The Mark of Cain (Russian – English subtitles), a feature-length documentary by Alix Lambert, is an exploration of life in The Zone, a term for the Stalinist Gulag, the Russian prison system, and chronicles the vanishing practice and language of Russian Criminal Tattoos. Filmed in some of Russia’s most notorious prisons, including the fabled White Swan, the documentary traces the animus of the flowers of this carnal art by way of the brutality of its origins – the penitentiary and the criminal environment. Through interviews with inmates, family members and prison officials, Lambert paints a grim picture. Life in any prison is tough, but the conditions recorded by Lambert are barely credible with cells so overcrowded that inmates must agree on who will stand and who will sleep. Lambert does a great job of imparting to us the importance of The Thieves Tradition of the caste system, without which arbitrary clashes would surely take a toll. From the Downcasts to the Godfather-esque Thieves-in-the-Law, inmate skins boast markings that measure a man’s provenance – a second passport stamped with crimes committed and sentences served. The quality of the artwork is surprising, considering that the tattooing must be completed covertly with nothing more than a customized electric razor.The ageing generation of inmates offers observations that are cross-cultural. They frown upon the newer generation of inmates buying, rather than earning, the ink intended draw the required respect.The Mark of Cain stamps an honour and order to an otherwise caged chaos.
See also FILMS: TATTOO (1976 — John Samson)