History Repeating

Molokh is lurid without being commercial. Evoking the German romantic landscape he synthesized for Mother and Son, Sokurov places his characteristic understatement at the service of borderline kitsch. Molokh opens in Hitler's spectacular mountain retreat with führer-frau Eva Braun frisking naked (or, rather, in a body stocking) on the clammy battlements. She waves to someone spying through field glasses, then strikes a pose over the abyss. Sounds of distant thunder . . . and war.

Eva inhabits the castle alone until the arrival of the official party: Hitler, scrawny Dr. Goebbels, his zaftig Mrs. and Hitler's stolid deputy, Martin Bormann. The private Adi, as Eva calls him, initially alternates between cranky baby and kindly old ditherer. Both are convincing modes; as Eva tells him, he needs an audience to live. At mealtime, Hitler delights in grossing out his courtiers with disgusting vegetarian rants and apocalyptic visions of climactic change. (They all believe in his genius; these monologues give their lives meaning.) Then it's out to stroll on the cliffs where the women set up a Victrola, getting Goebbels and Adi to dance an absurd jig.

If these Nazis are triumphant buffoons, Sokurov is less concerned with showing the banality of evil than the vacuity of absolute power. Boredom alternates with irreality: Molokh is the master-race weekend that might have been imagined by Jerry Seinfeld, the Soup Nazi played by Hitler himself. As Sokurov shows a stenographer taking down Hitler's dinner conversation, there is the possibility that some of the exchanges are historically accurate. Nor is it difficult to believe that, once their Führer retires (to regress with Eva), his minions would seize the opportunity to break out the booze.

Like Cradle Will Rock, Molokh evokes history in the form of a newsreel. At one point, the principals watch movies of the Eastern front. (Using actual footage, Sokurov makes a daring and polemical reduction of mass carnage to thrilling illusions and spurious symphonics.) Like Tim Robbins, Sokurov riffs on going backstage. The bored women clown behind the screen as Hitler pretends to conduct the movie's soundtrack. But, unlike Robbins, Sokurov uses this gimmick to question the idea of historical representation.

When Goebbels extols these "great images," Hitler perversely overrules him: "I could vomit." He decides to abolish this vile technology altogether, only to be confounded by Eva. Stronger and more sympathetic than expected, she grounds the discussion in unspeakable truth by pertly suggesting that, if that's the way Adi feels, he should send the whole film crew to Auschwitz.

Molokh is screening twice this weekend as part of the New York Festival of Russian Films. Elsewhere on the post-Soviet front, MoMA's ongoing FilmFest is featuring two gorgeously black-and-white signs of life, Petr Lusik's Okraina and Yevgeny Yufit and Vladimir Maslov's Silver Heads, both of which use the visual clichés of '30s Socialist Realism to uncanny and deadpan comic effect.

Cradle Will Rock A Touchstone Pictures release. Directed by Tim Robbins. Opens Dec 10. Molokh Directed by Alexander Sokurov. At the Directors Guild Movie Theatre, 110 W 57 St, NYC, Dec 11. At Anthology Film Archives, 32 2nd Ave, NYC, December 12.

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