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Mindadze, Aleksandr

MINDADZE, Aleksandr


Writer. Nationality: Russian-Georgian. Born: Moscow, Soviet Union (now Russia), 28 April 1949. Education: Studied screenwriting at VGIK in Moscow. Awards: President of the Italian Senate's Gold Medal, Venice Film Festival, for Plyumbum, ili opasnaya igra, 1987; Alfred Bauer Award, Berlin International Film Festival, for Sluga, 1989; Silver Berlin Bear, Berlin International Film Festival, for Pyesa dlya passazhira, 1995; Nika Award for Best Script, for Vremya tantsora, 1998; Swissair/Crossair Special Prize, Locarno International Film Festival, for Vremya tantsora, 1998.


Films as Writer:

1976

Vesyonnij prizyv (Spring Call) (Pavel Lyubimov); Slovo dlia zashchity (A Speech for the Defence) (Vadim Abdrashitov)

1978

Povorot (The Turning Point) (Abdrashitov)

1980

Okhota na lis (A Fox Hunt) (Abdrashitov)

1982

Ostanovilsya poyezd (The Train Stopped) (Abdrashitov)

1984

Parad planet (Parade of the Planets) (Abdrashitov)

1986

Plyumbum, ili opasnaya igra (Plumbum, or Dangerous Game) (Abdrashitov)

1988

Sluga (The Servant) (Abdrashitov)

1991

Armavir (Abdrashitov)

1995

Pyesa dlya passazhira (A Play for a Passenger) (Abdrashitov)

1998

Vremya tantsora (Time of the Dancer) (Abdrashitov)

Publications:

On MINDADZE: books—

Galichenko, Nicholas, Glasnost: Soviet Cinema Responds, Austin, Texas, 1991.

* * *

A scrutiny of Aleksandr Mindadze's screenwriting work reveals a well-founded gloomy and pessimist world view. He has taken the challenging task of unearthing people's existential insecurities and uncovering displeasing and ominous features of social behavior. His work is the exact opposite of entertainment filmmaking, as he has cast aside any idealist illusions about human nature. He is particularly skilled in developing cerebral plots and unpleasant characters. It is for these features of his work that he enjoys the specific position of a highly respected maverick in Russian filmmaking.

With only one exception, the comedy Vesyonnij prizyv (1976), which he scripted for director Pavel Lyubimov, Mindadze's work is closely connected with director Vadim Abdrashitov. It is a screenwriter-director partnership which mirrors other established creative teams such as Eldar Ryazanov and Edvard Braginski in Russia, and Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz in Poland.

Mindadze comes from a film family: his father was well-established scriptwriter Anatoli Grebnev. He studied screenwriting at VGIK and met Vadim Abdrashitov in the mid-1970s. Abdrashitov had also studied at VGIK in Mikhail Romm's director's class. Since that meeting, Mindadze and Abdrashitov have worked exclusively with each other, forming a team which collaborates so closely that it is not possible to determine what precisely is their individual input, although the scripts to Abdrashitov's films are regularly credited solely to Mindadze. According to film scholar Nicholas Galichenko, Mindadze and Abdrashitov have established themselves as "leading exponents of the rationalist trend in Soviet cinema, specializing in pictures that provoke viewers by exposing public and social problems." They have displayed a preference for simple plot-lines which evolve around subtle ethical conundrums, often exposing social sores and moral transgressions rarely approached by other filmmakers.

It is notable that Abdrashitov and Mindadze began their work at a time when the "cinema of moral anxiety" developed as a leading East European trend, and their early work can be described as a Russian extension of this otherwise more East Central European direction. Moral problems are in the center of their first collaboration, Slovo dlia zashchity (1976). In Povorot (1978), a husband and wife representing an ordinary Soviet couple knock down an old woman by accident while making a turn. The film focuses on the aftermath of the incident, showing the couple's apprehensive reaction. Unprepared to face the consequences, they try to bribe witnesses, and as a result grow estranged from each other.

Fantasy and magical realist elements have often been used by Mindadze and Abdrashitov, most notably Okhota na lis (1980) and Parade of Planets (1984). In the first film, some of the characters wear futuristic headsets and engage in an elaborate ritualistic game; in the latter the protagonists are drawn in symbolic maneuvers and fantastic journeys through time and space. The selective use of sci-fi elements is a device which enables Mindadze and Abdrashitov to appeal to the intellect rather than to the emotions of the audience.

The moral investigations of Abdrashitov and Mindadze preceded perestroika by several years. In the early 1980s they were already making films in the spirit of perestroika—strongly critical of serious moral and social problems. An example is Ostanovilsya poyezd (1982). The plot evolves around an investigator and a journalist, both investigating the same train crash, their inquiries impeded by the sluggishly indolent authorities and the meandering evasiveness of the locals, resulting in diverging interpretations of what really happened. The film is a unique investigation of epistemological riddles revealed in the dialectical relationship of categories like truth, conformity, and expostulation. It is a commentary on the existential reluctance of people to admit and therefore face unwanted realities.

The features which Abdrashitov and Mindadze made during perestroika proper (the second part of the 1980s) focused on issues of conformity and twisted morals. Their Plyumbum (1986), a film which depicted a reprehensibly amoral adolescent protagonist, caused a controversy, as critics read the portrayal of this allegorical "test-tube monster" as a sweeping generalization of the troubled status of Soviet society. The corrupt morals of the younger generation were also the subject matter of Abdrashitov and Mindadze's other perestroika film, Sluga (1988).

Abdrashitov is a Tatar by ethnic background, and Mindadze is half-Georgian. This may partially explain the team's interest in the traditional mores of the South of Russia and the former Soviet republics of the Caucasus. Their Armavir (1991) was set in the South of Russia. So was Vremya Tantsora (1998), the action of which takes place in an unnamed region in the South, with the clearly visible snowy peaks of the Caucasus in the background. The setting is contemporary but the story evolves around interpersonal rivalries, raising questions about the essence of cruelty, and juxtaposing ritualistic dancing to ritualistic violence, all this making the film yet another existential allegory.

—Dina Iordanova

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