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also known as On Russian Criminal Tattoos

The Mark of Cain2001

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  • 3.8
Sailing ships, stars, angels and executioners, THE MARK OF CAIN chronicles the vanishing practice and language of Russian criminal tattoos. Captured in some of Russia’s most notorious prisons, including the fabled White Swan, the film traces the animus of the flowers of this carnal art by way of the brutality of its origins, the penitentiary and the criminal environment. Incisive interviews with prisoners, guards, and criminologists reveal the secret language of The Zone and The Code of Thieves of the vory v zakone. As early as the 1920s, Russian prisons and Gulag began to attract the attention of researchers. The prisoners of the Stalinist Gulag, or "Zone," as it is called, developed a complex social structure that incorporated highly symbolic tattooing as a mark of rank. The very existence of these inmates at prisons and forced labor camps was treated by the state as a deep secret, and their tattoo art was considered a forbidden topic. In the last decade, Russia's prison population has exploded; overcrowding has reached unimaginable proportions. Few other nations have had such a massive prison population. The most conservative estimates suggest that in the last decades, over thirty million of Russia's inmates have had tattoos even though the process is against the law inside prison. According to 'the Book of Genesis, God placed a mark on the world's first murderer before sending him into exile. The mark of Cain proclaimed its bearer as a criminal and social outcast; for centuries, prisoners and those who broke social codes were forcibly tattooed. In Russian prisons, tattooing emerged as a visual mode of communication linked with social division. THE MARK OF CAIN tells the story of a fading art form and how that practice's death reflects transition in broader Russian society.

Member Reviews (4)

top reviewer

Great doc, just wish there was an English overdub

If you are ever feeling sorry for yourself just realize you are not incarcerated in the hell on earth of a Russian penal colony. This film is informative, depressing and sometimes funny but opens a window into a world few Westerners can imagine.

The movie was incredible, all true show’s you how is in a Russian jail, they show you tattoos not all some “very v zakone” but very sad to see how low people can go. Every tattoo signifies the time and the reason why the person is in jail, they show tattoos of women and men very informative if you like this type of knowledge…

This was pretty fascinating. Not strictly about prison tattoos, though it does spend a fair amount of time exploring them. Definitely worth watching.