Marching to the sound of his own drummer into the radiant future, Jim Finn is the solitary vanguard of post-Communist Communist cinema. Each of this enigmatic artist’s three low-budget features has been a fastidious, jerry-built re-creation of an ideological fantasyland.
Interkosmos (2006) is a mock Brezhnev-era sci-fi film about a pair of star-crossed East German cosmonauts, one played by the filmmaker, on an expedition to Jupiter’s moons; an even more uncanny artifact, the Spanish-language La Trinchera Luminosa del Presidente Gonzalo (“The Shining Trench of President Gonzalo,” 2007), purports to be a late-’80s propaganda film celebrating the revolutionary women in Peru’s maximum-security Canto Grande Prison; The Juche Idea (2008), getting its first New York run during Finn’s Anthology Film Archives retro, is a movie about the North Korean ethos of national self-sufficiency that, in its deliberate, garish crudeness, both embodies and travesties the principles articulated by Kim Jong Il in “The Birth of Juche-Oriented Cinema Art.” The protagonist is a South Korean video artist in “residence” on a North Korean kolkhoz where her Juche projects include “English as a Socialist Language” and “Dentures of Imperialism.”
Finn is a unique figure, although, like the freewheeling assemblagist Craig Baldwin and obsessive artificer Guy Maddin, he has an acute sense of cinema as alternative history. Though generally hilarious, Finn’s movies are closer to pastiche (often incorporating found footage and actual texts) than parody. His necessarily ironic attitude is tinged with nostalgia—and a bit of erotic obsession. Utopian as they are, Finn’s features regularly erupt into (mainly) female mass dance numbers and spectacular, if primitive, light shows—often with infectious original music. Set to “the inexhaustible beat of revolution,” La Trinchera Luminosa’s techno-salsa dance anthem is nothing less than ecstatic.
With their offhanded references to Hoxha-ism and “Gonzalo Thought,” Finn’s movies recall the left-sectarian gossip column that Tom Smucker wrote for the Voice back in the day. These movies are comedies for hard-core communists—although, as noted by Milan Kundera in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, zealot merriment is the humorless “laughter of angels.” Finn’s powerful social awareness is matched by his appreciation for the pathos of political kitsch. A master (and connoisseur) of revolutionary jargon and militant catechism, he takes Communism too seriously not to be moved by its aspirations—and their tragic results. This is the paradox: Finn is not only a pomo aesthete who can’t help putting quotation marks around the Communist project, but a Kierkegaardian true believer whose leap of faith is the production of precisely these quixotic movies.?
Seemingly filmed in the courtyard of a New Mexico motel (and yet the perfect simulation of a doggedly righteous agitprop), La Trinchera Luminosa is Finn’s most intractable work—at once historically rigorous and blatantly fabricated, politically correct and profoundly absurd. Is this jail, without guards or men, a madhouse or a perfect community? Are these inmates living in hell or paradise or a Blake-ian combination of the two?