Melita Zajc is a media anthropologist and philosopher, combining practice, teaching and research in the field of communication, media studies and film theory. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

RUSSIA: The philosopher Žižek defined this particular form of power, as the “immanent cynicism of power”. It developed during the communist regime.

The Trial: The State of Russia vs Oleg Sentsov

Askold Kurov

UK, 2017, 75 min

«The Greatest Sin Is Cowardice.» With this quote from Michail Bulgakov, Oleg Sentsov closes his final speech at the trial. Sentsov, a film director and Maidan activist born in Ukraine was charged with leading an anti-Russian terrorist movement in Crimea during the events following March 2014. Renowned filmmaking colleagues such as Agnieszka Holland and Wim Wenders, as well as the European Film Academy, campaigned for his release, but in August 2015, a Russian court in Rostov-on-Don  sentenced him to 20 years’ imprisonment in Siberia. In this documentary, Askold Kurov investigates the context of the trial.

Kurov’s prime source of imagery was found footage. He employed recordings from Sentsov’s own films, various media representations of Sentsov and of the historical events underlying the trial, as well as his family archives. Among
the photographs in the Sentsov family album, there is, as his mother joyfully comments, “Sentsovs first photogram”: an aerial shot of his pet dog. “Or a cat,” remarks the mother. Indeed. Depicted from above, any domestic animal looks like as an oval-shaped stain. Only representations from the side give enough information to make the represented recognizable, not because of some intrinsic ingredient of the representation but because we have learned so. This is a textbook demonstration that images are not things, and the awareness that the way we see things has been historically, socially and culturally contingent is an underlying premise of this film.

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