Monday, 6 April 2009

Pavel Lungin: Lilacs - Ветка сирени (2007)

Lilac branch (2007)

Director: Pavel Lungin
Stars: Liya Akhedzhakova, Oleg Andreyev,
Igor Chernevich

In Russia, film biographies have been anything but conventional. When turning to the “biopic,” as this popular genre of moviemaking is known today in Hollywood, Russian filmmakers have typically opted for stylization over standard narrative. As far back as 1934, Georgii and Sergei Vasil’ev’s seminal Chapaev portrayed its Civil War hero in a humorous, yet strident manner that helped establish Socialist Realism on the Soviet screen, while Eisenstein, in both Aleksandr Nevskii (1938) and Ivan the Terrible, Parts I and II (Ivan Groznyi, 1944-58), fashioned a biographical treatment of Russia’s bygone leaders in the ominous shadow of Joseph Stalin.  Several decades later and under less restrictive circumstances, AndreiTarkovskii’s Andrei Rublev (1966) offered an elliptical form of film biography, as disparate episodes with little biographical specificity constituted this epic look at the eponymous 15th-century icon painter. More recently, in His Wife’s Diary (Dnevnik ego zheny, 2000), Aleksei Uchitel’ has delved into the stormy domestic life of Russian writer Ivan Bunin and his travails as an émigré in southern France, Iurii Kara has explored the tragic years of the engineer Sergei Korolev (Korolev, 2007) or Andrei Kravchuk has turned to the life of Admiral Kolchak (Admiral, 2008), while Pavel Lungin’s Tycoon (Oligarkh, 2002) offers a loose, semi-veiled biography of powerful Russian businessman and media tycoon Boris Berezovskii. 

Lilac branch (2007)

Lungin’s Lilacs examines the life of the renowned Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Jumping back and forth between Rachmaninoff’s later years as an émigré in the United States and his youth in pre-Revolutionary Russia, Lungin utilizes narrative techniques linked to the Hollywood biopic—most notably, detailed period-piece scenes of turn-of-the-century Russia and 1920s America that dramatize recognizable events from the composer’s life—to probe Rachmaninoff’s creative malaise in the U.S. as well as his earlier rise as a Romantic composer and pianist in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Throughout Lilacs, we encounter crucial events from Rachmaninoff’s biography, including the unsuccessful debut of his first symphony, his dabbling with psychotherapy under the guidance of renowned Russian physician Nikolai Dahl, his controversial and somewhat tumultuous marriage to his cousin Natalia, and his extensive touring of the U.S. in the 1920s, as arranged by Fred Steinway of the famous piano-producing family. But not so fast! Despite the familiar events from Rachmaninoff’s life and a soundtrack replete with Rachmaninoff’s music, Lungin concludesLilacs with a startling disclaimer: “The main hero and the events of the film constitute an artistic invention and have been used only for the creation of the film. They do not represent any particular person and do not reflect events from this person’s life.”

Reviewed by Tim Harte © 2009 in KinoKultura

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