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‘The Admiral Tchumakov’ highlights overlooked effects of the Soviet Union’s dissolution

‘The Admiral Tchumakov’ highlights overlooked effects of the Soviet Union’s dissolution

‘The Admiral Tchumakov’ highlights overlooked effects of the Soviet Union’s dissolution
March 29
19:25 2022

“The Admiral Tchumakov” opens with a sequence that moves viewers from the open waters of Issyk-Kul Lake in Eastern Kyrgyzstan to the wreckage of a once-bustling Soviet naval port. Standing proudly near a partially sunk barge, clad in a crisp uniform, is the former commander of the port’s fleet, 84-year-old Boris Vassilievitch Chumakov.

Over the course of little more than an hour, documentarians Laurier Fourniau and Arnaud Alberola of France take the viewer into the world of the admiral, highlighting the life-altering effects of Soviet Russia’s collapse. The film, which originally premiered in 2021, was featured in Denton’s Thin Line Film and Music Festival on March 25.

From his first onscreen appearance, Chumakov seems to be the epitome of a Soviet man – quiet and serious with a no-nonsense attitude. Within the first few minutes of the film, he scoffs at swimmers using his port as a leisure spot, referring to their actions as savagery.

His guarded exterior melts away though as the documentarians guide the viewer deeper into his story.

After the USSR evaporated in the early ‘90s, the career commander was left without employment and forced to stand down as decades of his work was dismantled with the port.

Almost 30 years later, Chumakov has remained in the town of Balykchy, formerly Issyk-Kul, and survives on a small pension. His modest apartment offers a glimpse into his sentimentality toward Soviet Russia and the life he once lived. From walls adorned with yellowed pictures to a vast collection of Russian literature, his home drips with nostalgia.

The viewer soon learns that Chumakov is using his self-proclaimed “archive” to enter a contest with hopes to record the port’s history in a maritime encyclopedia.

A particularly touching scene finds the admiral shuffling through the remnants of his life. As he pours over old pictures and video footage, his deep longing for the past surfaces.

As the film continues, it becomes clear that Chumakov’s life, albeit solitary, is not lonely. He spends much of his time alone, tending to plants or roaming the grounds of the port, but he has also fostered deep connections with other townspeople.

The children of Balykchy seem drawn to Chumakov’s mysterious aura. He interacts with them often, sharing his knowledge and breaking into song to elicit laughter. It is in these interactions that Fourniau and Alberola reveal the admiral’s softer side.

Apart from the children, Chumakov enjoys companionship with former navy men who also remained in the area after the port shut down. At one point in the documentary, the group gets together for a hunting excursion during which they spend time reminiscing about their years serving the USSR.

By the end of the documentary, the viewer is left with the solemn yet beautiful portrait of a man that never quite recovered after losing his career. Chumakov’s experience is not unique as individuals in many former Soviet countries share his story.

Fourniau and Alberola used thoughtful cinematography and sound design to immerse the viewer in the admiral’s life and story. The film’s impact goes beyond simple storytelling and opens a conversation that few people outside of the affected areas consider.

Final rating: 5/5

Image source: Thin Line Fest

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Connor Patterson

Connor Patterson

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