1991-2000Anatoliy VasilyevMysteryRussiaThriller

Anatoliy Vasilyev – Saiylyk AKA Summer House (1992)

The recent commercial and critical flourishing of Sakha cinema – within the Republic, across Russia, and on the global stage – has been remarkable. But no film culture emerges ex nihilo. There are always predecessors, inheritances, and vocabularies from which to build. In purely filmmaking terms, the origins of today’s “Sakhawood” lie in Soviet cinema history as well as in the early pioneers of the post-communist Republic; on a deeper cultural level, they derive from the shared visual and spiritual language of the people themselves. As their broad acclaim demonstrates, the recent wave of films have a universal appeal. But they also stand as proof of the vitality and creativity of a very particular worldview. All of this is encapsulated in Anatoly Vasiliev’s striking and (until now) rarely seen Summer House.

Born in 1945, Vasiliev had been trained as an actor in local theatre in the ‘60s and ‘70s before appearing in a number of Soviet productions that made use of the exotic locations of the USSR’s Far East for adventure and spy fare – notably, The Ancestors’ Secret (1973) and Urgent… Confidential… Gubchek (1982). If what was then known as the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic still served largely as window-dressing for Russiancentric productions, the roots of an independent film culture had taken hold. In 1986, Alexey Romanov produced Mappa – what is thought to be the first film in the Sakha language, a short diploma film for the prestigious Gerasimov directing course in Moscow. Mappa’s concerns with Sakha folklore, especially its treatment of themes of death and restless spirits, foreshadowed Vasiliev’s own directorial efforts as it laid the ground for them.

During perestroika and then after the fall of the USSR, private production companies sprang up throughout the Union in the place of the former state monopolies. It was for one of these, Severfilm, that Vasiliev produced Summer House for Sakha television in 1992. For this maiden effort, Vasiliev – like so many Sakha auteurs to come – brought together local, nonprofessional talent with artists trained in other fields. For the screenplay, he turned to author Semyon Ermolaev, who worked with Vasiliev until the director’s early death in 1996 and who remains a figurehead in Sakha culture, recently writing the screenplay for Novikov’s masterpiece The Lord Eagle. Vasiliev’s own brother Roman worked as cinematographer, while the director himself took the lead role, with the supporting cast assembled from trusted associates. The resulting film, in all its lo-fi fuzz (it was only recently digitised from the original poor-quality film print), is now recognised as a turning point in the history of Sakha cinema – a precious artefact of a film culture in the process of becoming.

The plot is simple but ambiguous enough to support Vasiliev’s and Ermolaev’s rich allegorical vision. A middle-aged man returns to his native village to purchase a house, but after an encounter with the spirit world, finds himself caught in a limbo existence between the realms of the living and the dead. Non-Sakha viewers will no doubt find their own reference points: one could certainly draw a line between Summer House and any number of ghost stories, for instance, from the English haunted mansion tradition of Robert Wise’s The Haunting to Jack Clayton’s The Innocents to the millennial dread of J-horror masters like Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Nonetheless, the film is shot through with an intense sense of, and appreciation for, Sakha spirituality that distances it from the cheaper thrills of horror or other genre fare.

The titular Summer House or homestead – “saiylyk” in Sakha – is central to the conceit. Traditionally, Sakha life is structured around the seasons; over the course of a year, one moves between the kystyk, or winter home, and the saiylyk. The year is understood to start with the summer thaw. The summer homestead is thus bound up with notions of rebirth and return. In the Sakha cultural imagination, it is inextricable from the “alaas” – the name for a particular type of field, unique to Yakutia, that emerges with the annual thawing of the permafrost, symbolic of plenty and vitality. Taken together, the saiylyk and the alaas represent shared memory, ancestry, all that is good; the return to the saiylyk after a long winter might be understood as equivalent to the passage to heaven. Ermolaev has said that there was a cemetery near his own village’s summer homestead, as a result of which locals who had died were said to have “gone to the saiylyk” – an association which clearly informs his metaphorical take on the location in this film. Sakha spirituality states that “restless souls” or “yuur”, like those pictured in Summer House, are caught between the worlds of the living and the dead because they cannot be buried and thus reconnected to the land. But if there is horror in this, there is also consolation; the distance between the two worlds is not so great, and death is in any case a return home rather than a departure.

Understood in these terms, the film’s threadbare plot takes on new significance. Our protagonist, in the autumn of his life, is returning to the place where he belongs; after the Soviet era, Sakha culture too is returned to its roots. The sense of fixation that permeates the film – with its characters who insist that they “cannot go back to the city”, that “the people of the saiylyk are calling” – is less purgatorial than it is liberating.

Summer House (1992).mkv

Container:  	Matroska
Runtime: 	1h 7mn
Size: 	975 MiB
Codec: 	x264
Resolution: 	768x480 
Aspect ratio:  	16:10
Frame rate: 	24.000 fps
Bit rate: 	1 803 Kbps
BPP: 	0.204
#1:  	sah 2.0ch AC-3 @ 192 Kbps


Language(s):Yakut (Sakha)

One Comment

  1. much much obliged for my request!!
    i´ve enjoyed this peculiar and weird cinema
    Fernando Figueroa

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