I have been exploring Sokurov’s work since the beginning, mostly his feature films, and ever since Mournful Unconcern there is a rather distinct homoerotic tension present between characters in his films. This continued on Days Of Eclipse, Stone, and Whispering Pages, in which the main character fondles a rather evil, but masculine statue of an animal. I began exploring on the internet to see if more people have also seen this constant imagery. Sadly, nothing on those films, but rather on others! Confession, Spiritual Voices and Father and Son are apparently very homoerotic, yet the director has dismissed these claims. This boggles my mind. I have seen neither Confession or Spiritual Voices, but maybe, from what I’ve read, those films are an ode to Eisenstein? But that still doesn’t explain his early work.
From KinoKultura on Father & Son:
“Father and son play children’s games on the rooftop, enhancing their closeness and their infantile state of mind, or maybe their purity. The physical closeness makes their relationship appear homoerotic, even if Sokurov disputes this interpretation as a purely Western invention of sick minds. Clearly, though, the film rejects the role of the female figure in life and history, making bondage possible only between men. Visually, the film contradicts Sokurov’s statements: the relationship between father and son is homoerotic, but there are also homosexual overtones in the relationship between the father and the other boys who visit.
Sokurov’s stern reaction of the homoerotic qualities which are clearly present in the film as inventions of sick European minds is contradicted when, in the press conference, he claims to draw on the rich European and Russian cultural heritage of the 19th century. He claims that he wanted to make film about Russian culture, traditions and moral superiority, and show human relationship as ‘beskonechno nezhno i teplo’. Any coldness and distance in a relationship between father and child would be criminal. Sokurov complains about the poshlost’ of European culture, having shot his film in Lisbon, a city that is, according to Sokurov, not yet spoilt by the wave of globalisation and has not yet become a global village."
Anybody feel like adding a piece to the puzzle? I find it fascinating, and it adds yet another layer to Sokurov’s masterpieces.
I’d use the word homosocial for Father and Son, except that i don’t think it’s the correct term for it.
I understand Sokurov’s problem with the homoerotic claims, because the film is meant to be a dreamy, semi-idealised view of the father/son relationship, and clearly to him this does not imply anything sexual.
and i do agree with him that it’s a form of sickness to read homoeroticism into close male bonding. You can blame the extreme feminists for that, and when the academic crystal is removed, it’s actually a form of thinly veiled homophobia.,
I think the word is homocentric.
Why do you ascribe that to feminists and not queer theory?
Either way, homoerotic claims are an expression of anxiety about sexuality…
“Why do you ascribe that to feminists and not queer theory?”
Yeah, that’s the comment that boggled my mind…
Confession and Spiritual Voices could be said to have “homoerotic” tendencies in that they focus on a large group of men hanging in a small spaces with sometimes little dress. Sokurov shoots them very sensually, but he shoots everything very sensually. I think his interest is mainly in men (sans Alexandria and Mother and Son) much in the same way Kurosawa’s interest was nearly solely in men. And I would think the reason one gets the homoerotic tag and the other doesn’t is an issue with eras and manner of photography. Kurosawa’s camera concerns itself with the surrounding world of men; their outward expressions. Sokurov’s camera focuses on the interior and his liberal use of voiceover adds to this very intimate manner of shooting.
Homocentric, okay. Homoerotic… stretching it. The mother, son relationship in Mother and Son is shot just as intimately as anything I’ve seen from Sokurov (though I still have yet to see his aforementioned early work and Father and Son).
^^Queer theory emerged partly from feminism though. it was heavily influenced by theorists such as Butler, so it’s not that crazy really. Secondly, it’s the feminist idea that has influenced the cultural reading of these kinds of signs, not queer theory, which is a relatively new disicpline by comparison. Most people have zero exposure to ideas of Queer Theory outside of the academy. Watered down feminist observations are still quite prevalent in our culture.
But hey, opinions are like assholes eh?
Archie, i suggest watching Father and Son because that seems to be the one that gets the most comments about ‘homoeroticism’ in Sokurov to my knowledge. and like his previous work, it’s also very sensual, which only adds ‘fuel to the fire’.
Mother and Son is shots just as intimately as anything I’ve seen from Sokurov
Right and people could make the same sexuality claim there. It is a perversion of those obsessed with reading everything sexually, imo.
^^I disagree that it can be read sexually Robert, mostly because the woman is old and sick and it’s obvious that he is just attending to her needs in her dying hours.
In Father and Son, however, the element of death has been removed, and the father is young, fit, and handsome, so the intimate scenes leave a different kind of impression.
^^open themselves up to a different kind of reading, i meant.
But i still didn’t read them sexually, even if it took a while to get used to at first. at least the opening scene did anyway.
Perhaps prior to her illness – nonetheless, it is the sensuality that people are equating to sex.
“sensuality that people are equating to sex.”
agree, but i haven’t personally come across that reading for Mother and Son.
For Father and Son though, it’s very common, and some poor misguided fools have argued on imdb,youtube and elsewhere that the film is ‘daring’ for its portrayal of such a taboo relationship ;-)
I haven’t seen those films so I can’t comment on specific scenes. I do think, a lot of things that would have never been seen as homosexual at any other time in history are now instantly interpreted as such. For instance, if you’ve seen Clerks II, one of the characters insists Frodo and Sam are gay in Lord Of The Rings. In our current culture, any emotional intimacy between two males is immediately equated with sexual intimacy.
By the same logic, Mother and Son should be considered incestual.
It’s more than just era, though. For Sokurov that’s secondary. To me it’s just intellectual laziness to say, “oh, Sokurov made films in the 90’s and 2000’s so the reason he gets the tag is because of that.” The films being discussed, at least by the OP, were mainly his early work.
Sokurov would probably get this tag in the same way Bresson gets it for Pickpocket. It’s not about era it’s about how things are shot. Sokurov lingers on bodies, adds a dreamy sensualism to them, adds enigmatic voiceover that is definitively mournful, and yearning (for what?). He wanders every inch of his characters minds, and their bodies in an incredibly intimate manner.
The manner in which he shot Confession and Spiritual Voices, for example, kept reminding me of one film; Querelle. I definitely understand why someone would claim there is a homoerotic trend in Sokurov’s work. Confession even contains a captain that agonizes over his men and his solitude among them. Sound familiar?
The reason he probably gets the label of homoerotic imagery has to do with his focus on men, most definitely. But it’s the manner in which he shoots men (lest we forget the much more formally realistic style of his recent films and Alexandria, in particular) that makes it an interesting discussion, not just that he’s a filmmaker of now and not of a half century ago.
“It’s more than just era, though. For Sokurov that’s secondary. To me it’s just intellectual laziness to say, “oh, Sokurov made films in the 90’s and 2000’s so the reason he gets the tag is because of that.” The films being discussed, at least by the OP, were mainly his early work.”
Yes but i doubt his early work was read that way at the time of release. Now, after decades, perhaps, but not then.
I could be wrong though.
and i agree with everything else you said, except perhaps for the ‘wanders every inch of his characters minds’, because his characters are quite ambiguous.
The reason he gets the label is the physical and emotional closeness of his characters with each other. But, the same movies wouldn’t get that label in the 60s or 70s.
Brilliant responses :). I haven’t seen Mother and Son, so I can’t comment. However, The Second Circle, which portrays a man attending a corpse of his father, has none of what I perceived as homoerotic overtones (or homocentric? English is not my first language :)) as in the films I mentioned. Sokurov’s shoots intimate relations like no one else, so I believe it is natural to view things as being slightly different. But I think labeling these different observations as sick is a little too extreme.
“Yes but i doubt his early work was read that way at the time of release. Now, after decades, perhaps, but not then.
I could be wrong though."
You definitely could be… that’s just a supposition. As right as it may be…
“The reason he gets the label is the physical and emotional closeness of his characters with each other. But, the same movies wouldn’t get that label in the 60s or 70s.”
So you’re saying filmmakers that shot men with the same physical closeness (like the aforementioned Fassbinder and Bresson) wouldn’t have been said to have a homoerotic trend in their films in the 60’s or 70’s?
Man, film criticism must have been atrocious in that period, then.
What I’m saying is this is just supposition. It could be true. It may even be true, but it has nothing to do with Sokurov’s films. There are elements in his films that would lead one to seeing a homoerotic trend. It may not be justified entirely but the elements in his films are there and they would be there whether he made the films in 1999 or 1899.
So you’re saying that the presence of homosexual issues on the public consciousness has no impact on people’s perception of homo-eroticism in films? That, if we lived in a world where homosexuality was still just considered something done deviantly in private, people would see two men in a boundariless friendship and think they were gay?
It’s pretty clear to me Sokurov does not consider physical closeness to be the same as sexual closeness.
Can someone please explain to me how Pickpocket could be seen as ‘homoerotic’? Why? Because he while he is robbing men he is also copping a feel?
It has been a while since i last saw it
“It’s pretty clear to me Sokurov does not consider physical closeness to be the same as sexual closeness.”
No, you’re missing my point. I’m saying focusing on a perceived bias in criticism has absolutely nothing to do with Sokurov’s films. There isn’t denying there is both a sensuality to his imagery and a closeness. Does that make it homosexual? No. Homoerotic? No, not necessarily. It’s there nonetheless.
To just ignore that element of his work and feign it to be almost solely related to an issue totally outside of the films is lazy, to me. The elements are in the work. Let’s discuss them.
I’m not saying I agree with the idea that Bresson is inherently homoerotic or Sokurov is, at least not in totality. I’m saying there are some elements to be discussed that may enlighten a deeper understanding of their work.
For Bresson I don’t remember catching anything in Pickpocket (I do need to rewatch it), but I definitively remember the tension between the bunkmates in A Man Escaped. Bresson did add a sensuality to their relationship. Was it a suggested homosexual relationship? Maybe, maybe not. Again, the elements are there in the film.
“I’m not saying I agree with the idea that Bresson is inherently homoerotic or Sokurov is, at least not in totality. I’m saying there are some elements to be discussed that may enlighten a deeper understanding of their work.”
but how can they lead toa ‘deeper understanding’ if they are based on a misunderstanding?
I fail to see how this silly reading of films gives a deeper understanding to anything whatsoever. it’s one of the most useless interpretative frameworks.
Discussion of elements inside a work of art always leads to a deeper understanding than discussing perceived biases in the specific groups that review these works. Simple as that.
Homoeroticism is in the eye of the beholder.
I found Mr. Sokurov’s dismissal of these ideas as being indicative of the “sickness of the West” to be more interesting, and indicative of homophobia frankly, than anything in the rather tedious FATHER AND SON. The film centers on lingering closeups of the strikingly handsome father and son, who are frequently shirtless and photographed as lovingly as a spread in the Abercrombie and Fitch catalogue. I don’t think that there’s anything “gay” about the film, per se, except the loving attention given to the male model types Sokurov has chosen to populate his film.
Roscoe that sounds like stereotyping – all male model types gay?
I haven’t seen the film, but wouldn’t ‘gayness’ depend on something other than looks?
“The structure of the world we offer in not restricted to any time or place, it could be 30 years ago or 50 years in the future. Relations of blood are eternal, and conflicts arise when debts are not paid to our parents. That’s an important subject for artistic interpretation. Our movie is a starting signal for a train, a train of thoughts . . . It is because the ages of the father and the son are separated by only one step of life, and each sees himself in the other. The son sees his father in the none-too-distant future and decides if he wants to be like that or not. There’s really only one character. There’s no father, no son, but one human soul that can look at itself in a magic crystal . . . If you watch the movie attentively, you see that the boy has nightmares that he’s going to be killed, and each nightmare is more terrible. The father is afraid of these elements going through his son’s brain. That’s why he wakes the son up, bringing the son back to life, as it were, and holds him . . . I’d like these relations to remain infinitely warm, which should be the law. To try to distance yourself from your father should be a crime. There are many experts who hate what we are doing and fight it. Yet there is no other object here than improving the morals, making us kinder.”
Robert, I’m not suggesting that male models are gay, that’s not the point. It isn’t the fact that the men are male model types, but the way that the camera lingers over them, and the way that Sokurov keeps displaying them for maximum beauty at all times, as they exchange long loving looks and so on, that makes me the viewer think that there’s maybe more to this father son relationship than meets the eye.
Because of the nature of the photographic image, I think there are certain situations in which the literal image on the screen in a film can partially detach from the other content of the film. For example, if you’ve ever seen someone you know in a film playing a fictional character before, the presence of the actual person tends to shove the fictional character out of the film . . . at least to some degree.
This topic is gay