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9 out of 10 people found the following review useful:

PLease find and Distribute

Author: machngunjoe from United States
14 September 2007

This is a very good documentary. However trying to find this is a bit difficult. If somehow it could be netflix'd, then people could resurrect this enchanting film about Russian prisons, specifically about Russian tattoo's and their meanings. This is interesting cause a lot of tattoos are religious and/or symbolic but in actuality these tattoos are a story of that individual, a passport to the uncharted criminal underground areas, if you will, of Russia. But more so, this is also a film about the conditions of these prisons, I believe unintentionally.

The new film Eastern Promises, due September 21st 2007 was researched by the films star Viggo Mortenson and also recommended this film for those who could find it. Amazon or Ebay is about all I come up with as far as hit. I would be nice if this could be distributed more, for it is a very good documentary by such a newcomer.

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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:

Expert documentary making from such a newcomer

Author: Jason Olshefsky (Jayce) from Rochester, NY, USA
13 November 2003

Although the primary goal of the documentary is to examine prison tattooing in Russia, it gives the subjects the opportunity to discuss the conditions in the prisons. I thought this was an expertly crafted technique: if Alix Lambert had arrived in Russia and looked to film the deplorable conditions in the prisons, she'd likely have been guided to some "show prison" where prisoners are treated kindly. By examining tattooing, she had the opportunity to see how casually accepted the poor conditions really are.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

Easily available to view online & worth watching

Author: BabyIDontCareMitchum from United States
16 February 2011

Prison life is a dreary subject and Russian prison life even more so, but The Mark of Cain is a film anyone interested in post-communist Russia should view. The documentary features many interviews with Russian prison inmates.

Director Alix Lambert examines the changes Russian prison tattoo art has undergone since the fall of communism and winds up vividly capturing both the changes in Russian prison life since the fall of communism, and the problems Russian society faces as it grapples with its communist past. I just watched it last night online at netlix and found it quite riveting. It is easily available to view online.

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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:

The Real 'Eastern Promises'

Author: jaymcbride from San Francisco
10 June 2009

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Mark of Cain documents the fading art form and "language" of Russian criminal tattoos, formerly a forbidden topic in Russia. The now vanishing practice is seen as reflecting the transition of the broader Russian society. Filmed in some of Russia's most notorious prisons, including the fabled White Swan, the interviews with prisoners, guards, and criminologists reveal the secret language of "The Zone" and "The Code of Thieves" (Vor v zakone).

The prisoners of the Stalinist Gulag, or "Zone," as it is called, developed a complex social structure (documented as early as the 1920s) that incorporated highly symbolic tattooing as a mark of rank. The existence of these inmates at prisons and forced labor camps was treated by the state as a deeply-kept secret. In the 1990s, Russia's prison population exploded, with overcrowding among the worst in the world. Some estimates suggest that in the last generation over thirty million of Russia's inmates have had tattoos even though the process is illegal inside Russian prisons.

The Mark of Cain examines every aspect of the tattooing, from the actual creation of the tattoo ink, interviews with the tattooers and soberly looks at the double-edged sword of prison tattoos. In many ways, they were needed to survive brutal Russian prisons, but mark the prisoner for life, which complicates any readmission to "normal" society they may have. Tattoos expressly identify what the convict has been convicted of, how many prisons he's been in and what kind of criminal he is. Tattoos, essentially, tell you everything you need to know about that person without ever asking. Each tattoo represents a variety of things; cupolas on churches represent the number of convictions a convict has, epaulets tattooed on shoulders represent the rank of the individual in the crime world and so on and so forth.

The unflinching look at the Russian prison system is slowly woven into the film. Cells meant to hold 15 hold 35 to 45 men. Drug-resistant TB runs rampant through the prison populations and prisoners are served three meals a day of watery slop. There are allegations of brutality by the guards. As these men deal with pestilence, violence and grossly substandard living conditions, the prison guards and administration put on a talent show.

The film served as source material for David Cronenberg's 2007 dramatic movie, Eastern Promises. He commented, "This is a very courageous documentary on the tattooing subculture in Russian prisons. I don't know how it ever got made, but it's beautiful, scary, and heartbreaking."

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

Found it!

Author: mattlodder from UK
18 October 2007

This is available on DVD from Black Diamond Films - or via Amazon (the 2006 DVD from Black Diamond, not the 2007 film starring Matthew McNulty).

From the box-blurb - "The Mark of Cain, a feature-length documentary by Alix Lambert, explores the dying art of Russian prison tattoos to offer audiences an understanding of conflict and transition in contemporary Russia. Through intimate interviews that enable the prisoners to talk about their life experiences, body art and living conditions, a powerful story emerges of tension between prisoners of different generations and different social-economic systems. The Mark of Cain documents for the first time the disappearing artistic practice of Russian prison tattoos; further, the project investigates the nature of change in Russia by examining what is happening in the country's prisons."

I heard about this film in interviews with David Kronenberg about his new movie "Eastern Promises" - apparently Vigor Mortensson found this documentary and showed it to Kronenberg during the filming, and it became a large influence. It's a nice companion to the Russian Tattoo Encyclopedia volumes by Danzig Baldayev, too.

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