Mar 15, 2011

The Desert of Forbidden Art

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Amongst the many threads of history carefully interwoven in The Desert of Forbidden Art is one concerning the excavation of historical artifacts from a desert. Forget the general topic at hand (in this case, the preservation of a specific kind of Russian art) and ponder this image, if you haven't already, of endless sand and the treasures kept in her ocean (really, I'd watch a movie about just this). If it (or anything concerning the desert, really) doesn't blow you away at least a little on an existential level, I don't know how much we really have to talk about. (You can let that help gauge the relevancy of this review to your person.) In this long-gestating documentary, it becomes a metaphoric image for the salvation of art from the corners of the earth. During the Soviet regime, many Russian artists experienced great oppression lest they cave to state-approved Socialist Realism, a photography-like style of art intended to glamorize the expected ways of life, versus art capable of truth and subversion (my favorite shown here is the painting unfortunately cut in half).

Though hidden away, often damaged and ailing (even used to patch roof holes), thousands upon thousands of works did come into creation and survive during this period, and with state funding, untold bravery, persistence, and even a little help the mafia, the painter-turned-curator Igor Savitsky was able to amass over 40,000 works produced during this period of oppression, tucking them into a museum in Uzbekistan away from the KGB (he made the 1,700 mile trip over 20 times). My art-hungry eyes (one of the paintings featured herein is currently my Windows desktop image) would've liked an extended cut of the film, but then, such beauty is reason to act on the continued preservation of these masterpieces. Though a miracle unto itself, the museum is in dire straights, and the film movingly chronicles the many personal plights made to create and preserve what resides there. The film makes one wonder what is being created now (to remain unseen until much later), and what riches there would be for everybody if all nations were able to host their culture for the entire world. The Desert of Forbidden Art is solid (always compulsively watchable) but ultimately only skirts what could have easily been mind-blowing. It works quite admirably, however, as a conversation piece.

Directed by: Amanda Pope & Tchavdar Georgiev Written by: Amanda Pope & Tchavdar Georgiev Vocal cast: Edward Asner, Sally Field, Ben Kingsley 2010, NR, 80 minutes

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