Strange, unseen forces guide me to go through film festival schedules and select a favourite even before I do the usual YouTube trailer check. Andrei Konchalovsky and his film ‘The Postman’s White Nights’ was such a selection from this year’s Jagran Film Festival at Delhi’s Sirifort. The trailer did not disappoint. It cannot.
And so last Sunday, as the main auditorium and the adjacent parking lot gorged upon happy Delhi-ites headed to catch a noisy Doordarshan concert, I quietly sneaked into the cavernous Auditorium 3 next door for the film of my choosing.
Ninety minutes in the life of a postman servicing a remote Russian village is not something that would enthral an audience accustomed only to multiplexes, exit plans and numbered seating. Sirifort’s Auditorium 3 tests your love for cinema by questioning precisely these luxuries. One cannot come upon a more challenging venue to align your back, neck and eyes to a screen that assumably floats fifteen feet into the air. And yet Lyokha the postman with his imaginary grey cat ensured that the thought of discomfort did not enter my mind.
Konchalovsky has captured the remnants of a certain Russia that never left my mind as I grew up amongst the daily roars of MIG engines, the maps of the USSR, Sputnik Digest and the memorable Illustrations of Mikhail Belomlinsky. But much like the funeral of an old character in the film, that Russia is on her last breath.
The story of the film is exactly like the life of its characters, it goes nowhere. There are simple incidents and moments that hold little more importance than the anxious struggle of a housefly against a glass window. More can happen, but it doesn’t – and that is as important as it is beautiful. Was the climax of the film when Lyokha oars the boat through the slow green silence of the folding back waters? Or when Lyokha and Yura sit beside the lake as a rocket launches in silence behind them? Or was it the time little Timur smokes a cigarette for the first time? Maybe that’s not the point at all.
Stills are screenshots from the film trailer / Fauna map of USSR courtesy: etomesto.ru / Cover Scan from Sputnik Digest by Novosti Press Agency / Sailor Illustration scan courtesy ‘Lions and Sailing Ships’ by Raduga Publishers