The Petersburg Text of Russian Cinema in Perestroika and Post-Perestroika Eras

Natalia Bratova

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

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In order to examine contemporary Russian cinema, this thesis has two points of departure: firstly the Petersburg myth, which is here defined as reversible or ambiguous since it includes both an eschatological and a cosmogonic aspect; and secondly, the Petersburg literary text as defined in works by Vladimir Toporov. During the twentieth century, the vitality and actuality of the Petersburg myth was questioned both in literature and in theoretical works. This thesis, however, proves that neither the Petersburg myth nor the text have lost their topicality. The text of the city remains relevant in contemporary art, particularly in the art of cinema; it is revised and re-actualised in accordance with the changing political and social life of the city and its citizens. Films of the perestroika and post-perestroika periods, referred to in this thesis as the 1990s period, have been chosen as empirical material for the research. It emerges that the myth of the city is still exploited in film art during this period. Furthermore, those films that are set in Petersburg in fact constitute the key Petersburg text of the chosen period. The films discussed in this thesis can be ascribed to this text not only owing to their being located in Petersburg, but because of the significant role played by the city in each of the narratives. Furthermore, these films share the same so-called ‘functional elements’ that concern representation of space, time and protagonist (or more generally speaking, character). These functional elements work like building blocks in forming the narratives of the films, just as symbols do in a myth. In addition to these elements, the films analysed adopt and exploit various canonical elements and plot lines of the universally recognised Petersburg texts in literature and other art forms. An interesting phenomenon of pseudo-plagiarisms, described by Toporov in his work on the Petersburg text in Russian literature, is also present in some of the films. The key concept in creating the cinematic Petersburg during the 1990s is identified as carnivalisation and chaotisation of space and protagonist in accordance with Mikhail Bakhtin's original ideas about carnivalisation and its role in literature and in culture as a whole. The visual Petersburg text of the 1990s degrades the city to the level of a chaotised and carnivalised space. This is dictated primarily by the time of interregnum that perestroika and its aftermath proved to be for the Petersburg myth. The myth was caught between the city's Soviet past and its indefinite future. It needed to be actualised and modified in accordance with this unclear position. Chaos, a key element both for the eschatological and for the cosmogonic aspects of the myth, functions in the films of the Petersburg text as a zero countdown point for the city myth. The transformation of the whole city into chaos in these films can be interpreted as a victory for each of the myth's aspects. Thus, the ambiguous balance of the reversibility of the myth is maintained. The city's chaotisation leaves the question of the myth's future open – these films allow interpretation in either direction. Petersburg is often observed as dying and falling into ruins, and at the same time, it is open for resurrection and rebirth. In accordance with Bakhtin’s concept of carnivalisation, chaos is not destructive for the myth. On the contrary, it makes for a rich and productive period of fermentation.
In the last part of the thesis an attempt has been made to show one of the possible ways of the myth’s development after 2003 and the tricentenary celebration, a year that became crucial for both the myth and the text of the city. The films discussed in this last chapter differ in their use of certain functional elements from the films of the 1990s. At the same time, certain functional elements that we have attributed to the visual Petersburg text of the 1990s are seen to have become canonical.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Centre for Languages and Literature
  • Björling, Fiona, Supervisor
Award date2014 Jan 31
ISBN (Print)978-91-7473-727-1
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Bibliographical note

Defence details

Date: 2014-01-31
Time: 10:15
Place: Sal H135a, Språk- och litteraturcentrum, Helgonabacken 12, Lund

External reviewer(s)

Name: Beumers, Birgit
Title: Professor
Affiliation: Aberystwyth University, Wales


Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Languages and Literature

Free keywords

  • The myth of the city
  • Petersburg myth
  • Petersburg text
  • carnivalisation
  • Russian cinema
  • perestroika cinema
  • city in cinema
  • Bakhtin
  • Toporov


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