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Matter and Memory in Karasik’s “Wild Dog Dingo” (USSR, 1962)

April 5, 2010

Wild Dog Dingo (Dikaia Sobaka Dingo, 1962, dir. Yuli Karasik), is one of the most striking examples in Thaw cinema of the way neorealist nostalgia penetrates social frameworks and cuts a path to the looming, haunting, bittersweet personal past. The film does not willfully ignore social themes and the life of the nation; it just finds them beside the point when more pressing matters are in question.

Through the eyes of the film’s teenage heroine, Tanya, played by Galina Polskikh, we experience the phenomenon of childhood’s end—the magical thinking of youth, the sense of frightfully shifting ground, the longing. A tree waves in the schoolroom window, seeming to beckon to Tanya. She asks to change seats. “The tree is distracting me,” she says. The teacher looks at her, perplexed. “It’s just an ordinary tree. What’s with you?” At night, in her bedroom, Tanya looks out the window, pinches a star between her thumb and forefinger, cups the moon in her hands. Here, on the verge of adulthood, she is taking the imprint of her childhood mind, both saying farewell and saving it forever.

There is an air of tantalizing hauntedness hovering before her even in her seemingly lightest moments. At the end of the school day she slaps portfolios with a classmate in a Russian version of a farewell high five and then turns to the empty, windswept road. Less than a second has passed and the mood has changed keys from major to minor and the enchanted air of the village has acquired a heaviness, a strangely pleasing bitterness. The sudden change of mood, the heightened perception of the world and the extraordinary rapidity with which this perception translates to affect—is this not what we both lament and cherish in our teenage years, the uncanny pleasure-pain of it all? Here Karasik has taken us beyond any pose of “social independence” and into a terrain of of pure subjectivity. A girl’s life is carved from the matter around her by the intensity of her own perception, her own magical thinking, the stuff of her own memories of fast-fading childhood and the father who has long-since left and now, on this day, is to return.

The film is dominated by Galina Polskikh’s eyes, by her constant perception, searching, wondering, remembering, reassembling, weighing of the evidence of matter and memory, dominated by her longing for what has been lost before and what continues to be lost now, what must therefore be fully taken in, fully seen, while the moment lasts.

People here are, if anything, more silent than in real life. And the silence leaves room for richer perception of time. When Tanya’s father, having returned from the city to the village, speaks to her, she says, “You don’t have to speak so loudly. I hear you quite well.” The country and the city have both different volumes and different time sensibilities, but it is all too easy to see silence and lack of environmental transformation as stasis. “It’s amazing how everything has changed in the city,” says Tanya’s father, “and back here everything’s the same as it ever was.” Tanya’s mother, the woman he left, replies flatly: “Yes, same as it ever was.” She says this with pain and hope and awareness of her own artifice. Things are not the same as ever. For one thing, years have been lived without a husband, a father. A little girl has grown up: the father himself has just looked upon his daughter with astonishment: “You’re so big!” Life never remained unchanged, not for a minute. Tanya’s mother excuses herself and goes to the kitchen to make tea. “I should have brought you flowers,” Tanya’s father says to her. He reaches into the pocket of his military dress blues and produces an oval box of candy. He hands it to her, embarrassed to have missed all that he has missed, the time that can be longed for but never regained. One cannot even remember what one has missed. A clock ticks in the background.

After three years away, Tanya’s father is now anxious to join in her life. He has brought an adopted son, Kolya, along with him, and though the families will not merge, he would like them to get along. He understands that micro-changes, the changes you don’t see in the layout of a town’s lanes but in the lives of its inhabitants, are the real dynamism, the things one must see or regret not having seen, the matter that is most essential to the shaping of intimate memory. As he meticulously prepares pel’meni, Russian dumplings, Karasik’s camera stays with him through the entire process. (The scene brings to mind the famous morning-in-the-kitchen scene in DeSica’s 1952 Umberto D.) On the left side of the screen, Kolya is talking to Tanya’s mother, who is offscreen.

We do not see Tanya in the scene, but she is a looming presence. We know those eyes; we are watching with those eyes, watching for her, taking in the moment, measuring the weight of the world.

Greg Blake Miller

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 5, 2010 10:46 pm

    wow… such a wonderful post…
    outstanding balance of lines and words….
    Learnt a lot from you….

    visit mine… & plz plz plz post your comments….

    Thank you…

    I’ll be in touch…

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