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Swaffar, J. (2000). Identity Signifiers in Contemporary Russian Films: A Lacanian Analysis. Am. Imago, 57(1):95-119.

(2000). American Imago, 57(1):95-119

Identity Signifiers in Contemporary Russian Films: A Lacanian Analysis

Janet Swaffar

The claiming of an essential identity is a common psychological mechanism human beings use to characterize themselves. For Russians in the last decade of this century, searches for the meaning of the self are endemic. Much of Russia is engaged in re-writing the narrative of community and re-constructing history in an effort to fill the identity void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its monolithic Ideological State Apparatus.1

Contemporary Russian films are both symptomatic of and a productive force in this process of identity reconstruction. In the last ten years, Russian film production has frequently focused on problems that originated with the breakdown of the Soviet Union. Film producers, liberated from the ideological constraints of the Communist Party, have embraced the search for alternative ideologies as a primary narrative. The protagonists of new films are often in the position of confronting old values that are no longer realizable and so distort those values in their search for viable social and personal standards. In order to explore the limits on traditional signifiers, they look for alternatives and find them in chimerical discourses such as pre-Revolutionary Russia (e.g. Stanislav Govoruchin's controversial documentary, The Russia That We Have Lost).

Three films made in the early 1990s characterize this quest for alternative identities: Pavel Loungin's Luna Park (1991), Vladimir Khotinenko's Muslim (1994), and Nikita Mikhalkov's Urga (1991). Each movie addresses issues of post-Communist Russia in different locales—in Moscow, in a Russian village, and in China. Each film works through problems of identity, concentrating on one particular conflict in discourses that threaten the identity of the protagonists.

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