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History and Elegy in Sokurov

Fredric Jameson

The international emergence of Aleksandr Sokurov was perhaps inevitable, but no less welcome for all that. He is but one of a whole international generationa word not taken in the biological or chronological senseof great auteurs, who seem to renew the claims of high modernism in a period in which that aesthetic and its institutional preconditions seem extinct. Any festival program supplies a short list: Bela Tarr, Abbas Kiarostami, Victor Erice, Tsai Ming-liang, Raoul Ruiz, Theo Angelopolous, Alexei Gherman, Alexander Kluge, Manoel de Oliveira, even Peter Greenaway. These gures certainly have some of the aura of Bergman or Fellini, Antonioni or Bresson, although they did not have to break the ground broken by those predecessors (and thus might better be termed late modernists rather than modernists tout court); they are also a good deal more unreadable (or writerly) and dicult, boring and demanding than those more popular modernist gures and are in that sense comparable to the more extreme and enigmatic literary modernists (Stein, Pound, the Joyce of Finnegans Wake, Raymond Roussel, the Mallarme of Le Livre, Duchamp, and so on) rather than the stereotypically accessible ones (Mann, Proust, the Joyce of Ulysses, Kafka). A case could certainly be made for the nonsynchrony of the dialectic of lm modernism with respect to literary or ne arts modernisms; and in that case Sokurov and the new auteurs would be the nonsynchronous equivalents of an immediate postWorld War II literature. But these new gures do share one modication of the modern with their new-wave forebears: the desacralization of the cinematographic art, the waning from this very insistently art cinema of the religion of art that had reassured its earlier modernist practitioners. Yet, as we shall see, this condence in (or addiction to) cinematographic production as an activity in its own right that needs
Critical Inquiry 33 (Autumn 2006) 2006 by The University of Chicago. 0093-1896/06/3301-0005$10.00. All rights reserved.

Fredric Jameson / History and Elegy in Sokurov

no external or transcendental justication is not enough to rescue the works themselves from a typical modernist autoreferentiality; indeed, it explains the latter and justies this cinemas structural need to justify its own existence. Sokurov, born in 1951, is one of a not-so-lost generation of Russian lmmakers whose production was limited or blocked during the Brezhnev period (the so-called period of stagnation) and liberated under perestroika when the lmmakers union was allowed to run itself and governmental funds were made available for artists like Sokurov (after privatization they dried up again). But the lms he then made were very far from the social realism and satire of the new perestroika lms and tended to embody tendencies of the modernist art cinema, such as the long take, slow-motion narrative, a web of allusions, and morbid subject matter. These early lms then became legendary, at least in part because so little of Sokurovs work was available in the West (or to the Russian public either, one assumes) a situation that changed radically with his tour de force Russian Ark (2002) commissioned by the Hermitage and embodying one continuous travelling shot from one end of the building to the other, touching on much Russian history in the process. Not only did retrospectives (such as the major one at the twenty-rst Turin Film Festival in 2003) then begin to make available the immense variety of documentary lms Sokurov made during his silenced youth.1 The new history lms (Moloch [1999], on Hitler, and Taurus [2001], on Lenins last days) tantalized distant publics with the lure of a more readable, storytelling cinema. Meanwhile, Sokurovs production seems to have accelerated (in other words, in the new Europe, sources of multiple funding have become available for an artist whose reputation has risen so sharply), and it has become clear that we are only at the beginning of the body of Sokurovs work. Sokurovs oeuvre is thought to be gloomy and death-ridden by those who do not know Days of Eclipse (1988) and the transcendental smile of its dual ending; Malianov remains behind, faithful to his vocation, while in the second shot human history ends, and the planet returns to an untouched nature. I want to retain this perspective, while posing the question of death as follows: how is it possible for the fascination with corpses to coexist with
1. See the remarkable catalogue Aleksandr Sokurov: Eclissi di Cinema, ed. Stefano Francia di Celle, Enrico Ghezzi, and Alexei Jankowski (Turin, 2003).

F re d r i c J a m e s o n is director of the Institute for Critical Theory at Duke University and a professor of French and comparative literature. Among his recent books is A Singular Modernity (2002).

Critical Inquiry / Autumn 2006

such brilliant and idiosyncratic characterizations? Does the grotesque simply mark those who distract us from the fact of dying; or are the misshapen and bizarre comic gures themselves (like the Hitler of whom Eva Braun says that he is alive only when performing in front of other people) simply dead men who are not aware of it, the dead seen from the standpoint of life and vitality, of the sun coming out again over this grim world after its eclipse, the young doctor frustrated but alive and active among his malnourished and handicapped patients in the backward countryside of the non-Russian republics? (Perhaps these grotesques are indeed the equivalent of eccentric objects in his documentaries: the womans shoe left behind as the enthusiastic crowd surges after Hitler, and the chair on its back and in motion, as the departing airplanes exhaust propels it across the eld.) But what the ction lms represent as corpses, the documentaries register as history, the decay of whole generations of individuals, the dissolution of the historical process itself in time. The documentaries show us what can only be allegorical or symbolic in the ction lms: Russia itself in the stream of time, given over to its multiple entropies, including graveyards full of the dead of whole generations, the increasing hardships of the peasantry, the ight abroad of the great artists (Fyodor Chaliapin), the suering of Russia during World War II (And Nothing More [1987]), and the passing of the Soviet Union itself (the Yeltsin documentary Soviet Elegy [1989] is still an elegy, despite the fragmentary echo of the word hope at the end); while even the nationalistic eervescence of Russian Ark, perhaps a little too shrill and unmotivated (save by the paintings it was commissioned to celebrate), marks a nostalgia and a falling o. This oppositionbetween historical and existential declineis best seen, however, as a dierence in the representational capacities of the two genresdocumentary and ctional narrativeand goes a long way towards accounting for Sokurovs virtuosity in both forms. The resolute political neutrality of his works (or, if you prefer, their political degree zero) makes it unnecessary to decide whether the two versions of time express a vision of history or simply a metaphysics of life and death. For the moment, let us pursue the matter of history itself further, particularly since Sokurovs recent work in progressthe tetralogy of the dictatorsis far more decisively a historical representation than anything he has done hitherto. Lukacs taught us that there were two dierent ways of imagining history, distinct in content as well as in form. In the one, the historical drama, we see the great world-historical gures in person, on stage, larger than life, making the rafters of the playhouse ring with the heroic expression of their decisions and their will and the anxieties of their power and their mission. In the other, the historical novel, we come at all

Fredric Jameson / History and Elegy in Sokurov

this indirectly, by way of the mediation of an average character, who is given the opportunity to glimpse the great personages from afar and only for a moment to intersect with their fulminating trajectories. Sokurovs historical lms t neither of these categories; but they are fully as much serious historical commentaries as the other two genres, for which we must no doubt also credit Sokurovs brilliant scenarist, Yuri Arabov, who would deserve a whole study in his own right if one could separate lmmaker from scriptwriter in such a symbiotic medium. No doubt the lms aesthetic framework overlaps that of drama to a certain degree particularly inasmuch as they also answer historical dramas secret fascination with the primal scene of history and satisfy its longing to see with our own eyes, to hear what the great ones (as Brecht called them) said and did in private behind those closed doors the historical drama promises to open for us, if only for one brief peeping glimpse. So it is that Taurus rises stunningly to the occasion and persuades us that, yes, it must have been precisely in this way that Stalin handled the dying Lenin, crying out with obsequiousness, Its me! stroking the great leaders jacket with soothing and false aection, while systematically evading his anxious questions and complaints. This patently insincere heartinessas when, contemptuously, he pinches Krupskayas cheek and comments on her pallor (his insults to her were famously among Lenins last complaints) contrasts sharply with Hitlers grotesque courtliness with his sta, as he ritually shakes their hands and seems to obey some fantasy image of courtesy rather than any spontaneous human feeling. But in Lukacss idea of history the private life of the great public gures is still in some sense public; better still, they are dened by the unique identity of public and private in their persons, which is why until very recently scandalous revelations and the whole operation of debunking could be so disastrous for their reputations and their ultimate place in history. Here, however, in these lms, there seems to reign an utterly dierent conception of private life, one of a kind of schizophrenic dissociation, in which the great and powerful lapse back into senility or second childhood. This is the private life of the so-called split subject, which never did exist as a full personality, a unied psychic reality, whether in public or in private. So we observe them at lunch or on a picnic, muttering idiotic jokes in their private language and occasionally stricken by the intermittent access of fury or dementia they do not want the public to know about. Hitler at play: it is no doubt an obscene spectaclethe vegetarian joking about the corpses devoured by his guests. But this infantile banter does not unmask exactly. Hitlers hypochondria, his self-pitying sessions with Eva Braun, his alarming vacancies and drops in psychic niveau: these do not make him any less a monster; nor does one

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encounter any of the tragic or Shakespearean overtones of Oliver Stones Nixon. Perhaps this peculiar spaceneither public nor private nor their synthesisis to be juxtaposed with that of the Sonata for Hitler, which, opening on the image of a reective, perhaps fatigued or even defeated Hitler, with folded hands, exfoliates this public portrait into newsreel, the famous speeches, refugees and victims, the space of the war, all of which are implicit in the public Hitler but oddly, mysteriously disjoined from the Hitler of Moloch. If he is humanized at all in the latter, it is by way of Eva, the true protagonist of this lm, compassionate for all her frustration and her solitary exhibitionism (as Aryan as Wilhelm Lehmbrucks statues) and sharing with Magda Goebbels a feminine position of power vacated by the grotesque and incompetent males. Krupskayas role in Taurus is no less sympathisch, but the Soviet context is paradoxically a good deal more sinister than that of Berchtesgaden, the latter enlivened by the stereotypical Wagner and Liszt and (on Bormanns orders) devoid of political discussion. Both lms are, to be sure, haunted by death. Hitler is obsessed by his fears of mortal illness (indeed, historians tell us that the war, originally planned for 1943, was advanced several years on account of them). But Lenin really is dying, and it is his distance from history, rather than his presence within it, that is represented here. Not only the stroke that has paralyzed Lenins right side but also the systematic isolation of the manor house in Gorki village reduce Lenin to the raging helplessness that is the inescapable fact of Taurus. He hobbles about, struggling up and down staircases and in and out of his chair, pushing away the assistance of servants and family with the recurrent shout, By myself! It is a musical leitmotif, and not the least of the small details of this beautiful composition can be appreciated at the lunch when Krupskaya, desiring to serve her own soup, solicits from Lenin the murmur of grim satisfaction, By herself! The obsessive outpouring of fantasies of torture and punishment, however, that seem to conrm the current revisionist view of Lenin as the true originator of Stalinist terror, can just as well be explained by this physical impotence and isolation in which a hitherto active and energetic leader, imperious and accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed, is here conned. Indeed the assignment to Gorki village is a virtual sequestration; only Stalin serves as the intermediary with the outside world and the Politburo, carefully monitoring and censoring Lenins messages (including the famous Testament). It is a situation that suggests further renements of the hypothesis of a third historical genre in lms like this. For in both cases, in Moloch by choice, in Taurus by necessity, the private life recorded by the movie camera is also a kind of helpless imprisonment in its gaze; both psychic immaturity (in Gombrowiczs sense) and physical incapacitation are remorse-

Fredric Jameson / History and Elegy in Sokurov

lessly registered, and the screen becomes an experimental laboratory, an isolation chamber in which we follow processes that are neither public nor private in any traditional sense. The physical buildings then, the Berghof and the manor house, become the experimental maze in which these worldhistorical gures are trapped, and the spatial becomes a kind of unexpected third term. But to this space corresponds a new kind of temporality as well. The time of lemploi du temps, of routine and schedule, the hours of the day. Both historical lms obey a modied version of the unities of time and space, as do The Second Circle (1990) (driven forward by the urgency of burying the fathers body) and Mother and Son (1997), in which the mother is inexorably dying. But Days of Eclipse also presents a relative unity, one further underscored by the routine visits of the young doctor to his patients and friends (one of them a dead man). The pressure of this temporality of the days routine is not so much antinarrative, as seemed to be the immense inaugural work in this new tradition, Joyces Ulysses. Rather, mediated by lm, it marks an approach to real time that now brings us back to Sokurovs unique dual talent as a ction lmmaker and an extraordinary documentarist. The camera has in any case an elective anity with the real or the referent that none of the other arts (except photography) can claim, as though what counts as reality is precisely this succession of temporal presents that can do without the great events or the dramatic moments of happening, this never ending sequence of daily cycles and physical preparations, of going about your business, that the camera registers without comment like the passage from morning into noon and from afternoon into evening (just as lm history registers it in the passage from Lumiere to Warhol). ` The commander in Confession (1998) most openly expresses this experience of time: its the same today, and it will be the same my whole life, he reects; and indeed the daily routine of the Arctic Fleet is the very paradigm of a repetitive temporality in which nothing happens, and the outside world is virtually extinguished by the cold and the gray air, the snow. He also most explicitly makes the connection with metaphysics: the meaning of life would be found in your ability to organize it day by day, like the ability to organize an army. But this is not a utilitarian matter or a question of management and eciency; it has to do with the meaning of the social and collective institution itself. The commander compares himself unfavorably to the nineteenth-century Russian ocers, who had a real vocation (that of empire) instead of the mere jobs he shares with his sailors. No doubt one should also observe at this point that, despite the interest of naturalist novelists in the workings of such complex social machinery, the lmmaker is in a better position to observe them than the writer, insofar

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as he is himself part of a complicated collective machine in which material knowledge and operation are somehow inseparable from morale and motivation. The ship, with its crew and its routines, its rule book, its pedagogy and its logistics, is not only some metaphysical allegory of life (like the legendary Ship of Fools or like Melville), it is an autoreferential allegory of lmmaking itself and a representation of the dynamics and dilemmas of art today, of modernist art, one would think, rather than a postmodern Russian kind with which Sokurov seems to have little in common. The modernist conquest of daily life and its temporalities, indeed, was an appropriation of hitherto unrecorded dimensions and details: the universe in a grain of sand, Benjamins optical unconscious of the habitual and the microscopic. Here however the central fact of death reorganizes such detail into a new temporality of the absurd. Sokurov himself has said that his strongest belief is that the most complex and inconsistent circumstances that exist in anyones life are always dissolved in everyday life, because each morning we begin by brushing our teeth and at night just fall with our face in the pillow, without having learned any better how to live. But the moments of daily life also distract us from their absurdity by virtue of the very necessity of living through them or, in lm, of watching them frame by frame on the screen without being able to speed up the process. Thus, the son is bewildered by the fact of the fathers death and the strangeness of the world and the daily life in which the latter died, but he must also go through the bureaucratic red tape and prepare the body for burial and is in that sense the allegorical representative of the viewing public itself as it sits through the lms. Yet this is not a daily life that belongs to any of Sokurovs characters. All are in exile: the soldiers on the Tajik border, Malianov in his central Asian town, Eva Braun in the Berghof, Lenin in Gorki, the sons in The Second Circle and Mother and Son. But exile and the absurd are old words for past historical situations that do not quite suit this new one or correspond to Sokurovs representation of it either. What we witness over and over again in his images is in fact the representation of the inside of a situation of closure or helpless imprisonment whose outside is inaccessible yet constantly makes its presence felt as pressure and as strangeness. It is tempting to interpret Sokurovs works in terms of that trauma theory and post-Lacanian melancholy that interests so many people today and that seems to have replaced the ennui of the nineteenth century and the anxiety of the existential period. And there is certainly something plausible in this theoretical reference; encrypted is above all, in my opinion, the dead boy in his rst documentary, Maria (1988), the peasant youth we glimpse on horseback in the early footage and whom the later footage, ten years after, reveals

Fredric Jameson / History and Elegy in Sokurov

to have been killed by a drunken truckdriver. The boy would have gone to school, his mourning family tells us; he would have had technical and professional training. This dead boy, far more than the dead father of The Second Circle or the dying mother of Mother and Son, is the true place of mourning; he is the sons of those two other movies as well, alive in death without their lives. In this respect, however, the later lm, Father and Son (2003), marks something like a new departure. Not only is it scripted by a new scenarist (Sergey Potepalov), it also seems to combine in some new way Sokurovs two modesthe one-on-one relationships in solitude of the ction lms and the animated institutional bustle of the documentaries (the army again, to which both father and son are aliated, as veteran and as recruit respectively). Meanwhile the traditional architecture of a relatively wellpreserved garrison town replaces the space of exile (Ive lived here my whole life, the son tells a friend), and various kinds of adolescent high jinks and exercises punctuate reexive scenes replete with lingering glances and pregnant silences. The fundamental innovation can in the present context be identied as a shift to the point of view of the dead son, so to speak; for the eponymous son is now the protagonist, subject to seizures and visions and oddly xated on the father who threatens to leave him, so as not to be a burden to you; its an allegory, perhaps, of the pain of relinquishing the old national past for good. It would be a confusing oversimplication to characterize this relationship as oedipal in any standard Freudian way. The lm is rich in uncodied relationships of psychological subtlety and density, nowhere quite so unusual as in the familial pair: the father overly attentive, yet at the same time strangely narcissistic and indierent, withdrawn into a kind of introspective isolation by the traumas of the Chechen war, as though therapist and oedipal authority-gure all at once, while the son alternates between a paralyzing neurotic dependency and teenage aggressivity and insolence. Christological overtones and generational prophecy (your time is coming, its not yet your day) leave the sons future destiny in doubt (as well as the fathers future afterlife). Still, this work seems far less stylized than Sokurovs earlier lms, although it also has little enough in common with the grotesque realism we mentioned earlier; but it is too early to tell whether its generic uncertainties and uctuations are simply a aw or register the emergence of a new kind of tone or voice. At the very least it demonstrates that, at the height of his powers, Sokurov is not about to repeat himself. At any rate, the new treatment of what we have called the melancholy of the dead son has more in common, in some of its moments of positive invigoration, with the positive version of the structure in Days of Eclipse, in

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which Malianov, still the most vibrant and active protagonist in all of Sokurov, can be seen as the fulllment of what the dead boy might have been had he lived. And had Communism lived as well and fullled its promise to him and to Russia. For it is important not to reduce trauma theory to the merely psychological. Collective mourning is also at stake, and historical tragedy is also a necessary dimension of this new aect. Malianov is the medical doctor the peasant boy might have become; and the melancholy of trauma theory is the resonance of the experience of defeat, as Lucien Goldmann already analyzed it in The Hidden God (1959), in which French classical tragedy is grasped as the expression of the Jansenists failure to come to power as a class and of their missed rendezvous with history. Russian melancholy is thus not only the tragedy of space, the distance from the center, the tedium of the provinces, it is also the tragedy of timethe passing of the Russia of expansion and the empire (as celebrated in Russian Ark), the passing of the Soviets as well and their heroic war, and even of Stalin (Churchill is quoted as having saidchoosing his words carefullythat the latter will certainly have his page in the history books). The melancholy of Sokurov, who lived through the era of stagnation only to emerge into the current post-greatpower Russia, is that of an Arctic routine in which cold-benumbed teenage Russian sailors watch American youth culture beach movies for bemused distraction. Days of Eclipse is once more paradigmatic of this situation, which it borrowed, with much modication, from the novel by the Strugatsky brothers entitled, literally translated, A Billion Years to the End of the World (Denitely Maybe is the published title). In the original science ction a group of unrelated scientists are mysteriously disturbed and interrupted in their work by all kinds of fortuitous accidents, pleasurable distractions as well as annoyances or even warnings of various kinds. It transpireswe are led to understandthat the universe itself (the so-called Homeostatic Universe) is taking a host of unrelated yet analogously motivated precautions to break o scientic investigations that eventually (in the billion years of the title) will fatally lead to its own destruction. Sokurov and Arabov have removed the science-ctional scaolding and retained (and intensied) only the mysterious interruptions in the face of which the various protagonists give up, commit suicide, get themselves shot by the army, retreat into a humdrum life without ambitions, witness enigmatic explosions, or simply leave town. Only Malianov himself remains true to his vocation (also a change from the novel), a persistence reinforced by the alleged experimental associations in his research between religious belief and physical resistance to disease, a belated version, no doubt, of the

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great modernist conception of the Absolute. What is, however, postmodern is the representation of the unrepresentable, namely, the forces that impinge on our monad from the outside. The Strugatskys theme was no doubt the shift from hard to soft totalitarianism, as in The Second Martian Invasion, where the new overlords deploy bribery and propaganda instead of the horrendous physical violence of H. G. Wellss rst one. In the context of a now universal consumer society the role of the media thus designated will seem even more persuasive; but it would seem that globalization and Americanization in this sense is only indirectly Sokurovs central preoccupation in the historical lms he is making at present. Is Sokurov then to be seen as the last modernist, the last great modernist auteur? If so, he is generationally very belated indeed, born decades after Sergei Paradjanov or Andrei Tarkovsky (with whom it is always worth insisting that he has nothing in common) or still-living lmmakers like Kluge or Angelopolous; only Erice, Tsai, and Kiarostami share something of his untimeliness and alsowhat Sokurov has in common with all these artists and what would seem to account for our lingering impression of a modernist survivalhis commitment to the idea of great art and its autonomy. It is an idea and a value whose fundamental renunciation constitutes the postmodern. The latter, indeed, would seem to have sacriced the eternal and posterity for the ephemerality of mass culture, for a devils pact with the commercial, for an integration into fashion and the most febrile attention to fads and marketable novelties, and for the invention of new brand names and of a nostalgic sensibility comparable only to a neoclassicism two centuries early and even capable of resurrecting simulacra of modernism itself as well. Sokurov is, however, no simulacrum, and he shares several features with the last high modernists, including the dilemmas of nancing (see Godard, Kurosawa, Altman, and even the Soviets, if one understands that there the material diculties of funding and distribution are in the West labelled censorship). The status of art in his works is rst and foremost registered in the role played in them by music and by literature, whose presence in the soundtrack oers a perpetual counterpoint to image. The commander is here rather disingenuous: I deal with present-day reality, he tries to tell us, by nding escape in long nineteenth-century Russian novels. Yet Chekhov, the central literary gure here, is scarcely long-winded; and it seems to me that these references have rather as their function the setting in place of a quasi-religious solemnity (on the order of Arnoldian high seriousness). In my opinion, it is no longer a question of religious mysticism that marks Tarkovskys lms; here, as elsewhere in the present period and despite the religious obsessions that have so often gripped the Russian (and Russian-

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Jewish) soul, religion is to be grasped as a stand-in for the religion of art. The latter gets smuggled past the antiaesthetic atmosphere of postmodernity under the cover of something the neoethnic sensibilities of the present age are far more willing to tolerate. Also, in my opinion, there is another theme or value that seems to have disappeared from the zeitgeist, namely, nationalism. It does stand to reason that if art is to constitute an Absolute or a supreme value of some kind, it must also somehow express a whole people as such. What could a genuinely Russian art otherwise be in a globalized or postnational situation? To be sure, religion (and language) can also sometimes serve as a badge for some properly postmodern small-group ethos, but only if the latter is a minority. The great surviving modernist art however must bear within it some lingering sense of the nation and its destiny. So it is that Kluges work (however ironic and formally postmodern) still rehearses the ambiguity of German history as such and scans it for elements productive of a utopian future. So also Angelopolous (at least until his later Balkan and regionalizing turn) is haunted by the trauma of the Greek civil war and its historical exceptionalism. Sokurovs elegies for the even more unique historical destinies of Russia, inseparable from his melancholia and his aestheticism, mark an uncommon and untimely artistic enclave within the global warming of an international postmodern public sphere. Yet with a work already so voluminous it is best to strike some merely provisional conclusion, something Sokurovs new installment in the dictator series (no longer a tetralogy apparently) allows us preeminently to do. The Sun (2005) is certainly a far more successful artefact than Father and Son, yet it casts an equally ambiguous light on Sokurovs earlier achievements (in this case on the historical rather than the lial cycle). For the Hirohito of the more recent lm is scarcely a grotesque on the order of the Western dictators, although it might be argued that his central actto renounce his own divinityis as preposterous as anything in Moloch. Nor does the representation of the emperor as a learned and sensitive man (by the great Japanese actor Issei Ogata) falsify the political interest of the lm (even though contemporary historians seem to have concludedthat Hirohito was complicitous in the war from the planning stages, all the while deliberately constructing his own deniability); as we have seen, the earlier history lessons foregrounded a subjectivity whose political focus cut across the old public-private opposition in a new (and even postmodern) way. To be sure, the claustrophobic space of the earlier dictators is supremely maintained here, in Hirohitos sealed palace and the even more limited access of his private rooms and his demarcated sacred presence. But the blandness of the MacArthur gure (Americans will have rather dierent

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thoughts about this pompous personage) does little to dramatize the trauma of the becoming public of Hirohito, let alone his manipulation by the occupying authorities. What gets substituted for these unique political and personal dynamics is the Emperors playful identication with Charlie Chaplin (and his interest in American lm stars in general), a mediatic theme that suddenly turns the spaces of power into an aestheticizing meditation on cinema itself and on mass-cultural spectacle and the divine prestige of the Hollywood stars. This aestheticizing turn may give the game away too easily, but there are clearly more installments of the historical portraits to come (Mao Zedong and Faust have been hinted at), and one scarcely wants to underestimate in advance their contribution to the representation of history as such, a reinvention within postmodernity that is bound to have its own formal originality as well as its inuence on the recovery of historicity itself in our own posthistorical period. This is then the point at which to take provisional leave of Sokurov, without neglecting to appreciate the unexpected unavoidability of such new and original Russian contributions to the big bang of cultural globalization.