This too Shall Pass

07/08/2009 4:00 AM |

The Vanished Empire
Directed by Karen Shakhnazarov

Outdoor lines for beer, black market Pink Floyd and Rolling Stone records, Wrangler jeans — this is what Soviet Union has become by the 1970s. As the country slowly but surely falls apart, Sergei, our protagonist, comes together.

Director Karen Shakhnazarov shows us Sergei’s story, along with his friends Stepan and Kostya, and the love of his youth, Lyuda, as they deal with the trials and tribulations of being young in the Soviet Union while obsessing over Western goods. We peer into their lives, watching a confrontation from beyond a cement fence, and watching the three young men walk away into the distance after a brawl. They drive around in shiny Tatra cars, decked out in American jeans, while outside, there are rusted playgrounds and soldiers stationed on every corner.

“Moscow still in one piece?” Sergei’s grandfather asks.

“I guess,” Sergei answers stoically.

Sergei’s grandfather, once a famous archaeologist, tells him how he discovered the ancient city of Khurezm, Central Asia’s “City of Winds.” After Genghis Khan and his army shut the city off by filling its canals, it became the Vanished Empire, nothing left but wind-worn stone ruins where the great people used to live. This could be said of Moscow, and, at a certain point, of Sergei as well, but he can still change his fate.

Despite academia running in Sergei’s blood, he is preoccupied with other things: he makes out with girls in class, and sells his grandfather’s books to buy black market records and jeans. The love triangle between Sergei, Stepan and Lyuda is but a tiny part of the greater picture: Sergei needs to find his own path to his destiny.

“Our address says Soviet Union,” the older Stepan tells the older but unseen Sergei in a concluding flash-forward, “but I don’t recognize any of it.” He continues, “What’s left?” After the repercussions of his own personal fuckups and lost loves, Sergei leaves behind his superficial life — and the Soviet Union itself. Through posters and snippets of news clips, we experience the fall of Moscow and the USSR, which represents Sergei’s past. The only way he could find himself was by leaving his home country. He manages to pick up his pieces and find his place in life — though the same couldn’t be said of the Soviet Union.

Opens July 10