemorrhaging status all the while. Glinsky tries to escape Moscow incognito (even as his part-Jewish family is forcibly relocated to a dingy communal apartment) but falls into the trap he sought to avoid. Attacked for his boots by a gang of kids, he is unceremoniously transported toward a prison camp—albeit with a surprise detour.

Khrustaliov is populated by a cast of grimacing performers and characterized by extravagantly long takes that all but preclude reverse angle or reaction shots. The narrative is not difficult to follow, but the succession of events is dizzying. Atmosphere is all. Gherman's extraordinarily crisp black-and-white images are married to a soundtrack as clamorous as his mise-en-scène is cluttered. The hallucinated environment supersedes all but the most grossly physical events; the sequence in which Glinsky is raped by a gang of criminal thugs in the back of a closed truck en route to the gulag is worthy of Salo.

Gherman's Walpurgisnacht is thick with allusions, literary as well as political. Seven years in the making, this alarming phantasmagoria is one of the great films of the decade—a brilliantly directed, unrelentingly grotesque, savagely bleak comedy.


Holy Smoke! A Miramax release. Directed by Jane Campion. At the Sony Lincoln Square Dec 3-10. The End of the Affair A Columbia Pictures release. Directed by Neil Jordan. Opens Dec 3. Khrustaliov, My Car! Directed by Alexei Gherman. At the Museum of Modern Art, 11 W 53 St, NYC, 212-708-9400. Dec 3 and 6.

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