Archangel, a study in contrasts

Like Tale of a Vampire (1992), this post has been floating around in draft form for awhile now. Not sure why it’s taken me so long, as Archangel (TV, 2005) is an interesting TV movie based on a Robert Harris novel. It’s not revelatory or anything, although it does feel like more of an aborted miniseries. Like it wanted to go there, but ran out of steam halfway through. Like me with this post! 😉

So what’s it all about? Pre-Bond Daniel Craig stars as a British professor who travels to Russia and investigates mysterious incidents surrounding the life and death of Joseph Stalin. There are some cool locations throughout, including an early scene set in the Russian State Library, heralded by the monument of Dostoyevsky outside its rather imposing front columns (see below). The largest library in the country and national library of Russia, it was founded in 1862 as Moscow’s first free public library. The library welcomes 4,000 visitors a day, as it is open to the public — whether you’re a resident or not.

Craig’s fictional character, Professor Fluke Kelso, takes advantage of this policy by starting there to research a source’s story. Thing is, the librarians don’t seem to be aware of this open-door policy. Guess that’s why it’s fictional.

Kelso hands an expired library card to the first librarian (credited as Older Librarian and played by Elena Butenko), who is seated behind a large, glassed-off marble counter.

With that glass booth, does this shot remind you of a movie theater?

Here’s how their conversation goes:

Older Librarian:  [speaking in Russian] How long have you had this [library card]?

Kelso:  [in Russian] I was a student here. A long time ago.

Older Librarian: It is out of date.

Kelso:  Is it possible that I can renew it? I’m a professor. I’m writing a book.

Older Librarian:  Fill in form. Send in mail.

Kelso:  Yeah, but I’m leaving Moscow tomorrow. Can you help me please?

Older Librarian:  I will talk to supervisor.

It’s cold in Russia, but the looks he gets from that librarian? Frost bite.

If I were a bartender, I would spit in your drink.

Trying to warm up, Kelso slides over to the other librarian, Yelena (Kseinya Entelis) who’s been giving him the once-over. (Wouldn’t you be?) They have a Meet Cute moment before Kelso reveals what he really wants:

Kelso:  I need everything you’ve got on the death of Stalin, Yelena. Statements, eye witness accounts, please.

Yelena:  She [the Older Librarian] will not approve this.

Kelso:  Does she have to know?

Can I help you with anything else? My phone number?

Aaaaaand… no surprises, we cut to a shot of Kelso writing notes and standing by an old-school card catalog. And Yelena’s helping out, of course (see right):

Yelena:  I found another one. Page 512.

Kelso:  Thank you.

Yelena:  So you went to Moscow State University?

Kelso:  I did, yeah. I spent a lot of time in this library with a girlfriend. It was warm.

(Sigh.) And yes, Moscow State University is real. It’s the oldest and largest university in Russia, founded in 1755. (Of course I had to look that up!)

And here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two librarians and their contrasting facial expressions.

So after another hour of mysterious deaths and chase scenes, etc. etc., Kelso and his Girl Friday (Zinaida, played by Ekaterina Rednikova) travel to a small town, named Archangel (aha!) to ask for Communist Party records at some kind of historical society. They meet two clerks, the first of whom (the female below, in the red sweater) is unwilling to let them pass.

It’s like an echo of his previous conversation with the Older Librarian:

Clerk (Tatjena Lukashenkova):  You need to make an appointment. [filing cards]

Kelso:  Why? Are you so busy? […]

Clerk:  Do you have permission? Then I cannot help you. Go away. Go away.

The more senior clerk (Juris Strenga as Tsarev) then comes out of his office and eventually allows them to look through records in the back room / storage closet / archives (see below). Kelso remarks, “Incredible. They haven’t thrown anything away. What are they waiting for? The second coming?” (Um, YES.)

That remark above reminds me of a similar passage in Marilyn Johnson’s This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (read my review here), in the chapter about the differences between librarians and archivists. Librarians select (and deselect, known as “weeding”) for materials that are most relevant and responsive to a community’s needs, while archivists collect in highly specific areas, sometimes just in case something will be needed. Two ends of the spectrum coming together to serve a common purpose. Johnson says it better in the book.

So even though this latter scene is not in an official library, I’m including the two clerks because they fulfill the functional role of archivists.

And it’s interesting to compare-and-contrast these two short scenes. Both library/archives scenes involve two Information Providers:  one focused on rules and restrictive (the rule-monger) and the other obliging and helpful (the rule-breaker, or rather, rule-bender). In the first scene, the rule-monger is the Older Librarian; in the second scene, the younger Clerk tries to crack that whip. And in both cases, the rule-benders prevail. Hmmm….

Both scenes are also pivotal in propelling the plot forward, as the rule-bending librarian/archivist provides a crucial bit of info. One scene is set in a massive state library, the 3rd largest library collection in the world with 40+ reading rooms, while the other takes place in a humble, small-town archives room that also serves as extra storage for chairs and flags. Again, two ends of the spectrum coming together in this film to serve a common purpose. 😉

And here are scenes from the beginning of the film, where you can view the first library scene:


2 comments on “Archangel, a study in contrasts

  1. A fantastic analysis! =D

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks Sam! I wasn’t sure how to start this post — probably explains why it took me so long to finish! — or whether or not at first to include the archives scene at the end. But once I made myself do it, the ideas started flowing, and I realized how the two scenes both contrasted and balanced each other. Sometimes you just gotta start writing! 🙂

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