Both a Taunt and a Lure
Khasan Khazhkasimov’s "The Rider with Lightning in His Hand" as a Challenge to Colonial Feminism
Keywords:Khasan Khazhkasimov, Kabardino-Balkaria, Indigenous cinema, geography, Vsadnik s molniei v ruke, environmental cinema, interracial relationships, decolonising Soviet cinema, white feminism, gender equality
Khasan Khazhkasimov ’s Vsadnik s molniei v ruke / The Rider with Lightning in his Hand (1975, Soviet Union) is a rare example of a film made at a studio in the Russian Soviet Republic by a director from outside the Soviet centre, set in their native region. Set in the 1930s and based on real events, the film focuses on Natasha, a student-geologist. She comes to the Kabardino-Balkaria region in search of molybdenum, a rare element with industrial and military applications, with the intention of transforming the rural area into a prosperous, Sovietised metropolis. There, she falls in love with El'berd, a local blacksmith. Their relationship challenges Natasha’s ignorance and prejudices. In this article, I put forward a reading of the film as an expression of Indigenous identity and challenge to Soviet settler colonialism. I demonstrate how Khazhkasimov subverts state narratives of progress, that on a surface level reading, the film appears to validate. Specifically, I analyse how Khazhkasimov interrogates the colonial and racist assumptions underpinning apparently feminist rhetoric through the depiction of the romantic relationship at the heart of the film. I propose that, in challenging official discourse, the film undermines the validity of Natasha’s colonial feminism and Soviet rhetoric. Through her storyline, I suggest that Khazhkasimov subverts the narrative that (Russian) state representatives had superior insight, instead highlighting the knowledge and experience of people from the region. In particular, Khazhkasimov centres their relationship with the land itself, positing the Soviet state as an aggressor towards the natural world. Khazhkasimov’s work has hitherto not been the subject of focused scholarship, yet the film provides a pivotal case study in understanding the ways that non-Russian Soviet directors could give voice to specific nationalities within the confines of the Soviet cinema industry. It also demonstrates the heritage of the cinema from the Kabardino-Balkaria region.
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