Pavel Medvedev: Joseph’s Land

Let me start with a synopsis that precisely communicates the unpretentious tone of the film:

”This story could only take place in one city in Russia – St. Petersburg. Here communal poverty rubs shoulders with the palatial luxury of the former imperial capital. Only here could a special type of Soviet person be born. Only here could tremendous resources be spent on opening a museum just for one day – to honor a poet, a Nobel Prize laureate who was exiled from his motherland, in a story saturated with grotesquery and buffoonery. The spirit of the exiled poet, who was put on the pedestal of…”

I don’t know why the sentence stops precisely there, I could continue with ”world literature”, Joseph Brodsky, a unique poet and esayist, who was thrown out of his city Leningrad and country USSR.

To stay with the facts: Joseph Brodsky (born 1940) was put on trial

in 1964, accused of ”social parasitism”, sent to working camp, came back to Leningrad for some years until he was expelled in 1972, went to America and lived there until his death in 1996.

About the film that – as indicated above – deals with the ambition to make a museum for Brodsky in the house, where he lived 1940-1972. A fund behind the legacy of the writer works hard to have the museum ready for his birthday May 24. The workers who renovate, the architect who oversees and controls the process, visitors who knew the poet and had been in the flat, the funders behind – they are all there with a film’s focus on the complicated ever-lasting repair, with small visits outside the house, where guides inform Brodsky-interested young and old people about him and read aloud from his poems. Slowly you see the rooms being filled with portrait busts of Brodsky, photos of him, several floating in the bathtub that his father, a photographer, used when he developed his negatives. And poems are being written on the walls, readings are arranged, also recordings with Brodsky’s own mesmerizing voice. Magic.

BUT the main – alive – character of the film is 80 year old Nina Vasilievna, who lives in the komunalka, the communal residence and who suffers from all the building activities going on around her. She is definitely against a museum close to her in the appartment, ”it’s against the law”, she says, who occupies a room of this special Russian phenomenon, the mentioned komunalka. She suffers yes, but in a way she also seems to enjoy to have all these working men around her, to whom she can communicate her dissatisfaction. Which she does the whole way through, until the day where the ”museum” opens for one day and people queue to get in and see. Nina, ”the granny” as some of the young people call her, lived there when the Brodsky family was next door and she ”helps” the museum people in some cases to point out where the table was standing… and of course she is more than curious, when she is told that the red-haired, English speaking young girl downstairs in the courtyard at the cocktail of the opening is the younger daughter of Brodsky.

You are so much amused when watching this film with dedicated, passionate people who are there to do a craftman’s job or to  argue with Nina, the difficult old woman, who apparently has fascinated the director, maybe a bit too much for us viewers, who could also have done with less renovation to make the sequences, where the poetry come more into the core of the narration. But for sure the film has magical sequences and makes one want to read more Brodsky – and to visit the komunalka, where he lives for 32 years… if that is possible…

The photo, nor from the film, could not find any stills, shows ”Brodsky teaching at University of Michigan” about 1972.

The film had its world premiere at Message to Man festival.

Russia, 2016, 150 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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