What Happened to Andres Lapeteus? An Upper-Class Homo Sovieticus Caught in the Gears of Soviet Modernity

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This article looks at What Happened to Andres Lapeteus? (Mis juhtus Andres Lapeteusega, Estonia, 1966), a film that marked the directing debut of Russian-Estonian theatre and film director Grigori Kromanov, as a cinematographic narrative that follows the development of a homo sovieticus. The concept of homo sovieticus, initially simply an ironic reference to the “New Soviet Man” promoted in the official Soviet vocabulary, was elaborated in the 1980s and 1990s by several thinkers and writers from Eastern Europe into a concept allowing for a more analytical description of the bureaucratic human type that developed under the Soviet regime. The German- American philosopher Hannah Arendt in her renowned The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) found that the juridical, the moral, and the individual in a man could most effectively be killed in concentration camps. The Russian philosopher Aleksandr Zinoviev and the Polish philosopher Józef Tischner, however, have seen the homo sovieticus syndrome as resulting from spiritual rather than physical imprisonment. Predisposed by the planned Soviet economy, which did not motivate Soviet people to make any creative, intellectual, or moral efforts, homo sovieticus soon started to represent a certain official ritualistic behaviour that maintained the symbolic legitimacy of power.

What Happened to Andres Lapeteus? tells the story of an ambitious young Estonian official during Stalinist and post-Stalinist years, but does it in a novel way for its time, tackling the popular criticism of the cult of personality in the Thaw era from the viewpoint of individual responsibility. Offering a charismatic black-and-white version of the novel The Case of Andres Lapeteus (Andres Lapeteuse juhtum, 1963) by the Estonian writer Paul Kuusberg, Kromanov’s new wave film still makes us ponder the often avoided and delicate issue of the Sovietisation of the Baltic states from the inside.

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