Controversial Soviet film on teen-agers mirrors social stereotypes
A new Soviet film about teen-age violence and peer pressure has opened in Moscow, focusing attention on the socialization of young people in Soviet society.Skip to next paragraph
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The cast of ''Scarecrow,'' a sort of Soviet ''Lord of the Flies,'' is almost entirely children and teen-agers, with only brief roles played by adults.
The film presents a harsh look at teen-agers' cruelty to peers who don't conform. It soundly criticizes the school system, an institution considered sacrosanct in the Soviet Union.
The film's director, popular Soviet actor Rolan Bykov, said in an interview after the film's recent premier that he intended in his film to touch on the question of who is responsible for bringing up children - the school or the family.
The issue is the subject of debate in many industrialized nations. But it is especially important in the Soviet Union, where mothers are required to work full-time and children enter the educational system as infants.
''We, as adults, must take responsibility for the children of our society. We find we have problems with our children and then start looking around for the culprits,'' Mr. Bykov said.
''The problems with youth are international, and dealing with them might help bring the world together. Don't forget - we are all fathers and mothers,'' he commented.
In the film, 12-year-old Kristina Orbakaite portrays an adolescent girl who lives in a small village near Moscow with her grandfather, who is considered an eccentric loner by the townspeople. She is immediately castigated as ''different'' and given the nickname ''Scarecrow'' by the children in the town.
Despite their taunts and ridicule, Scarecrow at first attempts to gain favor with them by denouncing her own grandfather. She begins to gain their acceptance. But then an incident occurs that once again makes her the object of their ridicule.
A class trip to Moscow is canceled when the teacher learns that class members have been truant. The teacher is informed of their misbehavior from a boy on whom Scarecrow has a crush. To protect him, Scarecrow tells the class that she herself was the informer.
In the scenes that follow, the class descends on her, knocking her to the ground and kicking her. The film's climax comes when her dress is stolen and draped with a sign that reads ''Scarecrow,'' and she is burned in effigy.
The class is a microcosm of Soviet social stereotypes, rather than merely a random collection of adolescents. These include:
* ''The denouncer,'' who jumps robot-like from her seat to bark out rapid-fire criticism of any action outside the norm.
* ''The party apparatchik,'' who has no feelings or ideas of her own and merely carries out the ideas of the leaders.
* ''The official,'' portrayed by the school principal, who has no idea what is actually happening inside the bureaucracy she is supposedly running, but maintains an air of efficiency for the sake of outside appearances.
The film also takes a satiric swipe at Komsomol, the Communist Youth League, a hallowed institution that provides Soviet children with some of their early socialization and teaches them about communism and party loyalty.
In one scene, the mother of one of the teen-agers asks, ''Why doesn't your Komsomol organization take care of you?''
A teen-ager turns and bitterly retorts, ''We're on vacation.''
Mr. Bykov has starred in more than 100 Soviet films and 120 Soviet theater productions. He has also found time to write a book about children and their education.
''The children in the film do not symbolize society - they are society. They are spies, crazy politicians, noble politicians, terrorists, and those who fight to gain power over others,'' he said about ''Scarecrow.''
He set out to tackle a sensitive subject in his film because, he said, ''It's too late for me just to use art to make money.''
He acknowledged that he has a considerable following, which may provide him with enough power to bring out a controversial film that a younger director would have difficulty getting past government censors. In the Soviet Union, film censorship is carried out by the State Committee for Cinematography, which views films and decides whether they will be released.
Often when a very popular director with a large following dares to make a controversial film, the committee allows it to be shown only to small audiences of the trusted, privileged elite. The committee can then defend itself against critics by claiming that the film was released, when in fact only a handful of people around the country were allowed to see it.
So far, ''Scarecrow'' has been seen only by the audience of some 1,000 people who attended the premiere three weeks ago.
Bykov said the film now must be viewed by the Committee for Cinematography, which will decide whether any cuts are necessary.
He said the committee assured him it would be released in September of this year, but he was uncertain whether the film ever will be widely distributed around the Soviet Union.
Bykov also said he was not sure whether it would be shown in the West, since that also is left to the government to decide.
''I think the film will be popular. The people will treat the film differently than officials, who express the views of philistines and are very provincial types,'' Bykov said.