Monday, 28 February 2011

Aleksei Balabanov: Castle - Замок (1994)

Aleksey Balabanov
Aleksey Balabanov, Franz Kafka (novel),
Nikolai Stotsky, Svetlana Pismichenko and Anvar Libabov

Based on the famous novel by Frantz Kafka.

Won official selections to film festivals in Montreal and Rotterdam, and two national Nika Awards.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Sergei Parajanov - Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

Sergei Parajanov
Ivan Chendej, Mikhaylo Kotsyubinsky
Stars: Ivan Mikolajchuk, Larisa Kadochnikova and Tatyana Bestayeva

One of the 20th century’s greatest masters of cinema, Sergei Parajanov in the 1960s made two masterpieces in a row: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) and Color of Pomegranates (1968). Both established him as a phenomenon with no analogy in the art world.

Parajanov was born on the January 9, 1924, in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR, to an ethnic Armenian family. His father was Iosif Parajanian and his mother was Siranush Bejanian. In 1945 Parajanov traveled to Moscow and entered the directing department at VGIK, one of the oldest and most highly respected film schools in Europe, and studied under director Igor Savchenko and later Aleksandr Dovzhenko in Kiev, Ukraine. Parajanov moved to Kiev, where after a few documentaries (Dumka (1957), Zolotye ruki (1957), Natalya Ushviy (1957)) and several narrative films (Andriesh (1954), Ukrainskaya rapsodiya (1961), Tsvetok na kamne (1962)) he created the magnificent “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”, which won countless international awards, including the British Academy Award. ...

Vitali Melnikov: The Marriage - Женитьба (1977)

Directed by : Vitali MELNIKOV
Writing credits : Vitali MELNIKOV
Based on Gogol's comedy

Vitaly Melnikov director, scriptwriter.
Born May 1, 1928 in the Amur region (the former Ostiako-Vogulsk, now Khanty-Mansiisk). Graduated from the Film Directing Department of All-State Institute for Cinematography (VGIK), 1952, workshop of Sergei Yutkevich, Mikhail Romm). Worked as a director at «Lennauchfilm» studio, in 1964 entered «Lenfilm». In 1995 became the chairman of the St. Petersburg Union of Filmmakers. Winner of national film festivals. People’s Artist of the Russian Federation (1987).

1964 Barbos Calls On Bobik
1966 Chief of Chukotka
1969 Mother Married
1970 Seven Brides of Lance-Corporal Zbruyev
1972 Hello and Goodbye
1974 Ksenia, Fyodor’s Beloved Wife
1977 Wedding
1979 Holiday in September
1981 Two Lines in Small Font
1983 The Phenomenon
1984 Another Man’s Wife and a Husband under the Bed
1985 To Marry a Captain
1987 First Encounter, Last Encounter
1990 Royal Hunting
1991 Chicha
1994 Varyony’s Last Case
1997 Czarevitch Alexei
2000 The Garden was Full of Moon
2003 Poor, Poor Pavel
2007 Propaganda Team «Hit the Enemy!»

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Leonid Gaidai: 12 chairs -12 стульев (1971)

Director: Leonid Gaidai. 
Starring: Archil Gomiashvili, Sergei Filippov, Mikhail Pugovkin, Glyceria Bogdanov-Chesnokov, Natalya Varley, Natalia Vorobiev, Nina Grebeshkova, Natalia Krachkovskii, Clara Rumyanova, George Vitsin, Nicholas Gorlov, Yuri Nikulin, Viktor Pavlov, Gotlib Roninson, Roman Filippov, Gregory Spiegel, Vladimir Etush, Igor Yasulovich, Nina Agapov, Rina Green, Irina Murzaeva, Evdokia Urusova, Ruslan Akhmetov, Edward Bredun, Pavel Vinnik, Erast Garin, S. Gedzhadze, George Georgiou, Alex Denisov, VA Dorofeev, Ivan Zhevago, Viktor Kolpakov Yuri Medvedev, Radner Muratov, N. Pajitnov, Ferapontov, Alexander Hvylya, Savely Kramarov, Rostislav Plyatt, Leonid Gaidai.

A former aristocrat Ippolit Vorobyaninov leads a miserable life in Soviet Russia. His mother-in-law reveals a secret to him - she hid family diamonds in one of the twelve chairs they once had. Vorobyaninov in cooperation with a young con artist Ostap Bender start a long search for the diamonds.

The film is based on a well known russian novel "The Twelve Chairs," by Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov.

Alexei Balabanov: Cargo 200 (2007) and Interview with Balabanov

Cargo 200, Russia, 2007
Color, 89 minutes
Director: Aleksei Balabanov
Scriptwriter: Aleksei Balabanov
Cinematography: Aleksandr Simonov
Art Director: Pavel Parkhomenko
Sound: Mikhail Nikolaev
Editing: Tat'iana Kuzmicheva
Cast: Agniia Kuznetsova, Aleksei Poluian, Leonid Gromov, Aleksei Serebriakov, Leonid Bichevin, Natal'ia Akimova, Iurii Stepanov, Mikhail Skriabin, Aleksandr Bashirov

Review by Tony Anemone© 2007 in KinoKultura

Although it may be too soon to declare Cargo 200 the best Russian film of 2007, it is hard to imagine much competition for the title of most controversial. Borrowing freely from various cinematic genres (for example, anti-war, family drama, psychological thriller) and literary classics (especially Dostoevskii's novels), Balabanov has constructed a rigorous and unsparing film about the death of the Soviet Union that is guaranteed to shock even the most jaded viewers. According to Balabanov, Soviet society circa 1984 was the poisonous wreck of an industrial civilization tottering on the verge of collapse from the sum of its political, social, and individual vices: a hopeless foreign war of choice bleeding the country dry, a terrorized and infantilized populace, rampant alcohol abuse among young and old, complete police lawlessness (bespredel), a geriatric and out of touch government, a dismal and hypocritical popular culture, an arrogant and cynical intelligentsia, a nihilistic younger generation, and the soul-crushing hopelessness of everyday life for the masses. When the best representatives of the younger generation were sacrificed to vain and doomed imperial ambitions in Afghanistan, the future was put in the hands of amoral black-marketers (fartsovshchiki), the absolutely predictable products of a soulless, cynical, and materialistic culture, who would become the business elite of post-Soviet Russia. In this way, Cargo 200 represents the continuation of the search for the origins of the post-Soviet power class that Balabanov began in Blind Man's Bluff (Zhmurki, 2005). ...


Filmmaker: At the start of Cargo 200, it says the movie is based on real events. How did you find out about these events, and how closely do you stick to the truth?

Balabanov: In 1983 I served in the army in transport aviation and we were attached to the landing force division who went to Afghanistan and came from there. I flew to Afghanistan myself. We took soldiers there and also brought dead bodies back. I lived in the barracks with a man who had a lot of war experience and he told me a lot of stories. For example that dead bodies very often disappeared and there was no real control about their transportation back home. That is how the image of the stolen dead soldier’s body came to my mind.

In 1984 when I came back from the army I started working at Sverdlovsk Film Studios as a
director’s assistant and I was assigned to the film crew of the film The Way to the Sunrise about Russia conquering Alaska. I traveled through a big part of Russia looking for locations. I met a lot of Yakut people. Germans. I lived with them, listened to their stories. There is a lot of my imagination in the film but real stories are the base of the film.

Filmmaker: How personal is this film to you? What are your recollections of that period of the 1980s influenced the film? How much did they creep into the film?

Balabanov: In 1984 it was the end of Soviet Union: Chernenko, the old sick leader died, Gorbachev came to power, new era started. The film is very personal. I wanted to tell the story which I was the witness of.

Filmmaker: What was your impetus for writing the film? Was it to counteract nostalgia for Communist era? (If so, do you feel Putin is responsible for the fond feelings of this period?)

Balabanov: I am 49 years old. I was born in the Soviet Union. There is no nostalgia for that time. And Putin has nothing to do with it. I just showed the life of people how I remember it.

Filmmaker: How easy was it for you to recreate the look of the 1980s in the film?

Balabanov: I remember the people, the events very clearly. I work with the same crew all the time, the art director, the costume designer (my wife) are very professional not young people, who also remember that time. Besides we shot the film in the province, here the atmosphere has not changed much. We did not have to build anything special, we shot in a communal apartment (home of the policeman in the film) which did not require special decoration.

Filmmaker: Your actors have a very deadpan style. Do you have particular methods to get them to act in such a way?

Balabanov: I give very exact instructions to the actors, I ask them to be very natural. I very often prefer non professionals. For example the mother of the policeman is played by a common woman who lived in the communal apartment where we shot these scenes.

Filmmaker: How do you describe Cargo 200 to people? Is it a comedy? A melodrama? A thriller?

Balabanov: I cannot define the genre of the film, I do not think you can place it in a certain genre.

Filmmaker: The film has a very dark sense of humor. Do you feel you are more able to make a point with a joke?

Balabanov: I have a sense of humor and I use it very often, but I do not think there is any humor in this film.

Filmmaker: How does the content of the film relate to contemporary Russia? Is there a lesson you hope people will take from it?

Balabanov: I did not think about the present contemporary Russia when making this film, but critics and audience saw allusions to today’s situation. It was not my intention. But films give space to interpretation, which sometimes surprise me. I am not a teacher and it is not my task to teach people any lessons.

One of my favourite films is Old People Do Not Live Here Anymore [the Russian title of No Country for Old Men] by the Coen brothers. What lesson does it teach people? Evil wins at the end and is not punished. Directors who are artists just tell stories, sometimes people make conclusions and interpret the films in their own way. Especially if films make an emotional impact on the audience.

Filmmaker: Is there are a certain group of people you were trying to reach with this film?
Do you think of yourself as an international filmmaker when you are making your movies?

Balabanov: I do not make films for myself. I make them for people and I want people to like my films. I do not make films for any group of people or only for Russians.

Filmmaker: Are audiences meant to enjoy Cargo 200? Or would you prefer that it disturbs them and gets under their skin?

Balabanov: I make shocking films and usually my films are either liked or hated. There are no indifferent viewers.

Filmmaker: How important is this film in terms of your career as a whole?

Balabanov: Each film I make is important for me, I do not do anything else beside making films. It is my life.

Filmmaker: After the huge success of Brother, you made Of Freaks and Men, which was a vastly different film. Did you feel a need to respond to that success on your own terms?

Balabanov: Of Freaks and Men was conceived and written before Brother, but it was the more expensive project so I made Brother, which cost very little ($300,000) before the producer was ready to finance Of Freaks and Men.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Alexander Dovzhenko: Arsenal - Арсенал (1929)

Arsenal (1928)

Director: Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Writer: Aleksandr Dovzhenko
Stars: Semyon Svashenko, Amvrosi Buchma and Georgi Khorkov

The film concerns an episode in the Russian Civil War in 1918 in which the Kiev Arsenal January Uprising of workers aided the besieging Bolshevik army against the Ukrainian nationalist Central Rada who held power within Kiev at the time. Regarded by film scholar Vance Kepley, Jr. as "one of the few Soviet political films which seems even to cast doubt on the morality of violent retribution", Dovzhenko's eye for wartime absurdities (for example, an attack on an empty trench) anticipates later pacifist sentiments in films by Jean Renoir and Stanley Kubrick.

Alexander Dovzhenko is one of the greatest filmmakers, though you’d never know it if all you had to go on was what you can read about him in English. The best things published about him in English are the out-of-print edition of his selected writings (edited by Marco Carynnyk) and a chapter of Gilberto Perez’s superb The Material Ghost. Otherwise, anyone who wants to explore the Ukrainian director’s work practically has to start from scratch. This you can do yourself now that a retrospective that’s been touring the US and Canada is about to reach the MFA.

Dovzhenko is, to be sure, the subject of two books by American academics. Vance Kepley Jr.’s In the Service of the State (University of Wisconsin Press, 1986) reads the director’s films as the expression and the result of impersonal political forces and social contradictions — an analysis to which, as Kepley states, cinematic style is irrelevant. Just off the press is George O. Liber’s Alexander Dovzhenko: A Life in Soviet Film (British Film Institute). This biography brings to light much information about Dovzhenko’s political activities and his rocky relationships with Stalin, Khrushchev, and the Soviet filmmaking hierarchies. But Liber, a history professor, has little to say about Dovzhenko’s films.

Such silence is symptomatic. American film criticism of the past quarter-century has witnessed two main trends. The prevalence of historicist or postmodernist approaches born and bred in university film-studies departments has yielded tepid analyses that avoid asking what it’s actually like to watch a film and why one film might provide a more complex experience than another. The second trend is the degeneracy of journalistic film reviewing, which has become almost without exception an unofficial branch of the publicity departments of film distributors or a naively and pointlessly subjectivist chronicle of individual reviewers’ likes and dislikes (actually, for reasons that would take too long to go into here, it’s both these things at once). If English-language writing on Dovzhenko gives almost no indication of why he’s worth attending to at all, he isn’t alone among film artists to suffer such neglect, though he’s one of the most notable cases of it. (Another is Kenji Mizoguchi.)

Dovzhenko’s films present a challenge to viewers and writers, a challenge that won’t be brushed off in the historicist manner by discounting their æsthetic qualities, or in the journalistic manner by paying empty tribute to their beauty. Beauty might not, however, be a bad place to start with Dovzhenko. As Barthélemy Amengual writes in his excellent (French) book on Dovzhenko: "The great films of Soviet cinema attest, for the most part, to the justice of socialism. Dovzhenko’s persuade us first of its beauty." ...

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Adolf Bergunker, Natalya Rashevskaya: Fathers and Sons - Отцы и дети (1959)

Directed by Adolf Bergunker, Natalya Rashevskaya.
With Viktor Avdyushko, Nikolai Sergeyev, Yekaterina Alexandrovskaya, Eduard Martsevich.
Based on the novel by Ivan Turgenev.

Russia Through the Prism of Soviet Comedies

To people who grew up in the Soviet Union and the safe, predictable and drab environment of the 1970s and ’80s, the Russia that emerged when communism collapsed was a complete surprise. Oligarchs, gangsters and separatists from the North Caucasus seemed to have appeared from nowhere, and over the past 20 years they have dominated the country.
What is remarkable, however, is that the three most popular Soviet films of the late 1960s and the early ’70s — comedies made during the Golden Age of the Soviet Union — dealt with those three issues. All three were viewed by millions and are still shown regularly on television. Several generations grew up repeating catchphrases from those films, even though few even realize where they came from.
“Kavkazskaya Plennitsa” (“Prisoner of the Caucasus”) is set in a North Caucasus republic — Dagestan or even Chechnya. The action hinges on a local official staging a kidnapping of a young woman. It is all fun and games, and the film gets much comic mileage out of the locals’ accents and quaint customs. But you get an eerie feeling watching this film after two decades of bloodletting in the region and devastating terrorism in European Russia.
Then there was “Brilliantovaya Ruka” (“The Diamond Arm”), another extremely popular comedy. Its ostensible subject is jewelry smuggling, and it has the look and feel of an Italian or French comedy from the same era. But it also features an underground millionaire who, not surprisingly, runs the local mafia.
Finally, the most prescient film of the bunch was “Dzhentlmeny Udachi” (“Gentlemen of Fortune”). It starred brilliant actor Yevgeny Leonov in a double role as a sweet, innocent preschool teacher who turns out to be a dead ringer for a nasty career criminal. To help them find a stolen object, the police ask the teacher to impersonate the criminal.

The Moscow Times

Sergey Bodrov: Sisters - Сестры (2001)

Directed by Sergey Bodrov Jr..
With Oksana Akinshina, Katya Gorina, Roman Ageyev, Tatyana Kolganova

Sergei Bodrov Jr first attracted attention playing a Russian soldier in the Caucasus Kavkazskii plennik (Prisoner of the Mountains, 1996), directed by his father, Sergei Bodrov Sr. Since then, his name has become closely allied to family connetions, albeit in a rather sense. Bodrov Jr is now most famous for the role of Danila in the two Brat (Brother) films by Aleksei Balabanov. And to capitalise on that success, he has now directed his first feature, which also has a sibling-based title, Sestry (Sisters, 2001).

Sveta, 13 years old and interested in rifle shooting, is less than enamoured with her step father, Alik, and his mafia connections, and lives in poverty with her grandmother rather than have a luxurious existence on the back of ill-gotten gains. Dina, her younger half-sister who has no such moral qualms, is not viewed with the same outright hostility but the relationship is nevertheless frosty. It's only when Alik's attempts to pay off debts backfire and the half-sisters are forced to go on the run together to avoid being kidnapped that a relationship starts to blossom.

After fending admirably well for themselves, the baddies start to get the upper hand. But Alik turns up at the last minute to save the day. Fearing for his life, Alik leaves for the West, and takes his family with him. Sveta, though, is unable to leave her country or her grandmother, least of all to live with a man she still despises, and the new relationship with her step-sister is cut short.

Sestry owes a great deal to Brat more than its similar title. Both films fit firmly into the gangster genre, currently very popular in Russia, and exploit concerns about lawlessness and disorder within a plot that stresses family values and love of ones country. Watching Sestry, you get the distinct impression that if Bodrov was an American citizen he'd vote Republican.

Launching his directorial career on the back of his best-known acting performance may seem somewhat desperate. Yet Sestry is actually a rather better film than both Brat installments. Bodrov's handling of his young actors is assured, and the plot is a deft balancing act of pacing—always an essential element in a crime thriller. Moreover, Bodrov's homespun philosophy on crime and the primacy of family bonds is considerably less objectionable to Balbanov's increasing tendency to nationalism, sexism and racism in exploring the same subjects. ...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg:The Return of Maxim - Возвращение Максима (1937)

Directed by Grigori Kozintsev, Leonid Trauberg.
With Boris Chirkov, Valentina Kibardina, Anatoli Kuznetsov, Aleksandr Zrazhevsky

The Return of Maxim is a 1937 Soviet film directed by Grigori Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg, the second part of trilogy about the life of a young factory worker, Maxim.

In July 1914, the Bolsheviks and Mensehviks compete for representation of the working-class in the Duma. Maksim, who just returned from exile, calls the workers to strike as a protest against the firing of six of their colleagues. The traitor Platon Dymba assaults Maksim, wounding him severely. When the strike unfolds the workers demonstrate by the thousands, the news of the outbreak of World War I suddenly arrives. Maksim gets drafted. (Wikipedia)

Kiril Serebrennikov: Yuri's Day (2008)

Directed by Kirill Serebrennikov
Featuring: Kseniya Rappoport, Yevgeniya Kuznetsova, Sergei Sosnovsky, Roman Shmakov

Yuri’s Day is a mystical drama directed by Kirill Serebrennikov ("Playing the Victim") produced after the script by Yuri Arabov, long term coauthor of Alexander Sokurov. In the film a well-known opera singer comes with his student son to the native, ancient town Yurjev-Polsky to say goodbye before their departure to Germany for a permanent residence. But during an excursion at the monastery her son mysteriously disappears. And the singer, a metropolitan creature, is compelled to stay for a long time in the small town to become closely acquainted with its inhabitants and customs and hoping that her son will be found. Ksenia Rappoport as opera diva received the Award for the Best Actress at the National Film Festival "Kinotavr" in Sochi.

The lady vanishes - Larisa Shepitko

On June 2 1979 one of cinema's greatest female directors was killed in a car crash outside Leningrad. She was 39. Her name was Larisa Shepitko, and, even if you're a film buff, the chances are you've never heard of her. Barely any of Shepitko's mesmerising films have been screened in Britain. None is available on DVD. In fact they're scarcely shown, or known, in Russia. Yet, at the time of her sudden death, Shepitko was hot property on the international film circuit: she was young for a film-maker; she was strikingly attractive; her exquisite masterpiece The Ascent had won the prestigious Golden Bear at the 1977 Berlin festival. She had all the live-fast-die-young glamour that would ensure instant icon status for far inferior artists.

So why has Shepitko's work remain buried for so long? For the answer, look no further than Lenin's declaration that "film for us, is the most important art". Shepitko did not find it easy to satisfy communism's cultural commissars.
Born in Ukraine in 1938, Shepitko was one of three children raised by her schoolteacher mother. Her father, a Persian officer, had abandoned his family through early divorce - an act that Larisa never forgave. When she enrolled in the Moscow film academy in 1955, her dramatic eyes and dark, cheekboned elegance attracted much attention. However, her sole focus was film-making, and in 1958 she studied direction at the State Institute for Cinematography (VGIK), a few years behind Andrei Tarkovsky. Her tutor was Alexander Dovzhenko, a towering figure of early Soviet cinema and contemporary of Eisenstein. His poetical imagery and passionate celebration of Ukranian folk culture were a marked influence on the young Shepitko, who called him "my mentor" and took to heart his motto: "You have to approach each film as if it were your last."

Shepitko's graduation film, Heat (1963), was an extraordinary first undertaking. A daring fusion of political drama and Western-style showdown between an idealistic high-school youth and a Stalinist farm leader, it was shot on the barren steppes in such extreme climate conditions that Shepitko fell dangerously ill. Stretchered off set, she called in another young film-maker to help complete the project; this was her fellow VGIK student Elem Klimov, whose war film Come and See (1985) Stephen Spielberg would later cite as an influence on Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan.

Elem (named from the first letters of Engels, Lenin, Marx) had previously proposed marriage to Shepitko, but, like all the others, been rejected. Now he was accepted - but only after he vowed he wouldn't try to influence Shepitko's work.

United by intelligence, introspection and a certain dash, the Klimovs, along with Tarkovsky, were at the forefront of the Russian "New Wave" that flourished under Khrushchev before the cultural clampdown of 1967-8. In 1966 Shepitko was able to create her controversial second feature, Wings, which drew a stellar performance from Maya Bulgakova as a once-famous Stalinist fighter pilot now a disenchanted provincial schoolteacher. ...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Grigori Kozintsev: King Lear - Король Лир (1971)

Король Лир (1970)

Directed by Grigori Kozintsev, Iosif Shapiro.
Starring Jüri Järvet, Elza Radzina, Galina Volchek.
Running Time - 139 minutes
Release date in the Soviet Union - February 8, 1971

Long considered one of the greatest versions of Shakespeare ever captured on film, Grigori Kozintsev's gripping version of King Lear bears out the pedigree of the artists involved - the great Russian film director Grigori Kozintsev, working with a Russian translation of King Lear by Boris Pasternak, with original music by Dmitri Shostakovich, and a cast of Baltic actors burning with intensity and humanity. The Russian film of King Lear provides numerous unforgetable scenes from the grand entrance of Lear to divide his kingdom, to the final muddy battlefield and the haunting vision of Lear cradling the dead Cordelia. Kozintsev had previously directed a stage version of King Lear in 1941 in a Russian translation by Pasternak, author of Doctor Zivago, but the Second World War erupted and Kozintsev turned to film. He made a series of propaganda films about the great Soviet revolutionary hero Maxim and then after Stalin's death returned to experimenting with classics including Don Quixote (1957). Kozintsev's film of Hamlet (1963) won the Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival and Laurence Olivier called his Hamlet the best ever. Dmitri Shostakovich's film score is indelibly linked with the action, providing musical swirls of darkness. As Kozintsev wrote, ' In Shostakovich's music I can hear a ferocious hatred of cruelty, the cult of power and the oppression of justice...a fearless goodness which has a threatening quality.' Kozintsev cast actors from the Baltic states to focus on their chiselled facial features and magnetic eyes. Having had difficulty casting the main part of King Lear, Kozintsev called in the Estonian actor who was cast as Poor Tom - Juri Jarvet. As Kozintsev recalls in his diary of the making of the film, King Lear : The Space of Tragedy, 'I was full of admiration for Jarvet's way of walking. He moved forward with a sort of clumsy ceremony, with grandiose steps...Jarvet has a sinewy, wiry body, with enormous peasant's hands. He is just like everyone else, and first among other men.' Both Jarvet and Donatas Banionis were to star in Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris the following year. Unfortunately King Lear was Kozintsev's final film. As Peter Brook wrote to Kozintsev, 'I remember in your Hamlet and in your King Lear, your searching for truths about man's condition and your wish to speak through your art about one subject only: about humanity - no more, no less.' Grigori Kozintsev's King Lear is available on DVD. ...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Grigori Alexandrov: Shining Path (1940)

Directed by Grigori Alexandrov
With Lubov Orlova, Yevgeni Samojlov, Vladimir Volodin

In a socialist Cinderella story, humble textile factory worker Tanya Morozova (Orlova) wins the highest Soviet medal, the Order of Lenin, and ascends the Party ladder.

Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker - Сталкер (1979)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovskiy.
Starring Aleksandr Kaidanovsky, Alisa Frejndlikh, Anatoli Solonitsyn.

For his innovative low-tech science fiction film Stalker (1979), Andrei Tarkovsky uses brilliant cinematic imagination to transform the ghostly-beautiful fields, streams and power plants of Tallinn, Estonia (in the then-Soviet Union) to the organic, industrial science fiction landscape of the Zone - a restricted, hazardous area rumored to contain paranormal power from the crash of a mysterious meteorite. The hard science fiction approach taken in Tarkovsky's epic Solaris (1972) is abandoned for a subtle, unaffected approach where fantastic elements are alluded to but rarely shown (much to the story's benefit) and fused to a narrative framework of "the journey," where protagonists travel to a predetermined destination in search of material or spiritual fulfillment (aka "the road trip"). Only in the hands of a genius like Tarkovsky can the simple narrative structure of three men on a journey be transformed to a complicated moral and spiritual examination of humanity, anchored to references of classical poetry, literature, music and art, filtered through the mesh of a personal life experience in a totalitarian society.

Alexander Kaidanovsky is Stalker, a man charged with guiding two men, Writer (Anatoly Solonitsin) and Professor (Nikolai Grinko), within the heavily-guarded Zone to a Room that holds the power to grant one wish (prayer?) to anyone who enters. Stalker lives in a sparse hovel with his wife (Alissa Freindlikh) and young daughter Monkey, who is unable to walk, perhaps due to a birth defect from her father's regular exposure to the Zone. Stalker's wife is painfully upset and confronts Stalker about his journey as he leaves the family bed to meet Writer and Professor. Unfazed, Stalker departs to rendezvous with the men at a bar. They board a jeep, and after carefully dodging law officers, enter the Zone by following a train through a barbed-wire passageway. Armed guards fire at them. The men escape the guards and locate a small motorized railroad trolley, which they use to travel deep into the Zone until Stalker stops them to continue on foot. The landscape of the Zone is beautiful, with lush, green fields and trees. Amongst the beauty, industrial utility lines and rusted military relics are scattered about. Stalker explains that the Zone is in constant flux and dangerous to navigate, and one can never travel the same path twice. Although the building housing the Room is visible a short distance away, Stalker will not take the direct route; rather, he travels via unexplained, mysterious, and often subterranean routes that he navigates by throwing ahead bolts tied to gauze bandages.

During the journey, Writer is talkative, often questioning society, his writing talent, and self-worth. Professor is more private, and when not arguing with Writer and Stalker, seems more concerned about the knapsack he's carrying. Neither man discloses their motive for visiting the Room. Stalker often communicates with Writer and Professor on a philosophical plane, and frequently refers to Porcupine, a stalker who hanged himself after an experience involving his brother in the Zone. After navigating through several surreal underground rooms, tunnels and caverns, Stalker delivers the men the Room's threshold, where he awaits their decisions about the Room.

Stalker is an accomplished, heady science fiction classic - one of the genre's best - but a very demanding, and sometimes inaccessible, viewing experience. On most days that's a compliment - cinema that continues to challenge the viewer and refuses to wholly disclose its mysteries is indeed a desirable but rare commodity. As populist science fiction veered towards pulp and tech in the late 1970s with films like the Star Wars trilogy (1977-1983) and Alien (1979), Stalker preserved science fiction as art, keeping alive the spirit of films like Chris Marker's La Jetée (1962), and influenced a new generation of filmmakers like Lars von Trier, who would begin his career soon thereafter with the Stalker-influenced The Element of Crime (1984).

Reviewed by Todd Harbour in

Vasili Zhuravlev: Cosmic Voyage - Космический рейс (1935)

Vasili Zhuravlev
Aleksandr Filimonov, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky (novel)
Sergei Komarov, K. Moskalenko and Vassili Gaponenko

In 1930, Mosfilm (the Moscow film studio) moved from its small premises in the old city centre to a huge territory a few miles west of the famous Garden Ring that surrounds the inner districts. Getting to the studio was hard, both literally and in terms of “getting an assignment”. In his autobiography (1), Vasilij Zhuravlev, whose film Kosmicheskij rejs (Cosmic Voyage) was one of the first to be shot in the new and vast studio buildings, remembers that in order to reach the studio one had to change buses at least three times, and then walk for some distance across a hilly area. But according to Zhuravlev, who back then was an absolute greenhorn, the obstacles were worth surmounting. Not only because the studios were of such grandiosity, but also due to the staff. Young Zhuravlev was assigned to the Second Artistic-Production Unit, then supervised by the Soviet Union’s premier film director Sergej Eisenstein, who had just arrived back from his famous trip to Mexico. The story of how the two met is just one of the many legendary tales that surround Cosmic Voyage, the first “real” Soviet science fiction film, both a (silent) symphony of interplanetary travel, and a dazzling display of creativity and scientific method. At first the maestro wanted to know about the project (Zhuravlev answered: “I want to shoot a scientific fantasy for a young audience about the flight to the moon.”). Eisenstein then moved onto particular details: “But do you actually know how far is it to Venus? To Mars?” (Zhuravlev answered: “No idea.”) Eisenstein ultimately responded to his own questions and recommended a book to Zhuravlev from the Mosfilm library about the famous British astronomer James Hopwood Jeans. Zhuravlev, eager to borrow the book the next day as he had never heard of this fellow before, was nevertheless unable to obtain it, as Eisenstein, cunningly enough, had already borrowed it himself.
For more than 50 years Cosmic Voyage was largely forgotten, but back in the 1930s it was one of the greatest film productions the Soviet Union had ever invested in. And even today, when this pearl of early Soviet sci-fi is finally enjoying a worldwide rediscovery, we cannot help but acknowledge the sheer excellence of its special effects and the technical and scientific accuracy of many of its elements. Together with Yakov Protazanov’s Aelita (1924) and Aleksandr Andrievskij’s Gibel sensacii (1935, based on Karel Capeks play R.U.R.), it builds an honourable trio of early Soviet science fiction films, and just like its real counterparts, Gagarin’s space-flight on 12 April 1961 in Vostok 1 and Armstrong’s first step on the moon on 20 July 1969, Cosmic Voyage has emerged as a fusion of cultural myth and technical reality.
Conceived as early as 1930, though shot throughout 1934 and finally released in January 1936 – four months after the death of its spiritus rector, Konstantin E. Ciolkovskij (2) – Cosmic Voyage’s production was marked by numerous, often record-breaking feats. For example, it was the first film in Soviet film history (3) for which the communication on set took place via radio and microphone. The size and scope of the production are also indicated by the following: the 1000 m² of space required for the film’s many sets (e.g. “on earth”, “in the cosmos”, “on the moon”); the 11.000 ampere used to illuminate “a bright sunny day”; the 105 lighting appliances and 14 one-meter-diameter-projectors with parabolic mirrors deployed to create a “reality like appearance”; the thousands of electric bulbs on black velvet used to suggest “the cosmos”; and the several scale models built to animate the spaceship, “CCCP 1 – Iosef Stalin”, in which a Soviet team of cosmonauts (the film calls them “astronauts”) accomplishes the first trip to (and landing upon) the moon.
Compared to the complexity and technical proficiency of its production unit, which included numerous scientific advisors – above all Ciolkovskij (1857-1935), Russia’s “world class scientist […] the father of all practical attempts at space travel, the greatest single name in the history of rocketry” (4) – the film’s story, set in the near future and written by the director and Aleksandr Filimonov, and loosely based on Ciolkovskij’s science fiction novel Vne zemli (Extraterrestrial), unfolds relatively straightforwardly.
In 1946, after years of perfecting the construction of the first space rocket for the K.E. Ciolkovskij-All-Union-Institute of Interplanetary Communication (V.I.M.S.), a famous Soviet astrophysicist, Professor Pavel Ivanovich Sedykh (a former Red-army cavalier), is determined to fly to the moon. His more rational colleague and director of the experimental section of the institute they work for, Professor Karin, is shocked by this decision and wants to stop the “crazy old man”, especially since a rabbit previously sent out into the cosmos suffered a severe heart attack. He also argues that as long as a second test spaceship, with a cat on board, was not sending back any signals, it would be unsafe to fly. But, as one contemporary critic put it, nothing can stop Sedykh from completing the first “victory of socialist engineering over the secret, covert cosmic space” (5).
The voyage is staged as a dream come true for the whole of the Soviet Union and the rather obscure little model of Stalin’s big family that the spaceship’s crew represents: the grey nutty professor (his wife, fervently packing his suitcase, throws in tons of books and his valenki-felt boots); the blonde, gutsy and intelligent Marina, Karin’s assistant; and little Andryusha, the first “interplanetary fare dodger” (6), a young pioneer and hobby inventor (whose telescopic catapult will eventually save someone’s life on the moon). The trip is adventurous and, at the same time, a scientific and fictitious class in space travel. The astronauts bathe in tubs filled with a special solution in order to protect themselves from the engine’s backfire, and when they finally become weightless, they dance a dance of joy in one of the film’s most outstanding moments (not only because of the artistry of its staging – for the first time huge cranes were used to lift the bodies – but also because of a certain kind of liveliness captured in the scene which is so rare in the Stalinist cinema of the 1930s). The crew has to overcome several obstacles in space (the lack of oxygen, the loss of a radio, the crash into one of the moon’s craters because its surface proves to be so brittle), before eventually returning safely home to earth, with the cat in a basket. Saluted by millions of their fellow Soviet citizens, and a city skyline defined by the icon of socialist architecture, the “Palace of Soviets” (which, never built in reality, had been the architectural project of the early 30s), the three are celebrated as heroes who have opened the “the road to the cosmos”.
What fascinates even hardcore sci-fi freaks of today, however, is neither the plot, the actors, the pretty weird classical-symphonic soundtrack that moves smoothly over the sometimes rather static mise en scène, nor the film’s hilarious dialogue intertitles, but the ultimate accuracy with which the experimental laboratory, the huge hangar, the spaceship, its engines, its interior, the illuminators, the moon’s surface, the spacesuits, the heavy weighted boots, and all other technical details were rendered and predicted by the movie, creating an atmosphere full of utopian enthusiasm and Edisonian inventiveness (rather than an excess load of hard-core communist ideology). Thirty years later, Soviet cosmonauts who saw the film were mesmerised by the sense of realism of its weightlessness scenes. Not one review of Cosmic Voyage forgot to mention that both these characteristics, the exactness and the utopian potential, were due to Konstantin Ciolkovskij’s contribution to the film.
In his account of the making of the film, Zhuravlev commented on this cooperation in great length, somewhat awestruck by the surprisingly patient and persevering way in which the great old man not only went through all the drafts of the script but also delivered his own famous spaceship sketches and models as well as mathematical formulas (7). For Ciolkovskij, who had been dreaming about space travel all his life, “the film by the talented young Mosfilm director V.N. Zhuravlev” (8), was a last chance to prove to the world that fiction, fantasy and exact knowledge fuse when it comes to the higher mission of paving humankind’s way to the cosmos.
by Barbara Wurm
Barbara Wurm is currently writing her PhD on Early Soviet Non-Fiction Film. She teaches at the Humboldt-University, Berlin, works as a programmer and film critic, and recently co-edited a book on Dziga Vertov.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Alexander Sokurov: Russian Ark - Русский ковчег (2002) Full film with English subtitiles

Russian Ark (2003)

The State Hermitage Museum, Hermitage Bridge Studio, Egoli Tossell Film AG production, Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, Fora–Film M, Celluloid Dreams
Written by Anatoly Nikiforov, Alexander Sokurov
Dialogues: Boris Khaimsky, Alexander Sokurov, Svetlana Proskurina
Director of Photography: Tilman Büttner
Visual concept and principal image design: Alexander Sokurov
Sound Producers: Sergey Moshkov, Vladimir Persov
Art Directors: Yelena Zhukova, Natalia Kochergina
Costume Designers: Lidiya Kryukova, Tamara Seferyan, Maria Grishanova
Department Head Make-up Artists: Zhanna Rodionova, Lyudmila Kozinets
Digital Imaging of the Picture: Sergey Ivanov
Composer: Sergey Yevtushenko
Music by M. Glinka, P. Chaikovsky, G. Persella, G. Teleman.
Cast: Sergei Dreiden, Maria Kuznetsova, Mikhail Piotrovsky, David Giorgobiani, Alexander Chaban, Lev Yeliseyev, Oleg Khmelnitsky, Alla Osipenko, Leonid Mozgovoy, Artem Strelnikov, Tamara Kurenkova, Maxim Sergeyev, Natalia Nikulenko, Yelena Rufanova, Yelena Spiridonova, Konstantin Anisimov, Alexey Barabash, Ilya Shakunov.

Interview with Alexander Sokurov

When did you get the idea of making a one-shot film?

Cinema art has developed as the art of montage – which is, actually, the art of cutting, the art of a knife. However, many filmmakers were seeking the continuity of image, for instance, Alexander Dovzhenko. In my opinion, his experience had an influence on Andrey Tarkovsky. About 15 years ago I was thinking over every detail of a film, which could be a one-shot. But there were no technical possibilities allowing me to make a quality work at that time. Digital camera has given me such a chance. Still, continued shot is only a medium – not the aim, nor the artistic task.

So – it was the idea first, and then – the technical means…


Then what is the artistic task? Perhaps you see it as a reconstruction of the stages of Russian history unified in a one-shot film?

Those are just emotional impressions of my own: reflections of a man, brought up on certain cultural traditions, – reflections on Time, on historical characters. And this is undoubtedly the system of feelings and ideas of a contemporary citizen of my Native Land.

I was curious to know how it was to live inside a work of art – in the Hermitage-museum, an architectural monument, as well as in the Hermitage–the historical residency of the Russian State. Have a try to live inside a piece of jewellery – in a Faberge Easter egg!

How could one manipulate with time here, how could one make it fit to one's own standard?

I see Time in its entirety – the present continuous tense. I have to be inside it, I have to be as integral as this artistic space, as this multiplex yet indivisible architectural ensemble. No close-ups – just one single panorama.

Have you acquired anything new for yourself, for cinema practice as a whole, while working on this project?

I am not able to make revolutions (the more so, as this is not in my nature). I definitely prefer evolution. Besides, how can we talk about innovations in the context of art? What is new, for instance, in the paintings of Kandinsky or Malevich in comparison to the art of Ancient Egypt, or in the works of impressionists, Cezanne compared to Rembrandt?

To my mind, all the definitions of an innovation are nothing but corporate conventionality of art critics. Art is created – actually it was created long ago.

However, every artist chooses his own way to his own target. I personally do not have a right for pure experiment: I am not a millionaire. I make my films with the money either of the state or those people, who trust me. Russian Ark is an absolutely academic work of art. It was well-thought-out and planned a long time ago, but has been brought to life in extremely hard conditions. Therefore we are far from having accomplished everything that was planned.

What did you have to sacrifice and why?

First of all, we had a problem with the image. The cameraman with whom I collaborated on this film had been suggested (due to various circumstances, first of all economical) by the German co-producers, and for me this was a chance encounter. For him, I suspect, I was also an alien problem as a director. The artistic tasks I was giving him were too unusual for him. Tilman Buttner is a strong and hardy man. He was diligently preparing himself for physical work, which was hard indeed: he had to carry on his waist more than 30 kilos. But the spiritual side of this film – the most significant for its artistic result – was not really his field. Perhaps, if we had been shooting the Olympic Games, he would have been in the right place. But we had our complicated artistic aims, and, first and foremost, we were striving to reproduce the architectural volume on the screen. And he remained a steady-cam operator. Generally I think that the practice of photography is dramatically far behind the artistic aims of cinematography. In any case, even having spent an enormous amount of funds and time on the processing of the image, we managed to accomplish only a third of the planned artistic tasks.

As a principal mistake I regard the decision to re-record the soundtrack in Germany. There were no technical reasons for doing that, for we could have done it much better in Russia, at Lenfilm studio with its new perfectly equipped sound stage. But that was a political decision of the German producers, resulting in certain compromises of artistic nature.

Lack of funds has lead to the inevitability of frequent alterations in the script. There were 4000 characters in my initial plan, later we had to reduce this number by half. In the end, as a result of economical difficulties and for safety reasons, only 1000 people played in the film. If it had not been for the State Hermitage, its Director Mikhail Piotrovsky and their deep belief in us, for the support of state cinema organizations and individuals in Russia, for the considerable contribution of the German partners, we would not have made this film.

The 23rd of December 2001 or rather those several hours of that day when, after a number of trials, the shooting was made, are considered the film's date of birth. But, perhaps, this is not quite true…

This is not at all true. The movie was not shot on the 23rd of December. On that day only the canvas was grounded or, you may say, the breath was taken. Shooting with a camera, however important it might be, is not the chief thing for me. Creation of the image includes certain work with optics, with light. Then we worked on the colour with the help of electronics – the most up-to-date computers. Note that we did not touch the film with scissors. The eventual image is in fact a canvas on which the filmmaker has accomplished his composition by means of colour and light. The sound, soundtrack – gives a new volume to breathing. The work of cinema art is not being shot – it is being composed.

(Interview by Alexandra Tuchinskaya. )

Full film with English subtitles


Friday, 18 February 2011

Sergei Bondarchuk: They Fought for the Motherland (1975)

Sergei Bondarchuk
Sergei Bondarchuk, Mikhail Sholokhov
Vasili Shukshin, Vyacheslav Tikhonov and Sergei Bondarchuk

Fyodor Bondarchuk"s "Battle of Stalingrad" - fashionable format or family tradition?

Fyodor Bondarchuk is to make a film about the Battle of Stalingrad in the 3D format. It is sensational news, as no one has used this format yet to make a film based on real historical events. Now the information in detail with the film director’s comments.

“The film has really been launched, - Fyodor Bondarchuk told “The Voice of Russia”. It is planned to be shown in 2012, the year of the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Stalingrad, the key battle in the course of the Second World War. The battle lasted for 220 days and nights, from July 1942 to January 1943. The soldiers fought for each square metre of land, for each building and even each floor of the buildings in the city of Stalingrad, now Volgograd, and its environs.

The defeat of the Nazi troops became the turning point in the war, the first step to the liberation of the Soviet Union and the whole world from Nazi oppression. In the cinema of the 20th century this historic battle has been shown more than once. The first film was the Soviet documentary of 1945 “The Great Turn”, awarded the Grand-Prix at the First International Film Festival in Cannes.

Fyodor Bondarchuk says: “I have always dreamed about making a film about the Second World War. The Battle of Stalingrad is a phenomenal story of resistance”.

“It was the starting point of the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. A lot of legends are associated with this battle because the human mind fails to comprehend how it was possible to go through such a battle. When new times came, I felt an urge to say something of my own on the subject. My film is a war drama against the background of important historical events. There are 7 large roles in it, it is a 100% work for actors," Fyodor Bondarchuk continues.

Why the 3D format? What’s the point, as far as this story is concerned?

“We have not confirmed 3D yet. We are thinking about it, there is no precedent in the world cinema so far. There are 3 or 4 films that have become a success with spectators and all of them are science fiction, fantasy or some other kind of entertainment. No one has made a war drama in 3D. Whether we will be the first ones to do so, the pioneers, or whether our screenplay does not lend itself for this experiment, remains to be seen,” says Fyodor Bondarchuk. ...

Voice of Russia

Sergei Gerasimov:The Youth of Peter the Great - Юность Петра (1980)

Director: Gerasimov Sergej
Actors: Zolotukhin Dmitrij, Filippov Roman, Beljavskij Aleksandr, Glebov Petr, Bondarchuk Natalja, Khmelnitskij Boris, Zimin Mikhail, Odinokov Fedor, Strizhenov Oleg, Nozhkin Mikhail, Eremenko Nikolaj, Spiridonov Vadim, Moroz Jurij,


Andrey Zvyagintsev: The Banishment - Изгнание (2007)

Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev.
Starring Maria Bonnevie, Aleksandr Baluev, Konstantin Lavronenko

When 39-year-old Andrey Zvyagintsev arrived in Venice for the Festival in August 2003 he was almost completely unknown even in his native Russia. But the three half-hour films he had directed for the REN-TV series The Black Room in 2001 had so impressed Dmitry Lesnevsky, the series producer and general director of REN-TV, that Lesnevsky had encouraged him to make his first feature, The Return (2003), the film he was now bringing to Venice.

A week later this dark, enigmatic film had won not only the prize for best debut feature, but also the Golden Lion itself, eclipsing the achievement of Zvyagintsev's great Russian namesake, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose first feature Ivan's Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo) had shared the Golden Lion in 1962. Despitea Russian tendency to look askance at artists whose fame is first achieved abroad, The Return later won the two main Russian film prizes for 2003, the Nike and the Golden Eagle. In 2004 the film was distributed around the world gathering praise and prizes inequal measure.

Naturally there was great interest in what Zvyagintsev would do next but he made his admirers wait. The Banishment,an adaptation of The Laughing Matter, a little-known 1953 novella by the Armenian-American writer William Saroyan, did not surface until the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. The film's length and stately pace divided critics and the film won 'only' the Best Actor Prize for Konstantin Lavronenko who was cast, as he was in The Return, as a troubled hero. It has taken over a year for the film to get a British release.

BFI Sight & Sound Film of the Month

Andrei Zvyagintsev interview. The Russian director talks to Rebecca Davies about his second film, The Banishment

The Passion According to Andrei: An Unpublished Interview with Andrei Tarkovsky

The following interview with Andrei Tarkovsky was conducted by Aleksandr Lipkov on February 1, 1967. It originally appeared in Literaturnoe obozrenie 1988: 74–80 (see the first page in Russian here). It is published here for the first time in English. Translation copyright by Robert Bird (University of Chicago, Slavic Languages and Literatures).
When I am asked: "How did you approach the historical theme in your film; what were your ideas of a historical film; what conception of history did you profess?" I become uncomfortable. I don't want to divide cinema up into genres for it has so merged with viewer experience that, like this experience, it cannot be fragmented. The meaning of cinema and its colossal popularity is based on the fact that the viewer approaches it in search of his own un-accumulated experience, so to speak. I am not speaking of inexperience in life, but of the fact that our age offers one such a large amount of information and people are so busy that they do not have time sometimes even to find out what is surrounding them on a day-to-day basis. Cinema's task is to substitute for this lacking experience. It stands before the very serious and profound task of speaking truthfully and sincerely, never deceiving the viewer. And if this viewer goes to see even wholly commercial films, this doesn't mean that he likes them. Perhaps he doesn't even know himself what draws him to the cinema. I think that he is drawn by the need for knowledge, the desire to hear questions that arise for his contemporaries, and the aspiration to participate in the solving of problems which he has no time for in life.
As far as our film is concerned, as contemporary artist we naturally made the film about issues that relate to us as well.

I don't know a single artist, regardless of whether he paints canvasses or makes films, writes poetry or casts sculpture, who would aspire only to restore the past and remain within the limits of historiography. Take Shakespeare, Pushkin, or Tolstoy. All of them were concerned with wholly contemporary issues when they wrote about Julius Caesar, Boris Godunov, or the war of 1812. The same goes for us. Of course we collected material, read sources and historical and historiographical works, based ourselves on chronicles, on the studies of art historians dedicated to Rublev and his contemporaries, and on everything that we could read about the epoch. And yet we were concerned with other issues.

The first is the role of the artist in society. We wanted the viewer to leave the film with the idea that the artist is society's conscience as its most sensitive organ who is most perceptive to what occurs around it. A great artist is able to make masterpieces because he is capable of seeing others clearer and to perceive the world with joy or exaggerated pain. For us Rublev was such an artist.

One might think that the scope of his art and its influence on those around him were quite limited. One might think that, living in the time he was fated to live in, he could see nothing but tragedy. This was a tough and blood-drenched epoch for Rus, which had not yet coalesced as a nation and was gripped by internecine conflict and suffered annual raids by the Tatars. One might think that Rublev had nothing to lean on in his environment in order to create any radiant images. And yet he did not carry the terrifying images of his time over onto his boards. As if in protest, in opposition to what surrounded him and to the reigning political atmosphere in Rus, in literally all of his works this artist bore forth the idea of brotherhood, cooperation, and mutual love. He incarnates the ethical ideal of his time.

I know no great work of art in all of world culture that would not be linked to an ethical ideal, that is based on some other motives such as on the dark aspects of life. There some talented works of such a nature, but no masterpieces.

Q: What about Picasso's Guernica?

A: I will address that. An artist's oeuvre is always composed of various works, especially for such a tireless seeker as Picasso, who has painted hundreds or even thousands of sheets and pages. He never stops at what he has achieved, although he has always spoken of the same things. Compare him to Tolstoy, let's say, with his most profound work War and Peace: here you will see on one hand a furious protest against everything dark in life, and on the other hand an affirmation of joy, love for man, faith in him and in the power of his soul, in the ability of his reason to work out the most complex problems, and a readiness to stand firm in the face of severe examination. This is only natural. Life is varied, it is composed of contrasting planes, and by focusing on only one of them an artist will illuminate it one-sidedly, failing to give his word, the screen or the painted canvas a complete image of the world and to comprehend the true profundity of phenomena.

Take for example Raphael's Sistine Madonna. She is beautiful and humane precisely because of the tragic plot that lies at her base. A plot that is commonly known and is taken from the Gospels: Mary must sacrifice her son to people. But the artist humanized the Mother of God; although from the religious point of view she was not even a person, in a certain sense, he depicts her precisely as a person. The power of the work's effect is due to the fact that Mary is afraid and suffers in the face of events which await her son. She knows that everything is foreordained, that the infant was born for torments, and that she is obliged to give him up, but on her face one reads not only fear but also a question for people and hope that what is foreordained will not occur. This precise balance between preordination and hope is what creates that deeply human image, which is turned towards us and raises the work to the height of a masterpiece.

One may cite a multitude of other examples. All of Chaplin is based on the tragic content of plots in which a small and cowed man, abused by the capitalist city, tries in some way to preserve himself and to oppose to the oppressive circumstances: his individuality, some kind of craftiness, or complexity of character. In a word, the essence of Chaplin's character, borne by the artist through numerous pictures, is the combination of a profoundly tragic content and comic form, which is disarmingly humane, full of love for people, goodness, and sympathy. ...

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Yefim Dzigan: We Are From Kronstadt - Мы из Кронштадта (1936)

We from Kronstadt (1936)

Directed by Yefim Dzigan
Music by Nikolai Kryukov
Featuring Vasili Zaichikov, Grigori Bushuyev, and N. Ivakin.

"We Are From Kronstadt" is its title and it contains some of the most impressive photography and the boldest direction the screen has provided this year. "Chapayev" celebrated the heroism of the Red Army in the historic days of the October (1919) revolution. "We Are From Kronstadt" is dedicated, with comparable magnificence, to the Red seamen who helped to defend the road to Petrograd against the White Guards commanded by General Yudenitch.

You may carp at the Russian film-makers' reiteration of their thematic paen of triumph and, after periodic doses of "Peasants," "Three Women" and the others, you may wonder if they ever are going to cease glorifying the various branches of revolutionary service or, like the Warners, simply move from West Point and Annapolis to Quantico and Langley Field. But however much you may question the parroting of the lesson, you cannot deny the virility of their treatment or the visual effectiveness with which their directors, camera men and actors preach the majesty of Soviet history.

"We Are From Kronstadt" is an October revolution in itself, being a further step in the Soviet cinema's progression from mass to individual action. Its hero, a sailor in the fleet stationed at Kronstadt, the Baltic Sea base, is the protagonist of all the Russian seamen whose interest in the Communist rebellion, at first lagging, is fanned to flame by the word and example of the veteran commissar who has come to the naval base to recruit his Petrograd defense corps.

It is not until after his comrades are driven by the White soldiers to the top of a cliff and forced to jump into the sea, with their hands tied behind their backs and rocks strapped to their chests, that the sailor awakens to his party responsibility. Thence forward, through gripping scenes of battle, with the outnumbered Red forces holding their ground against the seemingly endless waves of marching counter-revolutionaries, the sailor is an avenging angel of destruction. The smashing climax is written when he leads the Kronstadt marines into battle and forces the Whites inexorably off the same sea cliff and, glaring defiantly after them, growls "And who else wants Petrograd?"

The phrase had an ominous sound, but the preview audience which cheered the picture Thursday night accepted its militarist implications with complete enthusiasm and probably were remembering it yesterday when they met for tea in Union Square. Still, the picture is not all blood and thunder, and there are some human and practical comedy bits woven into it which brighten its fabric amazingly. That, for example, when the captured White soldier alternately hides and pins on his insignia as the tide of battle turns from Red to White; and that when the sailor and his foe, the Red soldier, unwittingly sleep side by side and struggle subconsciously for the pillow. All told, the Cameo's new picture comes pretty close to being the best thing the Soviet Studios have made. Super-imposed English titles cover the Russian dialogue effectively. ...

We Are From Kronstadt (Amkino). The hallmark of most Russian films is their incongruous blend of loose amateurism and disciplined genius. In We Are From Kronstadt, Cameraman N. Naumov-Straj turns in a magnificent feat of cinematography when he articulates the progress of this remarkable revolutionary battle piece. Taking advantage of the dank Baltic gloom around the Kronstadt Naval Base to begin his film in low key, he dramatically heightens it until the climax is reached with the great attack and rout of the White Army on the bleached, glaring tundras north of Petrograd. At the same time, We Are From Kronstadt is periodi cally botched by overexposures, uncommunicative acting sequences, sagging pace.

In Russian cinematography, however, even shortcomings have merit, since they somehow manage to produce a sort of spontaneous, newsreel authenticity. Never before approximated for sheer credibility is Director E. Dzigan's uncanny recreation of a minor infantry rush, which supplies the picture's climax about an hour before it is due. The men flop at the first signs of fire, try to scratch up a few handfuls of earth to hide behind, stare at each other to see who will have nerve enough to follow the commander forward, stumble to their feet, start to run and, the lust and excitement of combat suddenly on them, break into that wild monotone which, in civil life, is heard only in the frenzy of a prison riot.

Historical fabric of We Are From Kronstadt is woven from the unsuccessful opera tions of White General Yudenich around Petrograd in the embattled autumn of 1919, when the sailors from Kronstadt in time's nick reinforced workers' battalions and Red Army detachments defending the old capital. That the workers and Army men were compelled to turn around two years later and butcher the fickle and truculent Kronstadt sailors for counter revolution is obviously a sequel which this Bolshevist propaganda film chooses to leave unpictured. In We Are From Kron stadt, the sailors are determinedly glorified as immortal heroes of the working class. This reverent attitude and the genuine historical excitement of the film leave little time for cinematic frivolity. Nevertheless, familiar to U. S. followers of the cinematic hostility between cocky James Cagney and dogged Pat O'Brien is the antipathy which the sailor Balashov (G. Bushuyev) holds for the soldier Burmistrov, originating, as is always the case with Cagney v. O'Brien, over the disputed favors of a lady. Only strictly Soviet contribution to this aged Hollywood situation is the prim Communist conclusion in which it is revealed that the girl is beyond the reach of both sailor and soldier, being the heroic wife of a heroic commissar. This curious asceticism need not mar a picture which has probably not been matched for photography since The Informer, has certainly not been equaled for military realism since Chapayev.
From Time, Monday, May. 11, 1936

Vsevolod Pudovkin - Storm over Asia - Потомок Чингиз-Хана- (1928)

Directed by Vsevolod Pudovkin.
Written by Osip Brik, based on a story by Ivan Novokshonov.
With Valery Inkijinoff.

Review by Chris Fujiwara here.

And also here. And here.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Georgi Daneliya: Kin-Dza-Dza - Кин-Дза-Дза (1986)

Director:Georgi Daneliya
Actors: Stanislav Lyubshin, Evgeni Leonov, Yuriy Yakovlev

All the works by Georgi Daneliya are truly “films of actors”. From his very first films he gathered acinematographic troupe of actors who most fully corresponded to his understanding of what a good film is. These were brilliant actors, such as Yevgeni Leonov, Vakhtang Kikabidze, Leonid Kuravlyov, Frunzik Mkrtchyan, and later Oleg Basilashvili, Natalya Gundareva, Marina Neyolova, Galina Volchek, Valentina Talyzina, Yuri Yakovlev, Stanislav Lyubshin, etc...

The illustrious Russian actor Yevgeni Leonov once said: “Daneliya is a gifted and original artist, always different and unexpected even for those who know him well. Secondly, he is just a kind person and his films are kind. Into each of them he puts a piece of kindness, a piece of his heart, a piece of his love to people…”

Georgi Nikolaevich Daneliya was born on August 25, 1930 in Tbilisi. He spent his childhood in Moscow, in Ulansky Lane, where the family moved to in 1931. In 1954 he graduated from Moscow Architectural Institute and worked as an architect in 1955.

In 1956 Georgi Daneliya entered the Higher Director’s Courses at the Mosfilm Studio where his teachers were Mikhail Romm, Sergei Yutkevich, Leonid Trauberg, Yuli Raizman, and Mikhail Kalatozov... While studying he shot two short-length films: Vasisuali Lohankin (1958) (jointly with Sh. Abbasov) and Tozhe lyudi (Also people (1959), screening an episode from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. ...

Monday, 14 February 2011

Kira Muratova: Two in One - Два в одном (2007)

Directed by : Kira MURATOVA (Кира МУРАТОВА)
Writing credits : Yevgeni GOLUBENKO (Евгений ГОЛУБЕНКО), Renata LITVINOVA (Рената ЛИТВИНОВА)

Aleksandr BASHIROV (Александр БАШИРОВ)
Natalia BUZKO (Наталья БУЗЬКО)
Bogdan STUPKA (Богдан СТУПКА)

Like Three Stories (1997), Chekhov’s Motives (2002) and to a lesser extent The Asthenic Syndrome (1989) before it, Kira Muratova’s latest film is shorn—if such a word can be used for a fairly clever, integrated transition—into separate stories. The first takes place as a theatre company is preparing the stage for the night’s performance, the only problem being a member of the crew has hung himself before the day began. Nevertheless the show must go on! And so the preparations continue as the crew bustle about and seem to get into the same squabbles, arguments, monologues, and prickly confrontations they always do—except this time neatly stepping over the corpse while all wait for the absent police to arrive and the eccentric, if not idiotic stagehand who discovered the body (and tried to steal a ring from the corpse) wrings his hands over his tampering with the evidence. The second story begins with the theatre’s production of the night’s play, first cutting back and forth between the stage setting (with a tuxedoed narrator) and a cinematic one, before eventually telling the majority of the story away from the stage. The play concerns an impotent older man (Bogdan Stupka) who is supposed to be a lady killer (though he doesn’t look it) and his loneliness spent acquiring replicas of famous nude paintings, moaning over beautiful women passing underneath his window, and pining over his daughter, who seems to be a teenager but is played by an adult. Lecherously pestered by her father, the daughter brings back to the house a girlfriend (who likewise acts and is dressed as a teen but is played by the writer of this scenario, Renata Litvinova), who the father oddly declares via the subtitle that she is “the girl of a dream” and starts pouring champagne into her so as to finally satisfy himself sexually.

Two one (2006)

Dialing back the narrative convolutions and distinct character despair of her previous film The Tuner, Muratova has produced an odd diptych, one that embraces the grandeur of the theatrical setting to portray the ambivalence to death in the workplace (and artistic and representational space) as much as it restricts the setting of its second story to the mansion of the father so as to heighten the absurdity of his irrational solitude and erotic fixations. In the first half, the camera performs serpentine, unreal gymnastics to not only track the stagehands as they climb ladders and navigate the layered stage setting (as well as avoid the body), but also to draw circles around the corpse, in one gloriously elegant and spatially fantastic movement following the gentle trajectory of the body being lowered to the stage, bilious layers of the stage background piling over the corpse. There are neither full characters nor a real plot—even if the story wryly ends in a murder just as it started in a suicide—and the swirling preparations of the crew, acting almost as if the death never happened, become the forefront of the story as everyone continues to work and squabble as the occurrence were normal, murder and suicide being a part of the theatrical assembly as much as construction of the set. The ignorance of death reverses itself to be a fixation on sex in the second half, as the chamber drama is entrenched in an intensive kind of languidness, everyone stuck in a noncommittal sexual limbo, from the father’s impotent dance around his women (real and painted) to both the women’s bizarre girlhood. A tragedy seems in the making, a murder, a rape, or incest—anything seems possible, and the story hilariously fizzles out as if everything that was at stake was just a late-night New Year’s joke.

Each story, as well as their combination into Two in One is hard to make sense of, as neither segment stands alone, the first acting like a long-running conceptual joke rather than any kind of Altman-style social whirligig, and the second like a good play overextended and stripped of several necessary characters. The combination of the stories just seems too arbitrary, except for the notable fact that the death, construction, and arguments of “Stagehands” segues directly into the stifled, grotesque, ineffective farce that is “Women of a Lifetime”. The former begs for the extravagant characters and story arc of the latter, and the final story is in dire need of the fullness of life of the theatre, its dynamism of the people and the camera, even if all they end up doing is leading to death. Admittedly, one half cannot exist without the other, and perhaps that’s the point; the subterranean, backstage machinations of the working-class crew—all as regular, banal, and murderous as always—are necessary to produce the inanity of the bourgeois sexual, absurd drama.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Alexander Dovzhenko: Zvenigora/Arsenal

Alexander Dovzhenko (1894-1956), a Ukrainian of peasant stock, first became a schoolteacher and then, after joining the Communist party, turned to diplomacy, working at the Soviet embassies in Poland and Germany. He then became a newspaper cartoonist back in the Ukraine before finding his metier as a film-maker and becoming the most acclaimed poet of the Russian silent cinema. His most celebrated movie, Earth (released by Mr Bongo last year), is a tough, lyrical, unsentimental evocation of rural life, which provoked Soviet censors through its alleged pessimism. Earth completed an informal trilogy of silent classics about Ukraine that began with Zvenigora and continued with Arsenal.

Merging fantasy and realism, Zvenigora uses the rambling story of a search for a lost treasure to journey through Ukraine's distant past and revolutionary present. Arsenal, Dovzhenko's most complex, avant-garde work, is as revolutionary in its politics as in its style. It's a dense, symbol-laden account of the last days of the first world war on the eastern front followed by the civil war in the Ukraine. This ambitious film has evoked comparisons with Picasso's Guernica for its angry, compassionate, complex depiction of war and is full of unforgettable images such as the gassed German soldier and the portrait of a celebrated poet coming to life and blowing out the candle placed beneath it. It is best seen after a little reading about the historical background and Dovzhenko's aims and aesthetic.
The Observer

Fragment from Dovzhenko's film "Zvenigora" (1928)

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Sergei Eisenstein: Alexander Nevsky - Александр Невский (1938) - Full film with English subtitles.

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

Directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein, Dmitri Vasilyev.
Starring Nikolai Cherkasov, Nikolai Okhlopkov, Andrei Abrikosov.
Musical score by Sergei Prokofiev.
Awards: Order of Lenin award, Soviet Union, 1939.

Essay by J. Hoberman
Released in late 1938, Alexander Nevsky was not only the first sound film to be directed by Sergei Eisenstein, but the director’s political comeback as well. This most famous of Soviet artists had not completed a movie since The Old and the New in 1929. A fruitless trip to Hollywood had weakened his position in the increasingly regimented Soviet Union; he suffered first the debacle of Que Viva Mexico! and then the disaster of the unfinished Bezhin Meadow.

Nikolai Cherkasov as Alexander Nevsky 

In the spring of 1937, the Soviet film tsar Boris Shumyatsky gave Eisenstein a choice of several historical subjects, including the 13th-century warrior-saint Alexander Nevsky and his victory over the German knights of the Teutonic Order. Eisenstein chose Nevsky because relatively little was known about him—hence, the filmmaker reasoned, he would work under fewer constraints. Eisenstein told his colleague Mikhail Romm that he would find an actor and cast him and “the whole world will soon believe that the real Nevsky was just like my actor.” Indeed, painter Pavel Korin’s 1942–43 triptych Alexander Nevsky is clearly modeled on the actor Nikolai Cherkasov—whose presence in Nevsky served Eisenstein as a political insurance policy.

An imposing figure with a booming voice, the 34-year-old Cherkasov began his career as a music hall comedian but became a star—not to mention a State Artist and member of the Supreme Soviet—by playing several stalwart heroes, among them the crown prince Alexei in Peter the Great. The actor was not the only official favorite connected with the production. Eisenstein’s co-writer Pyotr Pavlenko was a loyal Stalinist and very likely secret-police agent. Their scenario was completed in November 1937. Nevsky wrapped months ahead of schedule, in part because Eisenstein was able to assign much of the actual direction to Dmitri Vasilev, his studio-appointed watchdog.

Propagandist though it may be, Alexander Nevsky depends scarcely on dialogue for its impact. Eisenstein’s closest collaborator was the distinguished composer Sergei Prokofiev, who, so the filmmaker wrote, provided the stirring chorales and keening oratorios that determined Nevsky’s “symphonic structure.” Prokofiev took an active role in supervising the recording of the film’s audio track, often devising sound effects to Eisenstein’s specifications. While much of his score was composed for edited sequences, other scenes were cut to match already-recorded music—a technique then commonly known in Hollywood as “Mickey-Mousing.”

Steeped in xenophobia and a scarcely unwarranted fear of foreign aggression, Alexander Nevsky was equally synchronized to the world situation in which it was produced. In the opening scene, Nevsky—who has already defeated the Swedes—demonstrates the force of his personality by facing down a company of Mongol warriors. (“Ironically,” as Eisenstein’s biographer Ronald Bergan has noted, this sequence is “imbued with a Nordic savour—tall and fair-haired men and women, in contrast to the dark and shifty-eyed Tartars who descend on the peaceful village, are interchangeable with the iconography of some of the Nazi films being made in Germany during the same period.”)

A spectacle of skeleton battlefields and devastated cities, Alexander Nevsky is framed as a near-cosmic struggle between good and evil. Scenes emphasize German atrocities against Russian civilians, with the invaders further dehumanized by their sinister, horned helmets. And the heart of the movie is the 30-minute Battle on the Ice sequence. A triumph for Eisenstein as well as for Nevsky, this strategically undercranked and brilliantly-edited mix of massing soldiers and slashing close combat—alternately horrifying and carnivalesque—would serve as a prototype for the battlefield scenes in Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.

Nevsky’s extraordinary set piece was filmed first—during a blazing hot summer—in the countryside outside Moscow. Cinematographer Eduard Tissé used a filter to suggest winter light; trees were painted light blue and dusted with chalk; an artificial horizon was created out of sand. The ice itself was a mixture of asphalt and melted glass. In a remarkable engineering feat, sheets of this fake ice were supported by floating pontoons to be deflated on cue so that it would shatter under the weight of the Teutonic knights according to pre-cut patterns.

Eisenstein took time off from shooting to publish a piece in the official newspaper Izvestia drawing a parallel between Nevsky and Stalin—the movie ends with the hero’s threat that “He who comes to us with a sword, shall die by the sword”—and, late in the editing process, the studio received a midnight call requesting an advance Kremlin screening. Without waking Eisenstein, his assistants showed the footage to the Soviet dictator. That a reel consequently disappeared has inspired two theories: one, that the reel was mistakenly left behind in the editing room, and, as Stalin failed to notice the gap, it was deemed more prudent to go with his approved version than to reinsert the missing material. The second theory suggests that Stalin objected to a sequence featuring a brawl among the people of Novgorod. Whichever was the case, the reel was destroyed. ...

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Lyubov Orlova - Volga-Volga / Волга-Волга (1938)

Lyubov Orlov born February 11 1902
Lyubov Orlova is the most glamorous and popular actress of Soviet cinema.
Lyubov was born in Zvenigorod, just outside of Moscow. The parents of the future movie star, Petr Orlov and Evgeniya Suhotina, were both descendants of an old Russian aristocratic family. They wanted Lyubov to become a professional pianist and at seven enrolled her in a music school. Legend has it that at age ten she had a chance to perform in front of a family friend, the famous Russian opera singer Fyodor Chalyapin in a children’s theater. At the end of her performance Chalyapin took Lyubov into his arms and said: “This girl will be a famous actress!” It would take 25 years, but his prediction was to come true.
At 17 Orlova enrolled in a Moscow conservatory to study grand piano. In three years she moved to the ballet faculty of the Moscow Theatrical Technical Secondary School and in 1926 became a member of the Musical Theater under the direction of Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko. Orlova got married young in 1926 to 29-year-old Andrey Berzin, a successful political official. Berzin impressed her parents - he was attractive and had a respectable job - and they rushed their wedding. Orlova was attached to her husband and hoped for a long lasting life together, but their union was short and unhappy; Berzin was arrested in 1930 and sent to jail for a long term. Their unfortunate separation did not break Orlova’s spirit and maybe even vitalized her desire to improve her acting and creative efforts. Being a chorus and ballet actress, she mostly had episodic parts, but even then her musical and drama talent was noticed by many, and each year she was one step closer to becoming a star. She soon fell in love again with an Austrian businessman who was mesmerized by the beautiful and talented actress.
During that time she felt that theater wasn’t enough and decided that she wanted to be in movies. However, her first efforts came to disappointment. This is what she had to say about it herself: “In the film studio I stood in a long queue: a selection of young performers was announced for the latest picture. Barely hiding my shyness, I appeared in front of the director – a person with decisive and omniscient eyes. When his examining and piercing gaze came over me, I felt like I was oblate between the glasses of a microscope.
- What is that you have? - the director asked, pointing at my nose.
I quickly looked in the mirror and saw a small beauty spot, about which I had completely forgotten - it never bothered me.
- Be…beauty spot, - I babbled.
- No good! – The director said blankly.
- But…- I tried to object, but he cut me off:
- I know, I know! You act in theater, and the beauty mark is not in your way. Cinema – is not theater. In cinema everything is in the way. And this you have to understand!
I only understood one thing: I will never be in a movie, and this is why I needed to quickly leave the studio and never show up there again. And I swore to myself never to do this again.”
Fortunately Orlova broke her vow. In 1934 director Boris Yurtsev invited her to take a part in his movie and she accepted. Other film roles followed but they did not bring her the same success as her theater career. Her real cinema breakthrough came after the movie ‘Jolly Fellows’ was released, produced by Grigory Aleksandrov. During the filming her romance with Aleksandrov developed and soon after the filming ended they were married. Read more...

Visit also Lubov Orlova: Site - Museum