Saturday, 30 April 2011

Sergei Bodrov: Prisoner of the Mountains - Кавказский пленник (1996)

Director: Sergei Bodrov
Actors Oleg Menshikov, Sergei Bodrov Jr.., Susanna Mehralieva, Jemal Sikharulidze, Alexandr Bure, Valentina Fedotova, Alexei Zharkov, Gadzhiali Gadzhaliev, Evdokia Vishnyakova, Niyazik Gamdullaev, Ruslan Khalilov, Alan Emirs
Script Sergei Bodrov, Arif Aliev, Boris Giller
Operator Paul Lebeshev
Composer Leonid Desyatnikov
Producers Sergei Bodrov, Boris Giller, Carolyn Cavallero, Eduard Krapivsky
Production AO "Karavan", BG Production "with the involvement of the Committee of the Russian Federation for Cinematography

1996. - Film Award for Best Film of the Year (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.., Boris Giller).

1996. - Film Award for Best Actor (Sergei Bodrov Jr.)..

1996. - Prize "Felix European Film Academy for Best Screenplay (Arif Aliyev, Sergei Bodrov, Sr.., Boris Giller).

1996. - Award "Nika" for best screenplay (Arif Aliev, Boris Giller).

1996. - Award "Nika" for best feature film (Boris Giller).

1996. - Award "Nika" for Best Actor (Oleg Menshikov).

1996. - Award "Nika" for Best Sound and (Yekaterina Popova-Evans).

1996. - Prize "Golden Aries", the best producer (Boris Giller).

1996. - Grand Prix at ORFF Kinotavr in Sochi (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.., Boris Giller).

1996. - Prize for Best Actor ORFF Kinotavr in Sochi (Sergei Bodrov Jr.., Oleg Menshikov).

1996. - Grand Prix "Stalker" at the MP films on human rights "Stalker" in Moscow (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.)..

1996. - Grand Prix at the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Boris Giller).

1996. - Prize of the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (Boris Giller).

1996. - FIPRESCI Prize competition program at the Cannes IFF (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.)..

1996. - Prize of the jury at the International Film Festival Filmmakers' Listapad "in Minsk (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.)..

1996. - Audience Award at the IFF "Listapad" in Minsk (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.)..

1996. - Prize for Best Actor at the International Film Festival "Baltic Pearl" in Riga, Jurmala (Oleg Menshikov).

1996. - Prize for best debut at the International Film Festival "Baltic Pearl" in Riga, Jurmala (Sergei Bodrov Jr.)..

1997. - Audience Award at the IFF in Sydney (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.)..

1997 State Prize of Russia (Sergei Bodrov, Sr.., Arif Aliev, Boris Giller, Paul Lebeshev, Sergei Bodrov Jr.., Oleg Menshikov).

A talk with Sergei Bodrov, director of 'Prisoner of the Mountains' in Metroactive Movies

Svetlana Proskurina: Truce - Перемирие (2010) Trailer

Director Svetlana Proskurina
Scriptwriters Dmitrii Sobolev
Director of Photography Oleg Lukichev
Production Design Dmitrii Onishchenko
Costume Design Regina Khomskaia
Composer Sergei Shnurov
Sound Vladimir Persov
Editing Sergei Ivanov
Cast: Ivan Dobronravov, Iurii Itskov, Sergei Shnurov, Aleksei Vertkov, Nadezhda Tolubeeva, Andrei Feskov
Producer Sabina Eremeeva
Production Slon, Mosfilm, with support from the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation

Truce is Svetlana Proskurina’s latest film, almost universally acclaimed. It received not only the main award at the largest festival of Russian cinema, Kinotavr, in June 2010, but also the prize for the Best Actor, which went to Ivan Dobronravov, nowadays a student at theatre school, who was noticed when still a child by Andrei Zviagintsev in his well-known film The Return (Vozvrashchenie, 2003).

Proskurina’s film begins with the sound of several people’s heavy breathing, a sound that emerges first from a black frame, which gradually fills with the image of a picturesque forest, from which a steadily growing group of young lads emerges, attacking us face-to-face before steadying their aggressive pace in a medium, lateral shot. With their hard-breathing mass, they immediately remind us of their presence, or existence, in our generally perturbed living space.

The general and medium shots are edited along with an extreme close-up of a section of the huge tire of a gigantic lorry; at its wheel, the trucker has fallen asleep. He is one of the possible characters from the crowd we have just seen. For the film’s further aesthetic development we should take into account that Proskurina’s films contain no accidental or superfluous frames; every detail—even of the material world—caught by the camera sends a specific semantic signal, depending on its design. Even with a cursory glance at the wheel, the carefully prepared imagery forces us to notice here the traces of tear-and-wear from the long journeys and protracted use.

The fabula, the external chain of events, seems plain. The protagonist, Egor Matveev (played by Dobronravov), one of the “simple” guys that appeared in the first frames, is the young trucker. He lives in a hostel at the regional center, lost in Russia’s wide space. He receives an assignment to go to a tiny geographical point, which is not even marked on the map. This is another important detail for the understanding of the original plot, which is situated at the intersection of the interdependence of man and space....

Reviewed by Olga Surkova © 2010 in KinoKultura

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Alexander Petrov: My Love - Моя любовь (2006)

Director: Aleksandr Petrov
Writer: Ivan Shmelyov (screenplay)
Stars: Aleksandr Palamishev, Aleksandra Zhivova, Evgeniya Kryukova
Based on "A Love Story" by Ivan Sergeievich Shmelyov, 1927.

It took more than five years for the Russian animator Alexander Petrov to make his new film after winning the Oscar with The Old Man and the Sea (2000). My Love (Moya Lyubov) goes back to the tradition of psychological Russian literature after his Cow (Korova) by Andrei Platonov and The Dream of a Ridiculous Man (Son Smeshnogo Cheloveka) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This time the director uses a short story by Ivan Shmelev. The story about the first love of the sixteen-year-old boy Anton is brilliantly painted on glass. He is torn apart by his feelings for a pure and gentle girl and a femme fatale. Anton is not sure which one is the right one and his faltering steps mix up with the romantic craving for purity and heroism. Alexander Petrov shows in animated images even the slightest nuances of the adolescent's emotional life. This subtle tracing of inner-world movements is extremely difficult to achieve in animation. Petrov's characters breathe, they fall in love, and they have their doubts and sorrows in a way as if they were real persons. The artist draws his figures in a three-dimensional perspective so that the spectator could step into the shoes of the character and see life through his eyes. Petrov's ability to explore the mystic sides of the human being's inner life has become his trademark. On the whole, animation rarely is able to depict tangible emotions and turn to signs and symbols which only make suggestions to our imagination. This peculiarity is understandable as animation normally shows drawn images or puppets and not actors' faces. Alexander Petrov manages to paint real-life emotion on the screen in his very unique contribution.

The story goes through various relationships. Anton dreams of his beloved ones, argues with his cynic friend or witnesses unfaithfulness and murder in his neighborhood. The boy's own aristocratic family is another source of tension because of class bias — Pasha, one of the Anton's beloved girls, is just a maid in their home. Serafima, the other woman who fires his imagination, has a bad reputation but the young protagonist is happily unaware of it. Every time Anton touches or stares at one of the girls he sees himself in a mythological plot of rescuing her or dives deep in the imaginary sea of emotions. After a series of shy looks, presented snowdrops, secret letters or feverish kisses through the fence the story comes to an unfortunate end. Anton suddenly experiences a mental breakdown when he is disappointed by Serafima's devilish nature. Then Pasha becomes a nun in a monastery to pray for his recovery. At the very end, the young boy wakes up a man who has lost his first love. He has gone through a lot of emotions such as sorrow, jealousy and all the ups and downs of love. Alexander Petrov's poetic handling of the film suppresses and transforms the Shmelev's 19th century sentimentality.

My Love is a passionate and psychological film beautifully painted on glass. It delicately moves between reality, introspection and dreams without destroying the truthfulness of the story. Alexander Petrov's painting is derived from the impressionist styles and their bright colors interspersed here and there with dramatic red and black tones pouring out of the boy's nightmares. The talented animation gives new life to the countless tiny brush strokes which are in a state of permanent movement. Actually, Petrov makes his oil paintings with fingers on multiple glass planes. The world in the film is moving and dancing in a never-ending play of shadows and colors matching the unstable emotions of the young boy. The continuous blurs and sharps of the image are part of the poetic language of the film. This is a work of contrasts where the sunshine plays its own role over the characters' faces. The fluid changes of the image create a breathing world where harmony and drama blend in an organic way. ...


Karen Shakhnazarov: Assassin of the Tsar - Цареубийца (1991)

Director:Karen Shakhnazarov
Writers:Aleksandr Borodyanskiy, Karen Shakhnazarov
Cast: Malcolm McDowell, Oleg Yankovskiy, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Yuriy Sherstnyov, Anzhela Ptashuk, Viktor Seferov,

- Official member of the Cannes Film Festival main contest, France (1991)
- Grand Prize at the International Film Festival, Belgrade (1991)
- "Nika" Award for Best Costume Designer (Romanova, V.) (1992)
- "Nika" Award for Best Actor in the films "Assassin of the Tsar" and "Passport" given to Yankovsky O.I. (1992)

Mental patient Timofeyev (McDowell, twitchy and grizzled) is convinced that he assassinated Tsar Alexander II in 1881, and that he also led the firing squad that executed Nicholas II and his family in 1918. Dr Smirnov (Yankovsky) concludes that the only way to treat Timofeyev is to enter his fantasies, and so he starts playing Tsar to his patient's executioner. Before long, present and past are blurring together and we're on a full-dress reconstruction of the last weeks of the Romanov dynasty. About halfway through this lugubrious Anglo-Russian co-production, it dawns that the film is bending over backwards to avoid being seen as just another costume-drama plod through the Kremlin's secret files. Big mistake. The historical scenes are actually credible, dignified and rather watchable, whereas the implied parallel with the collapse of the USSR doesn't begin to cohere. And the whole mental-hospital framework is a hugely tautologous way of saying that these are unhealed wounds from the past. Hard to recommend except as an oddity. ...

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Mosfilm sends piracy down the tube

Russia’s giant Mosfilm, one of the largest and oldest film studios in Europe, has teamed up with Google to launch a channel on YouTube, where Mosfilm will be showcasing its feature films free of charge.

The channel already has 50 films available in HD on its virtual “shelves” and is planning to add five new films each week.

By the end of the year there will be up to 200 films from Mosfilm’s golden collection of several thousand, accompanied by subtitles.

Most importantly, the company can be sure that only legal copies of its productions will be available. Moreover, thanks to YouTube’s state-of-the-art technology, Mosfilm will be able to track down pirate copies of its films.

“The primary objective of the project is to enable internet users to watch legal copies of films in high quality and put an end to illegal use of our productions. YouTube’s special system will make it possible to block off the illegal content,” head of the studios, Karen Shakhnazarov, was quoted as saying.

It is not the first time that Mosfilm has aimed to make it big on the internet. It has recently given access to over 500 films from its golden collection, from Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin to Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood. The selection features legendary works by Soviet and Russian filmmakers, available for free viewing in the screening rooms of Mosfilm’s online cinema, accompanied by English, French and German subtitles.


Yuli Karasik: The Seagull - Чайка (1971)

Director:Yuli Karasik
Writers: Anton Chekhov (play), Yuli Karasik
Stars: Alla Demidova, Vladimir Chetverikov, Nikolai Plotnikov

'Silver Hugo' for the best screen version of the classic work and skill of acting ensemble at the International Film Festival in Chicago, 1973.

One of the watchwords of nineteenth century literature was the idea of "realism," an attempt to focus on the triumphs and tragedies of unremarkable, rather everyday people. Chekhov was very dedicated to promoting an idea of realism in his theatrical work, and to better serve his plays the Moscow Art Theater under Konstantin Stanislavsky, with whom his work was closely associated, developed a new approach to acting that later became known in the United States as "method acting." Karasik's lavish production of The Seagull features the work of some of the Soviet Union's finest stage actors of the time. Chekhov's study of an actress, Arkadine (Alla Demidova) distressed by a life that seems to offer her few easy answers is presented with great attention to capturing the historical moment that Chekhov was attempting to describe. Her lover, Tregorin (Yuri Yakovlev), a pompous yet nevertheless successful writer, feeds her insecurities while toying with the emotions or a young woman smitten with him-or at least with his reputation. ...

You can watch this film, with English subtitles, here.

Vyacheslav Tikhonov - Biography

Actor Vyacheslav Tikhonov personifies a whole epoch. In the dull years of Soviet Stagnation he contrived to create a real hero on screen. Having played fifty-odd film roles throughout over half a century of being in filming, Vyacheslav Tikhonov still remains first of all the charming and noble, determined and strong-willed secret agent Stirlitz for viewers.

Vyacheslav Tikhonov was born on February 8, 1928 in the little old town of Pavlovsky Posad in the vicinity of Moscow. His father, Vasili Romanovich worked as a weaver's looms technician at the factory producing the famous “pavlo-posadskie” shawls. His mother Valentina Vyacheslavovna was a kindergarten teacher.

When the war started Vyacheslav entered an industrial school, where he learned the turner’s trade at the same time working. After finishing it he submitted documents to VGIK (All-Union Institute for Cinema), yet failed at the acting exam. Despite the fact, in 1945 he was, however, accepted as a student for a trial period. The point was that during the war lots of men had left for the front and there were very few students to play male roles at the course. Anyway, in 1948 the actor debuted with the role of Volodya Osmukhin in the film Molodaya gvardiya (The Young Guard). Two years later, in 1950, Vyacheslav Tikhonov graduated with honours, his creative biography starting from then on.

After graduation Vyacheslav Tikhonov was admitted to the Theatre Studio of Film Actor and played on that theatre stage for six years. True masters were among his partners: Erast Garin, Nikolai Kryuchkov, Boris Andreev, and others. While working in the theatre Tikhonov also attracted attention of some film directors. During that period he appeared in films Maksimka (1952), Zvezdy Na Krylyah (Stars on Wings) (1955 г.), Ob etom zabyvat nelzya (It Cannot be Forgotten) (1955 г.), Serdze byotsa vnov (Heart is Beating Again) (1956 г.) However those were small supporting roles.

True success came in 1957 with the talented drama Delo bylo v Penkove (It Happened in Penkovo) (1958) starring Tikhonov as a charming village fellow named Matvei. The film directed by Stanislav Rostotsky gained unanimous love of the viewers and marked a new stage in Tikhonov’s career: from then on he was offered leading roles. New films came one after another: Chrezvychainoe proisshestvie (Extraordinary Accident) in 1958, Mayskie zvyozdy (May Stars) (1959) in 1959, Michman Panin in 1960, and Dve zhizni (Two Lives) in 1961.

Lots of film directors wanted to film Vyacheslav Tikhonov, yet Mosfilm Studio turned to be inaccessible for the actor for many years (almost all his creative life is associated with M. Gorky Film Studio). It was all due to Ivan Pyryev, who was the director of Mosfilm and looked all the screen tests through: he believed that Tikhonov did not look like a Russian. To him the actor was either an Azerbaijani or an Armenian but no way a Russian.

Tikhonov’s outstanding role of Prince Andrei Bolkonsky in the classical epopee Voyna i mir (War and Peace) (1965-1967) by Sergei Bondarchuk was a well-deserved triumph. The film based on the famous novel by Leo Tolstoy gained international acknowledgement along with an Oscar.

Then followed the films Semeynoe schaste (Family Happiness) (1970) and Chelovek s drugoy storony (The Man from the Other Side) (1972).

In 1970 Vyacheslav Tikhonov started to work for Tatyana Lioznova’s historical feature Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny (Seventeen Moments of Spring) (1973), which was destined to become a cult film for several generations. Yet, the film faced the risk of not going on screen: member of the Politbureau of the Communist Party of Soviet Union Central Committee Mikhail Suslov opposed the film to go on general release. He stated that the film was “not showing the feat of the Soviet people in the war”. Fortunately the would-be film classic was upheld by KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov.

The film series premiered at the end of summer 1973 and was crowned with a resounding success. From August 11 to 24 the entire country was just glued to the TV screens when the film was being telecast. Tikhonov created such a veritable character of the Soviet secret agent that not only millions of viewers but even Leonid Brezhnev himself came to believe in real existence of Stirlitz. After watching the film the head of the USSR was so carried away by its events that he made up his mind to find and award the real Stirlitz.

In 1970 Vyacheslav Tikhonov started to work for Tatyana Lioznova’s historical feature Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny (Seventeen Moments of Spring) (1973), which was destined to become a cult film for several generations. Yet, the film faced the risk of not going on screen: member of the Politbureau of the Communist Party of Soviet Union Central Committee Mikhail Suslov opposed the film to go on general release. He stated that the film was “not showing the feat of the Soviet people in the war”. Fortunately the would-be film classic was upheld by KGB Chairman Yuri Andropov.

The film series premiered at the end of summer 1973 and was crowned with a resounding success. From August 11 to 24 the entire country was just glued to the TV screens when the film was being telecast. Tikhonov created such a veritable character of the Soviet secret agent that not only millions of viewers but even Leonid Brezhnev himself came to believe in real existence of Stirlitz. After watching the film the head of the USSR was so carried away by its events that he made up his mind to find and award the real Stirlitz.

In 1975 Sergei Bondarchuk invited Vyacheslav Tikhonov to play the role of Strel'tsov in his war drama Oni srazhalis za rodinu (They Fought for Their Country) (1975), another outstanding work of art.

Then followed Belyy Bim - Chyornoe ukho (White Bim Black Ear) (1976), Front v tylu vraga (Front in the Rear of the Enemy) (1981) and TASS upolnomochen zayavit (TASS Is Authorized to Declare) (1984). During Perestroika Vyacheslav Tikhonov played in two famous films: Ubit drakona (To Kill a Dragon) (1988) and Lyubov s privilegiyami (Love and Privileges) (1989).

In the 1990s Tikhonov had fewer roles, one of them being an episodic part in Nikita Mikhalkov’s prizewinning Utomlyonnye solntsem (Burnt by the Sun) (1994). In 1998 he played in the film Sochineniye ko dnyu pobedy (Composition for Victory Day) (1998) and for several years afterwards was out of filming. In 2005 he came back on screen in the film Glazami volka (Through Wolf’s Eyes) and a year later played in biopic Andersen. Zhizn bez lyubvi (Life Without Love) directed by Eldar Ryazanov.

The actor’s first wife was Nonna Mordyukova with whom they lived for 13 years. They gave birth to son Vladimir (1950—1990), whose children – Vasili (born in 1972) and Vladimir (born in 1982) were born from different marriages.

Tikhonov’s second wife was Tamara Ivanovna, a teacher of French, who gave birth to daughter Anna (born 1969), whose children – twins Vyacheslav and Georgiy were born in 2005.

The last work of Tikhonov was his role in Nikita Mikhalkov’s sequel Burnt by the Sun 2 (2010).

Tikhonov became “the last hero” of the Soviet epoch, who created a beautiful myth about a strong but not hardhearted man, an embodiment of manly charm, so rare in all times.

Lately the actor was ailing a lot and hardly ever left his country house. Vyacheslav Tikhonov died of infarction on 12 December 2009 in Moscow. The actor was laid to rest at Novodevichi Cemetery in Moscow. ...

Sergei Gerasimov: At the Beginning of Glorious Days - В начале славных дней (1980)

Director:Sergei Gerasimov
Writers:Sergei Gerasimov, Yuri Kavtaradze,
Stars: Dmitri Zolotukhin, Tamara Makarova,Natalya Bondarchuk

At the end of the 17th century, without an access to sea, Russia is in a vulnerable position in foreign trade. Peter the Great attempts to conquer the Turkish sea fortress of Azov but realises that could only be done with a modern fleet. To the amazement of Europe, he goes to Holland and works at a dock learning the know-how of shipbuilding…

This is the second of the two films dedicated to Peter the Great, based on the eponymous novel of Alexei Tolstoy. Actor Dmitri Zolotukhin (Peter the Great) was named the most popular actor of 1981 after the poll conductd by Soviet Screen magazine. ...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Emil Loteanu: Queen of the Gypsies aka Gypsies Are Found Near Heaven - Tабор уходит в небо (1975)

Director:Emil Loteanu
Writers:Maxim Gorky (stories), Emil Loteanu
Stars:Grigore Grigoriu, Svetlana Toma, Barasbi Mulayev

Based on early stories by Maxim Gorky, this movie won the grand prize at the 1976 San Sebastian Film Festival.

Nikita Mikhalkov: Slave of Love - Раба любви (1975)

Director:Nikita Mikhalkov
Writers:Fridrikh Gorenshtein, Andrey Konchalovskiy
Stars:Yelena Solovey, Rodion Nahapetov, Aleksandr Kalyagin

Nikita Mikhalkov examines the plight of the filmmaker operating in an uncertain political climate in his irony-laden seriocomedy Slave of Love. The time is 1918, at the height of the Bolshevik revolution. A small group of filmmakers are hurriedly trying to complete a silent melodrama while the world changes all around them. As production progresses, leading lady Elena Solovei metamorphoses from self-centered movie star to committed revolutionary. Normally described as "Chekhovian," director Mikhalkov borrows a few pages from Pirandello. With Slave of Love he gained his first serious international attention. ...

Aleksandr Ptushko: The Stone Flower - Каменный Цветок (1946)

Directed: Aleksandr Ptushko
Written: Pavel Bazhov, Ivan Keller Cinematography: Fedor Provorov
Music: Lev Shvarts
With Vladimir Druzhnikov, Tamara Makarova, Mikhail Troianovskii, Ekaterina Derevshchikova, and Aleksei Kelberer

One of the first color films produced in the Soviet Union, The Stone Flower has—less literally than figuratively—preserved the freshness of its colors. If one were to glance at its production date only, expectations of high aesthetic merit would have to be laid aside. 1946 announced the beginning of what is certainly the grimmest era in Soviet culture, marked by an unprecedented level of intolerance toward artistic "deviations." The policing of culture during the Zhdanov years (1946-1948), brought into existence a tradition of aesthetic practices known as the "varnishing of reality": art was asked to represent the world by refracting it through the prism of "what ought to be." After Stalin's much quoted words, "We were born to make the fairy tale come true," the old genre was to become much more than that: it was to signify a mode of apprehending reality. ...more

Lev Kuleshov:The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks - Необычайные приключения мистера Веста в стране Большевиков (1924)

Необычайные приключения мистера Веста в стране большевиков (1924)

Director: Lev Kuleshov
Screenplay: Nikolai Aseev
Camera: Alexei Levitskii
Set Design: Vsevolod Pudovkin
With: Porfirii Podobed, Aleksandra Khokhlova, Vsevolod Pudovkin, Boris Barnet
USSR, Goskino, 1924, 86 min., b/w

The first Russian anti-American film both arrogantly mocks American ignorance toward the Soviet Union and enviously copies American cinematic methods. Mr. West, the president of the YMCA, travels to Moscow, expecting to find savage Bolsheviks dressed in fur, as illustrated in American magazines. Even though he takes cowboy Jeddy along to protect him, Mr. West falls into the hands of a run-down count and his gang who decide to toy with him and to confirm his worst stereotypes. When the real Bolsheviks finally free Mr. West from the gang, he takes a sightseeing tour of Moscow. Proving that the Revolution has left cultural landmarks such as the university and the Bolshoi Theater untouched, the trip ends with a geometrically arranged parade of marching Bolsheviks, making the now convinced Mr. West whole-heartedly embrace Communism and even ask his wife to hang a Lenin portrait on the wall.

Mr. West was the first result of Kuleshov's famous workshop, which experimented with montage and new acting methods. While America was, ideologically, the Soviet Union's antagonist, Kuleshov and his students took the editing techniques as well as the acting style of U.S. adventure and mystical serial films as their model, testifying to the popularity of American genre cinema in Russia at the time. When, at the end of Mr. West, an intertitle mentions Russian children's fascination with cowboys, this popularity is marked as a curious interest in exoticism, thereby reversing the roles and displacing the image of the exotic "other" from the Bolsheviks onto America itself.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Eldar Ryazanov: Carnival Night - Карнавальная ночь (1956)

Карнавальная ночь (1956)

Director: Eldar Ryazanov
Writers: Boris Laskin, Vladimir Polyakov
Stars: Igor Ilyinsky, Lyudmila Gurchenko, Yuri Belov

Some of the first cracks in the brick wall of Stalinist culture were caused by this marvelously witty comedy that transformed its debut director, Eldar Ryazanov, and its young star Lyudmila Gurchenko into overnight celebrities. New Year’s Eve is fast approaching and the employees of the Economics Institute are planning a big night, with lots of singing, dancing, and holiday cheer. But it’s announced that the new director, Comrade Ogurtsov (Igor Ilyinsky), will be arriving shortly. Ogurtsov has his own ideas about how to ring in the New Year: reading end-of-the-year reports, a few chamber pieces, maybe a speech out of Chekhov . . . but the kids really just want to rock and roll. Still a great favorite in Russia, where it’s always broadcast on television during the holiday season, Carnival Night is a delicious send-up of bureaucracy, as well as a genuine celebration of people’s power.

—Richard Peña

This is Eldar Ryazanov's first big-screen film and Lyudmila Gurchenko's  first role. The film made both of them stars of Soviet Cinema literally overnight.

The film became the Soviet box office leader of 1956 with a total of 48.64 million ticket sales. ...

Official site (in Russian) of  Lyudmila Gurchenko.

How I Ended This Summer

An award-winning tale of two meteorologists isolated on a remote Arctic island is a tense allegory about modern Russia.
Last Sunday's film of the week, Kelly Reichardt's bleak American independent movie, Meek's Cutoff, centred on nine people losing their way while attempting to cross an arid, inhospitable part of remote Oregon in 1845. This week, in Alexei Popogrebsky's How I Ended This Summer, we have an equally harsh story with a cast of two, set on an Arctic island in Chukotka, at the extreme north-eastern tip of Russia. It is like a gulag designed for two, stuck on the edge of the world and, like Meek's Cutoff, it has a pared down quality that invites, indeed virtually compels, the viewer to see it as some kind of allegory.
The film's title suggests an essay a boy might write after an adventurous holiday in some colourful spot, and indeed one of the two characters appears to be a student performing unfamiliar tasks on an isolated meteorological station. He's the good-looking Pavel Danilov (Grigory Dobrygin), aged around 20, with a silver ring in his left ear and carrying a rifle. We first see him doing readings of various instruments that measure weather and radio activity (this is evidently a contaminated area) as the wind whips around him.
He then returns to the shabby hut he shares with a querulous older man, Sergei Gulybin (Sergei Puskepalis), an experienced meteorologist some 30 years his senior. There is tension between them, first expressed by Sergei revealing that the younger man has forgotten to take cartridges for his gun. In 1984, he tells him, a hydrographer was killed by a bear just a few yards from the hut because he carried no loaded weapon to defend himself.
Sergei is clearly a veteran of the job and the region and has long since adapted himself to a routine to protect him against the state authorities for whom he works and ward off the inner terrors of the solitary life.
To Sergei, this temporary assistant is a frivolous, unreliable figure who goes around wearing headphones that pump pop music into his head and plays violent video games that pit him against snipers. Pavel comes across as a playful figure, swinging on an abandoned radar dish and jumping along a row of oil drums in a dump of old cans and abandoned machinery. Sergei, on the other hand, is a stolid figure whose sole pastime is fishing for Arctic trout out at sea. They almost seem like the last survivors in a post-apocalyptic world and, in a sense, they are.
But every hour or so they communicate with some distant base on a crackling, scarcely audible radio link. Their equipment is antiquated and failing, their food terrible, the place ill-furnished, unpainted and falling apart. This is an official establishment that in the recent past was a hive of activity and common purpose. It has now become neglected in an almost contemptuous way by a state that has given up on self‑respect. This emphasises the feeling of despair and pointlessness induced by the work, while the savage grandeur of the surrounding mountains, the snow-covered tundra and relentlessly pounding sea comment ironically upon it.
We learn nothing about the characters by way of direct exposition, only through what we observe. We're not sure how long they've been together, though we do learn that their tour of duty is approaching the end and that Sergei's family are travelling to meet him on the mainland. Trouble looms when Sergei goes off to catch trout as a present for his wife and son, leaving Pavel in charge of the routine reports. While minding the store, the young man gets an urgent radiogram for Sergei about serious family trouble. But when Sergei returns he doesn't – for reasons we're left to infer – pass on the message, and a serious row breaks out over Pavel's laziness and the faking of reports. From this point, everything begins to unravel. Sergei has recalled an earlier incident when a scientist took his gun to a comrade, with only a hole in the ceiling left to show for it. He may possibly be speaking of himself. As the weather suddenly deteriorates, cabin fever gives way to lethal enmity, a cat-and-mouse game ensues and the movie turns into a thriller.
Eight years ago, Popogrebsky made his directorial debut with Roads to Koktebel, a road movie in which a penniless, alcoholic former aero-engineer makes a journey with his 12-year-old son from Moscow to a rundown Crimean seaside town where he once worked in happier times. It was a most accomplished work, reminiscent of Tarkovsky and De Sica. His new film, while hardly mainstream, takes up themes from Koktebel but gradually shunts them into a more conventional direction.
In the earlier film one suspected a lurking allegory about contemporary Russia. Here it is unavoidable. 'I would never intentionally put elements of parable into my story,' Popogrebsky has said. 'However, if the story grows beyond the concrete time and place in which it is set, and if it strikes some universal or personal chord in a viewer, for me this means that my mission has been accomplished.' I find it impossible, in the film's complex moral resolution, not to see Sergei and Pavel as representing different sides of Putin's Russia, one shaped by older traditional ways, the other struggling to discover a new set of values.
At the 2010 Berlin festival, Sergei Puskepalis and Grigory Dobrygin rightly shared the prize for best actor, while Pavel Kostomarov's haunting, evocative and at times breathtaking photography received the Silver Bear for artistic achievement. The film itself went on to win the best film award at last year's London film festival.
How I Ended This Summer – review

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Andrei Smirnov:The Byelorussian Station - Белорусский вокзал (1970)

Directed by: Andrei Smirnov
Cast:Yevgeny Leonov, Anatoly Papanov, Alexey Glazyrin , Vsevolod Safonov, Nina Urgant

A sympathetic, emotionally persuasive drama describing the friendship of four World War II veterans, their sudden reunion after 25 years and the subsequent effect of this occasion upon their thoughts and evaluations of the past and present. In a way, The Byelorussian Station is reminiscent of the poignant, realistic look at the returned soldier remembered in Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives. In this film, however, the sentiments are leavened by reminiscence and a touch of remorse, and the spectator must be prepared for a deeply moving cinematic adventure. Four friends, former front-line soldiers, meet again at the funeral of their old commander. Their shared mourning mingles with the joy of seeing one another again and, for a time, they forget the years of separation. However, the years soon make themselves felt as the men notice their age and changes in character, the different sorts of lives they have led. One has become the director of a large factory, another works as a repair fitter, while the other two are an accountant and a journalist, respectively. Gradually, the film illustrates what common bond exists between them besides memories. The director, Smirnov, concentrates intently upon his myriad personalities, and the reactions of these masculine, emotionally restrained characters illuminate, with humor and humane recognitions of universal behavior, the flexible boundaries of comradeship-in-battle and the rarity of sustained friendships kept alive by choice rather than by chance. An unexpected incident occurs that brings the four men together, working toward a common purpose—a young worker has an accident, receiving an electric shock while on a utilities job. The old veterans are reminded of their aid to each other's wounds during the war, and the film reverts to the dreams they held just as they were returning home. The conclusion is spellbinding, including some documentary footage showing the welcoming of soldiers of the Byelorussian Station by their families—the whole truth is in these images, the truth of recollected pain and joy felt by anyone who has waited, searching for one face in a military crowd, not knowing which of these emotions will last forever.

—Albert Johnson

Fedor Bondarchuk: Inhabited Island - Обитаемый Остров (2008)

Director:Fyodor Bondarchuk
Writers:Arkadiy Strugatskiy (original book), Boris Strugatskiy (original book),
Stars:Vasiliy Stepanov, Yuliya Snigir, Pyotr Fyodorov
Official site here.

Fedor Bondarchuk’s two-part film The Inhabited Island tackles three simultaneous challenges: the reinvention of a classic science fiction novel as a mainstream blockbuster, the convincing depiction of an imaginary planet; and the justification of an eyebrow-raising outlay of $40 million, quadruple the cost of Bondarchuk’s previous film The Ninth Company (Deviataia rota, 2005). While Russian audience figures leave a lot to be desired with box office grossing of $21 million for Part I and a meager $6 million for Part II (Box Office MOJO), Bondarchuk’s often minutely accurate recreation of Boris and Arkadii Strugatskii’s 1968 book (also The Inhabited Island) both fulfils and exceeds the original authors’ narrative. Like all film-makers approaching the Strugatskiis’ novels, Bondarchuk has first to grapple with Andrei Tarkovskii’s ghost: Solaris and Stalker have predisposed viewers to expect complex, reflective adaptations of science fiction. Although The Inhabited Island shares subject material with Tarkovskii’s films—including irradiated wastelands, mutants, mysterious weapons and divergent realities—Bondarchuk rejects Tarkovskii’s philosophical approach in favor of high-intensity action. Unlike Tarkovskii, Bondarchuk defiantly embraces technology, packing his film with futuristic vehicles, tanks, multi-megaton explosions and heavy-calibre guns. Stalker and Solaris create timeless dystopias: in The Inhabited Island, Bondarchuk drags the twenty-second century—the Strugatskii brothers’ ‘Noon World’ galaxy—kicking and screaming into the twenty-first.

The Inhabited Island opens in 2157 as Maksim Kammerer (Vasilii Stepanov), a footloose space-cruising youngster from an advanced galactic civilization, crash-lands his ship on an unknown planet, Saraksh. Saraksh—also the name of the continent and the nation where Maksim finds himself—is home to a very unusual civilization, whose inhabitants are convinced that they live on the inner surface of a vast sphere. This delusion is fostered by a peculiarity of their atmosphere which hides the stars and makes the horizon appear convex (ingeniously replicated by computer graphics). In recent history, a nuclear war between Saraksh and its nearest neighbors, Khonti and the Island Empire, has left huge tracts of land poisoned by radiation and entire populations, the so-called “mutants,” genetically damaged. From Saraksh’s capital, a council of anonymous leaders—the Unknown Fathers—exert dictatorial control over every aspect of civil life, aided by an elite army corps, the Guards, and a system of towers spread over the entire nation. The towers’ official function is to repel ballistic weapons; in reality, they blanket Saraksh in mind-bending radiation. For the huge majority of citizens, this radiation blocks their capacity for logical thought, suppressing resistance to the all-pervading government propaganda. For a tiny minority, the so-called “degenerates,” high doses of this radiation produce disabling agony. Twice a day, at fixed times, the towers broadcast the rays intensively, stimulating paroxysms of blind patriotism in the majority and—among the “degenerates”—unbearable pain.

On Saraksh, the blond, athletic, naively cheerful Maxim is immediately taken for either a lunatic or a mutant. His cheerful insistence that he comes from “up there,” “from Earth,” convince doctors that he must be irrevocably mad, since their cosmology excludes the existence of either space or stars. Tests reveal that Maksim, unlike Saraksh’s people, has no sensitivity whatsoever to the artificial radiation produced by the towers. Meanwhile, a mysterious individual called the Wanderer (Aleksei Serebriakov)—one of the Unknown Fathers—sends a minion, Fank, to collect Maxim from the testing centre. Fank (Andrei Merzlikin) exhibits an unintentionally comical, White Rabbit-like preoccupation with his watch throughout the film; this is because, as a “degenerate,” he dreads exposure in a public place during the radiation boosts. Unfortunately, due to a roadblock, this is exactly what occurs. To Maksim’s bewilderment, Fank suddenly collapses in agony on the driver’s seat, while baying citizens drag him out of the car. Soon lost in the crowd, Maksim wanders off to explore the city, and meets Rada Gaal (Iulia Snigir), the beautiful and sympathetic sister of Gai Gaal (Petr Fedorov), the soldier who originally brought him to the city. Gai, who has just been promoted into the Guards, Saraksh’s elite troops, welcomes the homeless stranger into their flat and even sponsors him to join the Guards. Maksim and Rada fall in love, while Gai and Maksim develop a strong mutual respect despite their diverging ethical—and astronomical—viewpoints. Maksim rejects the state’s representation of the “degenerates” as rebels and moral cripples, especially after he joins a Guards raid on a private flat and discovers that these so-called murderers and conspirators are simply intellectuals and ordinary professionals disenchanted with the regime. Unfortunately for Maksim’s Guards career, the sadistic Lieutenant Chachu (Mikhail Evlanov) takes a special interest in the new recruit’s development and sets him the Guards’ infamous “blood test” by commanding him to shoot a woman prisoner, a “degenerate” convicted for sedition. Maksim deliberately allows the woman to escape and resigns from the Guards, telling Gai to leave with him. Chachu responds by shooting Maksim four times at close range in the chest, leaving him for dead. ...

Reviewed by Muireann Maguire © 2009 in KinoKultura

Friday, 22 April 2011

Mikhail Kozakov: The Pokrovsky Gates - Покровские ворота TV film (1982)

Director:Mikhail Kozakov
Writers:Leonid Zorin (play), Leonid Zorin (screenplay)
Stars:Oleg Menshikov, Sofiya Pilyavskaya,Leonid Bronevoy

Actor Mikhail Kozakov Dies of Cancer

Well-known film and theatre actor Mikhail Kozakov, aged 76, has died today. He suffered from inoperable lung cancer.

Lately Mikhail Kozakov lived in Israel, where he was undergoing medical treatment.

The actor made his film debut as Charles Tibo in Mikhail Romm’s political drama Murder on Dante Street in 1952. The debut was a success, and soon the actor started playing vivid distinguishing roles in films of various genres. In 1978 Mikhail Kozakov debuted as a film director with the television film An Unnamed Star, where he also starred on a par with Anastasiya Vertinskaya and Igor Kostolevsky. In 1982 he directed his famous film Pokrovsky Gates.

Viewers remember Mikhail Kozakov’s brilliant roles in such films as The Amphibian Man, Hello, I'm Your Aunt!, Lubov morkov, and others.


Konstantin Lopushansky: Visitor to a Museum - Посетитель музея (1989)

Director:Konstantin Lopushansky
Writer:Konstantin Lopushansky
Stars: Viktor Mikhaylov, Vera Mayorova,Vadim Lobanov

Ecological disaster has become reality. This is the last act, and a logical completion of a centuries-long relationship between Man and Nature based on insatiable consumption. The main character is one of the few survivors who have retained their human appearance and ethics … «The Visitor» has come to atone for the guilt of mankind…

«Museum Visitor» is a religious parable-drama about the search for truth and meaning, about sacrifice and fanaticism, the eternal confrontation of good and evil. The director claims that in some of the mass scenes more than a thousand genuine lunatics participated (there were some disguised doctors among them too – «just in case!»). At times, the picture is reminiscent of today’s TV newscasts from the Middle East. What is this – prophecy or providence?


«Silver George», a prize presented by the ecumenical jury at the Moscow International Film Festival

Grand-prix for the director’s work at the International Film Festival of experimental films in Madrid

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Nikita Mikhalkov: The Barber of Siberia - Сибирский цирюльник (1998)

Siberian tsiryulnik (1998)

Director:Nikita Mikhalkov
Writers:Nikita Mikhalkov (story), Rustam Ibragimbekov (screenplay),
Stars:Julia Ormond, Richard Harris, Oleg Menshikov

For two decades Nikita Mikhalkov, born into a family of the Soviet cultural elite, has been the most famous of Russian film directors both in his own country and abroad. Mikhalkov's celebrity status - consolidated in December 1997 when he became chairman of the Russian Union of Film-makers - has turned the release of his recent films into major media events in Russia, none more so than The Barber of Siberia. By the time of its premiere in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses in February 1999 the film had already generated acres of newsprint, as much because of its enormous budget (reported as $45 million) and its link to Mikhalkov's alleged desire to be president of Russia as for its epic proportions and ambitions. Here was a film that would restore national self-esteem and re-invigorate cinemagoing in Mikhalkov's native land, as well as explain the enigmas of Russian identity to expectant western audiences, perhaps even picking up the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film on the way.

Siberian tsiryulnik (1998)

In Russia the film did attract huge and satisfied audiences, though the critical reception was mixed, if not cool. But its Cannes showing last year was a fiasco, and it subsequently failed to impress the Oscar voters. With this damaged reputation The Barber of Siberia limps belatedly into the UK.

It would be wrong to look to The Barber of Siberia for historical authenticity or cultural specificity - the film, in Mikhalkov's own words, is "not about how things were but about how things should be." So we are served a mythological stew, a souvenir Russia made up of vast birch forests and famous Moscow landmarks, epic drinking, fatal passion and doomed love leading to duel, scandal and exile in the Siberian snow. In what seems like a concession to ignorant western audiences, the hero is given a famous Russian name, Tolstoy, but to make them feel at ease this Tolstoy admits he couldn't make it to the end of Anna Karenina. Perhaps some western viewers will be satisfied with this reading of Russia, but its greatest appeal is surely to Russian audiences so exhausted by their recent tribulations that they will embrace any lazy reiteration of warmed-over cliché without pausing to wonder why the young officers to whom the film is dedicated are so childish and their mentor is a drunk. Western audiences may balk, however, at being represented only by rogues, or by Sergeant 'Mad Dog' O'Leary, who thinks Mozart is a girl, and a Russian one at that.

Siberian tsiryulnik (1998)

The film's aspirations to represent the relationship between Russia and the US in symbolic form are not supported by any psychological acuity in the characterisation. The bigger the role, the more the actor flounders. Julia Ormond is too bland to convey either the scheming or the bitter regrets of Jane Callahan. Oleg Menshikov, meanwhile, an actor of great range and emotional subtlety, has been badly cast in the role of Tolstoy; pushing 40 when he made the film, he is reduced to rehearsing the pert mannerisms of an ingénu. After his embarrassing declaration to Jane in the presence of Radlov, he asks "May I be excused?", which is likely only to provoke inappropriate memories of the classroom among British audiences. The best acting comes in the cameo roles, from Marina Neelova as Tolstoy's actress mother and Elizabeth Spriggs as the countess Perepyolkina.

The exiguous and predictable plot is fleshed out by a number of grandly staged set pieces, including a ball, Russian Shrovetide celebrations, a parade before Tzsar Alexander III (played by the director himself), the production of the opera, the depredations of McCracken's monstrous machine. You can, at least, see where the money has gone. The film concludes with a sly double ending, happy for western audiences - young Andrew wins his battle over Mozart, whom he refuses to defame at his military camp - and tragic for Russians, just the way they like it: his parents are not reunited. On the way it tries first to make us laugh, then, less successfully, to make us cry through a slew of novelistic clichés. Occasionally, the film comes alive - Menshikov playing Figaro in a production of The Marriage of Figaro finally casts off the strait-jacket of having to play a much younger character; his assault on Radlov is also one of the film's most powerful scenes.

Mikhalkov's finest films Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano, Five Evenings and Urga demonstrate that he is best at the small scale, at the delicate rendering of intense human emotion. His old-fashioned and seemingly interminable Barber discards these qualities as insouciantly as McCracken despoils the Siberian forest. What remains seems ill suited as a model, either for Russian society or for Russian cinema. ...

Stanislav Rostotsky: The Dawns Here Are Quiet - А зори здесь тихие (1972)

Directed by Stanislav Rostotsky.
Starring Yelena Drapeko, Yekaterina Markova, Olga Ostroumova.

The Dawns Here Are Quiet (Russian: А зори здесь тихие, 1972) is a feature film directed by Stanislav Rostotsky based on Boris Vasilyev's novel of the same name. In 1973 the film was nominated for an Oscar in the "Best Foreign Language Film" category. ...

Stanislav Rostotsky's adaptation of Boris Vasilyev's acclaimed novel, The Dawns Here Are Quiet, deserved a better fate than to be utterly forgotten after being beaten to the 1973 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film by Luis Buñuel's The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.

However, its revival by the Russian Cinema Council in a fine two-disc edition reveals this sincere and occasionally innovative epic to be as poignant an account of the sacrifices made by ordinary citizens in the Great Patriotic War as Mikhail Kalatazov's The Cranes Are Flying (1957) and Grigori Chukrai's Ballad of a Soldier (1959).

Sergeant Andrei Martynov is initially dismayed at being placed in charge of an all-female anti-aircraft unit in the Finnish border region of Karelia in 1941. However, when gunner Irina Shevchuk spots Germans in the forest, Martynov quickly comes to respect the courage and resourcefulness of the five volunteers who accompany him on a reconnaissance mission that turns into a desperate rearguard after they discover that the invasion force numbers 16 rather than two.

Periodically switching from gritty monochrome to stylised colour, Rostotsky deftly sketches the backstories of Shevchuk's single mother, Yelena Drapeko's naive farm girl, Yekaterina Markova's lonely orphan, Irina Dolganova's Jewish scholar and Olga Ostroumova's disgraced city hussy without resorting to the cliché and caricature that undermined so many Hollywood combat pictures. ...

Aleksandr Rogozhkin: Transit - Перегон (2006)

Transit, Russia, 2006
Color, 127 minutes
Director: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
Scriptwriter: Aleksandr Rogozhkin
Cinematography: Andrei Zhegalov
Art Director: Vladimir Diatlenko
Music: Dmitrii Pavlov
Cast: Daniil Strakhov, Aleksei Serebriakov, Anastasiia Nemoliaeva, Kirill Ul'ianov, Sarah Bulley, Catherine Innocente, Aleksei Petrov, Andrei Shibarshin, Ivan Prill', Artem Volobuev, Iurii Intskov, Oleg Malkin, Iurii Orlov
Producer: Sergei Sel'ianov
Production: STW Film Company, with support from the federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography

"Transit is the latest film of the prolific Russian film director Aleksandr Rogozhkin, whose individual cinematic style has been widely appreciated, nationally and internationally. He has directed over fifteen television series and films, among them the award-winning The Cuckoo (Kukushka, 2002), which is often listed as one of the best post-Soviet films (see the review by Daniel H. Wild in KinoKultura). His war parable The Checkpoint (Blokpost, 1998) also brought an award and critical acclaim. His prize-winning and extremely popular comedy The Peculiarities of National Hunting (Osobennosti natsional'noi okhoty, 1995) and the follow-up The Peculiarities of National Fishing (Osobennosti natsional'noi rybalki, 1998) became the first two films in a humorous sequence about the specificity of national lifestyle and character. Many phrases from this sequence have already become part of post-Soviet folklore. His latest film, Transit, had its premiere at the Kinotavr Open Russian Film Festival in 2006 and was subsequently presented at the Karlovy Vary film festival."

Reviewed by Natalia Rulyova © 2007 in KinoKultura

Visualize a Soviet Utopia - Dziga Vertov

In Dziga Vertov's dazzling 'city symphony' film, 'Man With a Movie Camera' ('Chelovek s kinoapparatom,' 1929), a cameraman appears everywhere—on rooftops, in a mug of beer—buoyantly affirming the camera's power. Vertov (his full name was a pseudonym that evokes whirring and turning) began as a poet and medical student who admired Walt Whitman and Vladimir Mayakovsky. He ended up forever changing documentary film, creating works that still fascinate with their radical ideas about how cinema can transform perception and effect social change.

Despite Vertov's wide-ranging influence, until now it has been difficult to grasp the full scope of his achievements. In the unprecedented series "Dziga Vertov," the Museum of Modern Art is exploring Vertov's cinematic experiments—ranging from inventive silent and early sound films to little-seen later works—and their connection to others by colleagues and rivals, and by artists he has inspired. The series was organized by MoMA associate curator Joshua Siegel and Yuri Tsivian of the University of Chicago, in collaboration with the Austrian Film Museum.

"We'd been working on the retrospective for several years," Mr. Siegel said by phone, "and a happy confluence of events made it possible for us to show Vertov's work in depth and trace the entirety of his career—including the restoration of 'Man With a Movie Camera' in its original full-frame version, but also the unprecedented availability of many rare Vertov films that will be new to virtually all Western audiences."

Born Denis Arkadievitch Kaufman in Bialystok (then part of the Russian empire) in 1896, Vertov began working on the newsreel "Kino-Week" for the new Soviet government in 1918. In 1922 he launched the onscreen magazine "Kino-Pravda," and by 1925 had filmed 23 episodes exploring a dramatic new form of reportage in which he used montage to defy time and space, sometimes incorporating dynamic intertitles by Aleksandr Rodchenko. In urgent manifestos, Vertov expressed his disdain for fiction films and called for a new cinema of facts. "I, a machine, am showing you a world, the likes of which only I can see," he wrote.

His ideas about the potential of a perfectible, all-seeing "Kino-Eye" to unveil a new reality spring vividly to life in "Man With a Movie Camera," shot in Moscow, Kiev and Odessa. MoMA is screening a version restored by the EYE Film Institute Netherlands, in which the film's glorious Constructivist compositions can be seen as Vertov and his brother Mikhail Kaufman, the cinematographer, intended them to be seen. It also includes a scene of a woman giving birth that had been excised from some prints. Mr. Siegel said, "It's amazing, and it was really quite controversial in its time. This is really the effort to restore the film as it was shown in 1929."

Many of the prints in this series were lent by the Austrian Film Museum, holder of the world's largest Vertov collection. Mr. Siegel explained that the museum's co-founders, Peter Kubelka and Peter Konlechner, formed a relationship with Elizaveta Svilova, Vertov's editor and widow. "And it was through her—and sometimes bravery—that they were able to shepherd some of the material out of Russia for safekeeping." ...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Vitali Kanevsky: Freeze Die Come to Life - Замри - умри - воскресни! (1989)

Directed by Vitali Kanevsky.
Starring Dinara Drukarova, Pavel Nazarov, Yelena Popova.


* Camera d'Or - Vitaly Kanevsky - 1990 Cannes Film Festival
* Best Screenplay - Vitaly Kanevsky - 1990 European Film Academy
* Special Mention - Pavel Nazarov - 1990 European Film Academy


* Best Foreign Film - 1990 Independent Spirit Awards
* Film Presented - 1990 Telluride Film Festival

Two children living in a remote mining town in the distant wastes of Siberia in 1947, survive poverty and hardship through the warmth of their friendship and a shared sense of humour. ...

It is difficult to discern a structure of metaphor and meaning in Vitaly Kanevskii's perplexingly varied and intricately revealed setting. The bleak landscape of the Far Eastern town of Suchan, where he himself lived in childhood and which he chose as the setting for the greater portion of his two autobiographical films, Zamri, umri, voskresni! (Freeze, Die, Come to Life!, 1989) and Samostoiatel'naia zhizn' (An Independent Life, 1992) evokes a remarkable ambivalence.

Kanevskii confronts the viewer with a portrait of the eastern Primore (Coastal) district in the post-war years that, paradoxically, evokes the simultaneous extremes of recognition and incomprehension. This is at once a fragmented pastiche of memories and a cohesive and believable reality, a world unlike any imaginable and a mode of existence frighteningly familiar to those who understand the word "Zone" in its particular Stalinist-Soviet context. As a consequence, we are repulsed and confused by Kanevskii's conception of "place" and fascinated by its undeniable credibility as a past we know. ...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Valeri Todorovsky: Land of the Deaf - Страна глухих (1998)

Director:Valeri Todorovskiy
Writers:Yuriy Korotkov, Renata Litvinova (book),
Stars: Chulpan Khamatova, Dina Korzun, Maksim Sukhanov

Picture 21 of 4874

Awards :

Best film Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 1999
Best music Aleksey AIGY , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 1999
Best Actress in a Supporting Role Dina KORZUN , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 1999
Best Actor in a Supporting Role Maksim SUKHANOV , Annual award of the Guild of Historians of Cinema and Film Critics, Russia, 1999
Best editing Honfleur Russian Film Festival, France, 1998
Prix du meilleur premier film au Festival de Seatle, 1998

Winner of SIFF’s 1998 New Directors Showcase Competition, Land of the Deaf is a poetic narrative that embodies Moscow in the 1990s, based on the novella To Have and To Belong, by Renata Litvinova. The plot is basic—Yaya (Dina Korzun) works in a nightclub. Rita (Chulpan Khamatova, in her first film role) is running from the men who detained her boyfriend, Alyosha, because of his gambling debts. Yaya distrusts men after being abused by them her entire life, and Rita wants to save Alyosha. The girls hide out a few days together in a Moscow sculptor’s studio where Yaya teaches Rita sign language and they dream about starting a new life together—a “land of the deaf” where no one is cruel. In a rich, post-glasnost Moscow atmosphere, director Todorovsky creates poignant testimonials to the power of love and survival in the capital city’s chaos. “Moscow is more than just a city,” he says. “It's an entire country…a melting pot where kindness and evil, the terrifying and beautiful, crime and inspiration all mix.” A rare chance to see the first work of three talented contemporary Russian women artists: scriptwriter and actress Renata Litvinova (It Doesn't Hurt Me), Dina Korzun (Cold Souls), and Chulpan Khamatova (Luna Papa). ...

Andrei Tarkovsky: Ivan's Childhood - Иваново детство (1962)

Иваново детство (1962) - фото №0

Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cast: Kolya Burlyayev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zharikov, Valentina Malyavina, Stepan Krylov, Nikolai Grinko, Irina Tarkovskaya, Andrei Konchalovsky

Awards: Venice '62 - Golden Lion (tied)

Essay by Dina Iordanova here. And by Fergus Daly and Katherine Waugh here.

On an idyllic summer day, a 12 year old boy named Ivan (Nikolai Burlyayev) ventures into the woods and spots a cuckoo. He begins to levitate above the forest, rejoins his mother (Irma Raush Tarkovskaya), and begins to share his discovery. Then the peaceful reunion between mother and son is truncated by Ivan's rude awakening to the sound of mortar firing. Suddenly, it is evening, and a hungry, weary Ivan awakens in the attic of an empty windmill. Like the opening scene of Andrei Rublev, the surreal episode proves to be an intangible dream. Resuming his reconnaissance mission, Ivan then crosses a treacherous swamp amidst enemy fire. Unable to rendezvous with his contact, Corporal Katasonych (Stepan Krylov), Ivan arrives at an alternate Russian bunker, where his credentials are immediately questioned by the ranking officer, Lieutenant Galtsev (Yevgeni Zharikov). Despite his skepticism, Galtsev calls Ivan's superior, Colonel Gryaznov (Nikolai Grinko), who confirms his identity, dispatches Captain Kholin (Valentin Zubkov) to bring him back to headquarters. Gryaznov has taken an interest in the welfare of the young orphan, and has decided to enroll him in a military academy, reasoning that war has no place for children. Ivan refuses to leave, and argues that his age and stealth make him an ideal scout for their missions. Unable to persuade his superiors, Ivan runs away from the barracks, only to find a ravaged, desolate wasteland outside its walls. With nowhere left to turn, he returns with his superiors back to camp. However, despite the officers' reluctance, Ivan is enlisted for a final mission as they prepare for another covert operation.

Andrei Tarkovsky presents an austere, bleak and haunting portrait of lost innocence in Ivan's Childhood. Tarkovsky uses sharp, contrasting scenes of light and darkness to visually delineate between the idealization of a normal life and its seeming elusiveness in the hopelessness of war: the brightness of the sunshine during Ivan's dream sequences and Kholin's courtship of the nurse, Masha (Valentina Malyavina) at a birch forest provide a jarring transition from the dark trenches, murky swamps, and poorly lit barracks of the battlefield. Nevertheless, within the daylight sequences, Tarkovsky continues to reinforce a pervasive sense of entrapment and helplessness: the spider web on the opening shot; Ivan bathing in the well; Kholin's stolen kiss from Masha while straddling a trench. What emerges is an ominous and incongruent coexistence of nature and frontiers, humanity and cruelty, youth and nihilism - a reflection of the austere and unnatural landscape of war. ...

Jean Paul Sartre Discussion on the criticism of Ivan's Childhood

Abram Room: Bed and Sofa -Третья Мещанская (1927)

Third Philistine (1927)

Director:Abram Room
Writers:Abram Room, Viktor Shklovsky
Stars:Nikolai Batalov, Lyudmila Semyonova, Leonid Yurenyov


From a cultural point of view, the Russian Revolution of October 1917 was more than just an upheaval of the Czar and the beginning of Marxism. The world had been forever changed by the upheaval, and the new Soviet Government in 1917 was the suggestion that all forms of expression to the public, such as the cinema, should be under the guidance of the State. Lenin declared that "of all the arts, the most important for Russia is, to my mind, that of the cinema."

Third Philistine (1927)

The cinema was controlled by Communists whose sole aim was the spread of their faith, and they were out to show the world that the old system had been decadent and things were being changed for the better.

Beginning in the mid 1920's, Sergei Eisenstein, V. Pudovkin and other popular directors of the new Soviet cinema system were glorifying the Bolshevik Revolution by elaborately staged re-enactments of the upheaval. They churned out numerous, serious, no-nonsense films that followed the Communist Party line including "The Battleship Potemkin," "The End Of St. Petersburg," "Mother," "Strike," and "Ten Days That Shook The World."

Before Socialist Realism began to dictate what could be depicted, the new Soviet filmmakers were given quite a bit of latitude, and a few directors took advantage. Instead of following in the footsteps of Eisenstein by glorifying the struggles of the masses, one filmmaker, Abram Room, produced a film with only three principals.

"Bed and Sofa" (1927), starring Ludmilla Semyonova, Alexei Bartalov and Vladimir Fogel was produced by Sovkino (Moscow) and released March 15, 1927.

The film opens in a small, bleak one-bedroom apartment in Moscow in the 1920's, consisting of a bed and sofa during a very severe housing shortage. The film does not portray earth shaking events but the plight of the threadbare, pinched and bleak daily life under the new Soviet regime.

The film begins in a room, not a slum, but a very crowded room where a couple are asleep in bed. A cat stirs them up. The husband, a construction worker, rushes out to his job on a building high above Moscow. The young wife is brooding and resentful, bored with the constant, nagging succession of household duties, cooking in cramped quarters, and attempting to organize things where there is no place to put her clothes.

On a train coming into Moscow is another young man, a printer seeking a place to live. After wandering around Moscow with all his possessions in a bundle, he meets the construction worker whom he had known.

"No room, but we have a sofa," the construction worker says. The wife is resentful of the intrusion, and she reluctantly accepts it as another instance of her husband's lack of concern for her. There is now another occupant in the apartment that was too small for the couple and their cat.

The printer, who is much more sensitive than the construction worker, tries to make up for his intrusion by assisting her and giving her gifts. Then, while the husband is away on a business trip, the wife and the printer fall in love and have an affair. After his initial outrage, the husband calms down, and the three settle into a cozy, domesticated menage-a-trois until the wife finds herself pregnant. When the two men are trying to decide what to do, she announces that she has other ideas on the outcome of her life.

The decision reached at the end of the film by the wife at the center of the triangle represents the liberation of women in the new Soviet society. ...

Monday, 18 April 2011

Aleksandr Stolper: The Story of a Real Man - Повесть о настоящем человеке (1948) 1/9

Director:Aleksandr Stolper
Writers:Boris Polevoy (novel), Mariya Smirnova
Stars:Pavel Kadochnikov, Nikolai Okhlopkov, Aleksei Dikij

Alexey Meresyev was a fighter pilot during the war. One day he was shot down by Nazis, and because of his wounds both of his legs had to be cut off up to his knees ...

Aleksandr Ivanov: Zvezda -The Star -Звезда (1949)

Director: Aleksandr Ivanov
Writers:Emmanuil G. Kazakevich (short story), P. Furmansky (scenario)
Stars:Nikolai Kryuchkov, Vasili Merkuryev,Oleg Zhakov

Loosely based on the novel of the same title by Emmanuil Kazakevich. Headquarters of a Soviet division gets the information that the enemy is preparing a counteroffensive and is drawing up large forces to the front line. A group of scouts sent to check the information did not return. The new team of scouts named “Star” is headed by lieutenant Travkin. The group fulfills the task and on its way back runs into a Nazi detachments. Lieutenant Travkin sends one of the scouts to deliver the message to the commander and together with his comrades starts the mortal combat with the enemy.
The demonstration of the scouts’ death was not in line with the post-war normative aesthetics. The film was banned and released only in 1953. ...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Aleksandra Erofeyeva :The Golovlev - Господа Головлёвы (2010)

Golovlevs (2010)

Directed by Aleksandra Erofeyeva
Actors Denis Sukhanov, Agureyeva Paulina, Paulina Nechitailo, Lyudmila Polyakova,

TV feature film loosely based on the novel by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin's Golovlevs.

Lidia Bobrova: Granny - Бабуся (2003)

Director:Lidia Bobrova
Writer:Lidia Bobrova
Stars:Nina Shubina, Olga Onishchenko, Anna Ovsyannikova

Awards :

Audience Award Paris International Film Festival, France, 2003
Best actress Anna OVSIANNIKOVA , Open Russian Film Festival Kinotavr, Russia, 2003
Grand prix du public et Prix Arte aux Rencontres internationales de cinéma à Paris 2003
Prix Don Quichotte, prix spécial du jury et prix oecuménique au Fstival de Karlovy Vary, 2003
Grand Prix du festival des festivals de Saint-Pétersbourg, 2003

Lidiia Bobrova's film Granny (Babusia) is a French co-production, which has probably affected both its clear-cut structure and linear plot development. The film tells about the life of a granny, the ‘babusia’, who raised her children, her grandchildren and the neighbour’s kids in a small Russian village. Now all of them have grown up, have made their careers, and have secured a comfortable life in the city. In many respects the achievement of such a lifestyle was assisted by the money the children received after the sale of the Babusia’s country house.

It would seem all is well, except that Babusia has nowhere to go. None of the children seems to dispose fully of the property they ‘own’ or is really free to do what they want: one depends on the husband, the other on the mistress, the third lives in Moscow without a residence permit. Babusia is taken from one house to the other, from one apartment to the next, handed around like an unnecessary, shabby object. Despite this, Babusia finds the strength to perform a miracle on her dumb grand-daughter, to whom she returns her ability to speak. The heroine herself is almost deprived words, which underlines her similarity to the icon of Mary the Virgin. The casting of a non-professional actress for the role it quite justified: she is an old woman with expressive, spiritual features.

Old age is a universal and eternal theme. For the Russian spectator it sounds different than in the West. Bobrova has created a film about life of old people, based on the realities of Russian life, without transforming the story into a parable and without endowing the events with a symbolic meaning. Alas, old age in Russia is unattractive: old people can hardly survive on their low pensions. The State, to whom they have given all their lives, is unable to provide for them and offer the necessary support. Old people are more than often no joy for their children, but a burden.

Bobrova’s picture of Russian life is based on stereotypes. Her vision of the bleak Russian provinces is colourful and reminds of a souvenir version of Russia for the visitor. The nostalgic memories of a happy past belong, however, to the cinema of the early 1990s when directors gazed at the Soviet past and mourned lost ideals, rather than to the 21st century. It is a pity that Bobrova resorts to expressive means and themes of the past. And what did she want to tell her compatriots that they do not already know from everyday life?

Reviewed by Birgit Beumers ©2003 in KinoKultura

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Sergei Solovyov: A Hundred Days After Childhood - Сто дней после детства (1974)

Directed by Sergei Solovyov.
Starring Boris Tokarev, Tatyana Drubich, Irina Malysheva

Awards:25th Berlin International Film Festival Silver Bear for Best Director.

Igor Talankin: Tchaikovsky - Чайковский (1969)

Tchaikovsky (1969)

Director: Igor Talankin
Actors: Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Antonina Shuranova, Yevgheny Leonov, Maya Plisetskaya, Vladislav Strzhelchik

Innocent Smoktunovsky

Prize of the city of San Sebastian for Best Actor Innocent Smoktunovsky and a special jury mention at the film festival in San Sebastian.
Nominated for an Oscar in the category "Best Foreign Language Film".

Vladimir Bortko: Heart of a Dog - Собачье сердце (1988) - TV film

Director:Vladimir Bortko
Writers:Natalya Bortko, Mikhail A. Bulgakov (story)
Stars:Evgeni Evstigneev, Vladimir Tolokonnikov, Boris Plotnikov

Prix Italia 1989

Boris Khlebnikov: Freely Floating - Свободное плавание (2006)

Directed by Boris Khlebnikov.
Starring Aleksandr Yatsenko, Yevgeni Syty, Pyotr Zaychenko.

The young film director Boris Khlebnikov already honoured with numerous cinema awards has produced only two full-length feature films: Koktebel (2003) and Svobodnoe plavanie (Free Floating) (2006). He states, however, he has made only one and a half films, because the first one, Koktebel was created jointly with his friend Aleksei Popogrebsky.
“Neither Koktebel nor Free Floating is a great work of art boasting vivid and unique language. I am happy with my films, but they are not outstanding. There is probably some theme but I do not presume to settle it in definite terms”, Klebnikov says.
Boris Khlebnikov is a certificated cinema critic, who had set about directing films rather of mere curiosity. One of the initiators of the Russian project Kinoteatr.doc, highlighting new genius film directors he has turned out to be one of the geniuses.
“I have not any super goal. I am not going to reclaim anyone. When Tolstoy was writing Sevastopol Stories he was a merry officer who enjoyed carousing and wrote brilliantly. By the end of his life he felt himself a messiah and became an awful bearded guy who walked barefoot and wrote only the Bible for Children and the story Bul’ka. He wanted to educate and teach, but became just a stupid spiteful old man. Feeling oneself a messiah is a true death. A serial maniac set upon killing all blondes with breasts of DD size and a man who is eager to reclaim everybody are generally the same thing”, the film director asserts.
Boris Khlebnikov was born on August 28, 1972 in Moscow. For two years he studied at a biological faculty, and then worked as a laboratory assistant at a rat vivarium, sold garments at Luzhniki market, and digged trenches for house foundations. Later he entered the cinema criticism faculty of VGIK (All-Russian State Institute of Cinema) in Moscow. During the studies he directed the 2-minute long film Mimokhod (By the Way) jointly with Aleksei Popogrebsky. Afterwards Khlebnikov made another short-length film under the title Khitraya Lyagushka (A Sly Frog).

Friday, 15 April 2011

Karen Shakhnazarov: Ward Number Six - Палата № 6 (2009)

Directed by Aleksandr Gornovsky, Karen Shakhnazarov.
Starring Vladimir Ilin, Aleksey Vertkov, Aleksandr Pankratov-Chyornyy.

The film is a screen version of the mysterious paradoxical and disturbing story by Chekhov, which can be in all justice called the most pessimistic and also the most life-asserting work of the author.

Ward No. 6

The story is based on a real life incident and centers around the head doctor of an asylum who winds up as the asylum patient. Lonely, estranged, reflecting Doctor Andrey Ragin is one of the focal characters in the work of Chekhov and the entire world literature of the 20th century. ...

Ward 6″ is a powerful reflective film taking the viewer through an introspective journey. Adding to its realism, and the fact that it was based on the true case of an asylum administrator who ends up committed to the institution he ran, “Ward 6″ was actually filmed on location in Russia at an institution for the mentally ill and includes interviews with actual inmates who explain their goals and dreams and what led to their incarceration. ...

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hunting high and low for awards at Cannes

A pensive Russian film will be screened at the 64th Cannes Film Festival, in parallel to the official competition, in the Un Certain Regard program which focuses on works that have an original aim and aesthetic.

The Hunter, from the philosophical Georgia-born director Bakur Bakuradze, relates to an ordinary Russian man, Ivan, leading a rural life, working, loving, existing.

Bakuradze was quoted as saying that he wanted to make a film about “a man’s love of soil, of his daughter, to a woman, to the past generation.”

The challenge was to “watch a person who lives on his own soil, and is dependent entirely on himself. He kills, he creates and takes responsibility for his world.”

“We are living in the state of permanent compromise. Our entire existence is based on considering our conditions of living. A modern rural person, however, doesn’t have that many opportunities to be free and to create, to have a clear conscience and trust his feelings, trust himself. A person nowadays shifts part of the responsibility on to the society, his upbringing, or whoever but himself. It’s a very practical excusatory approach. ‘It’s not us, it’s life! Or, ‘I’m like everyone else’. These are horrible catchphrases. If a person doesn’t want to be part of common perplexity, if he is eager to get in touch with himself through his own thought, to give oneself a right to feel guilty, to feel, to trust, to commit acts, then this person can become a hero. It’s heroism shaping up during one’s entire life, an act hidden in monotony,” the director told Seans film magazine.


Mikhalkov and the self-combusting talent

Although for many international cineastes director Nikita Mikhalkov remains one of the biggest symbols of Russian cinema, the former golden boy’s native fan base is rebelling – and not even a recent court victory over royalty collection can quench the growing flames of hatred against the increasingly eccentric director.

Nikita Mikhalkov’s 2010 sequel to the Oscar-winning “Burnt by the sun” was panned by Russian critics and made very little money in the box office compared to its budget. Cinema observer Valery Kichin wrote at the time that “[Mikhalkov’s] movie has as much to do with our cinema as a migalka-bearing bureaucrat flying against oncoming traffic does with our people”. The director himself is a notorious migalka motorist, something else which makes him unpopular with the public.

Encouraged by designer and blogger Artemy Lebedev, Russian internet users meanwhile went to town on the promotional posters for “Burnt by the sun 2”, Photoshopping them into caricatures.

What was particularly offensive to moviegoers in Russia was the fact that the “Burnt by the sun 2” poster came with a tagline of “A great film about a great war”. Although Mikhalkov vehemently denied having had anything to do with the tagline in subsequent interviews, the director’s famous ego, long-documented by both industry observers and random people who have crossed paths with the man, meant that hardly anyone believed him.

Mikhalkov’s latest film, “Burnt by the sun 3”, is already dreaded by his critics. “Mikhalkov doesn’t see that he has become an evil parody of himself,” Kichin wrote recently.

Among Russian filmmakers, Mikhalkov is chiefly reviled for his autocratic leadership of the Cinematographers’ Union and what is largely seen as his monopolisation of government funding for new film projects. “Dislike of Nikita Mikhalkov has been building up for some time,” film critic Alyona Solntseva told The Moscow News. “It’s hardly a recent development – but now it’s growing exponentially.

“Mikhalkov is a kind of ‘bolshevik’; he likes to be in charge of the masses. For a while, those members of the Cinematographers’ Union who were opposed to him didn’t have a leader, as they were all very different people. The situation has changed now.”

Last year, a rival union, the Union of Cinematographers and Professional Cinematographer Organisations and Guilds of Russia, or, more simply, the Cinema Union, was established. It is currently presided over by young director Boris Khlebnikov.

Meanwhile, another organisation headed by Mikhalkov, the Russian Union of Rights’ Holders, has won a court battle to collect royalties on blank CDs, DVDs, memory cards and equipment that utilises such equipment. Opponents of the ruling point out that the Russian Union of Rights’ Holders was formed just a few weeks before the tender process was due to begin, painting Mikhalkov as more than a little opportunistic. ...

The Moscow News

Elem Klimov :Agony. Rasputin (The Life and Death of Rasputin) - Агония (1975 )

Агония (1975)

Director: Klimov Elem
Cast:Aleksej Petrenko,Leonid Bronevoy,Anatolij Romashin,Ivan Ryzhov,Alisa Freyndlih,Mihail Svetin,Yuriy Katin-Yarce

• Special Jury Prize FIPRESCI for off-competition films at the Venice IFF, 1982
• Grand Prize “The Golden Eagle” at the Ruel-Malmeson IFF (France), 1985

Film is about the last days of the most enigmatic figure in Russian history – Grigory Rasputin.
The fall of the Russian Empire. The army loses one battle after another. The ruble is falling before one’s very eyes. But St. Petersburg’s high society does not care about such trifles. The capital is in a fever. Everyone is talking about the mysterious Siberian peasant miracle-worker Rasputin. And no one needs a miracle more than the Imperial Family and the Sovereign of All Rus: the Great, the Little and the White, Nikolai Romanov. ...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Russian film wins European award

The film “The Stoker” (Кочегар) by Russian director Alexey Balabanov has been awarded the main prize of the International Film Festival of Central and East European countries in Wiesbaden.

The panel was in session for six hours without a break and in the end came to the conclusion that Balabanov’s film was the best, the Interfax news agency reports.

This year Balabanov also won Russian film critics’ award “The White Elephant” as the best film of the year and “The Golden Eagle” prize for the best direction.

Voice of Russia

Saluting the Supreme Soviet Filmmaker, Dziga Vertov

The greatest red documentary filmmaker of the 1920s, the greatest documentary filmmaker of the ’20s, the greatest filmmaker . . . ever? In the alternate universe where vision trumps commerce and formal innovation displaces narrative, Dziga Vertov (1896–1954) rivals Stan Brakhage and Oscar Micheaux as supreme inventor of motion-picture form.

Vertov—bellicose bard of revolutionary euphoria, singer of the social body electric, and now subject of an extensive retro at MOMA, in collaboration with the Austrian Film Museum—was the most contentious and inventive of Soviet filmmakers and, for a time, one of the most obscure. The French rediscovered him in the late ’50s as the pioneer of cinéma vérité; ’60s radicals claimed him as a proto-McLuhan media theorist and film artist who fused two vanguards, aesthetic and political.

Born David Kaufman, Vertov was a rabbi’s grandson and the eldest child of a semi-Russified bookseller; he grew up in Bialystok, a then mainly Jewish industrial city, hometown to the inventor of Esperanto, the universal language. Could there be a visual equivalent? Red October interrupted young David’s studies, diverting his ambition to be a Futurist noise-poet. Kaufman became “Dziga Vertov” (a Russian-Ukrainian amalgam meaning “spinning top,” or perhaps “permanent revolution”), boarding one of the Bolshevik agit-trains that, crisscrossing Russia throughout the Civil War, were moving film labs devoted to the making and showing of short “agitational” newsreels.

In the manifesto-mad Moscow of the early ’20s, Vertov formed the Kinok (Cinema Eye) group with his wife, Elizaveta Svilova, and younger brother Mikhail Kaufman. (A third brother, Boris Kaufman, would go west to make movies with Jean Vigo and eventually win an Oscar for On the Waterfront.) The Kinoks staked out a left position, with some political cover: Their weekly film newsreel was named, after Lenin’s newspaper, Kino-Pravda and, echoing Marx’s characterization of religion, they denounced narrative cinema as the opium of the masses. But their real radicalism derived from a sense of cinema as material. The “film-object,” produced in a Factory of Facts without actors or script, would be constructed out of footage “just as a house is made with bricks.”

Of course, Kinok bricks were ballistic. Their newsreels regularly deployed split screens, multiple exposures, reverse motion, variable-speed photography, prismatic lenses, freeze frames, shock cuts, pixilation, and stroboscopic editing—anything and everything to demonstrate that cinema was not a means to tell a story but a machine art produced with a mechanically improved, all-seeing eye. Vertov’s first feature, Kino Eye (1924), was largely shot with a hidden camera and subtitled Life Off-Guard. Subsequent commissioned works—Stride Soviet! (1926), One Sixth of the World (1926), and The Eleventh Year (1928)—were tendentious, ecstatic, and never less than controversial in using the brave new world of the motion-picture apparatus to celebrate the brave new world of industrialized Soviet reality.

The work culminated in Man With a Movie Camera (1929), which, evoking the sensory bombardment of 20th-century urban life, employed strategies of visual analogy and associative montage so intricate that they are still yet to be named. At once a Whitman-esque documentary-portrait of the Soviet people, a self-reflexive essay on cinematic representation, and an ode to the transformative power of human labor, this fantastically cross-referenced, cubo-kaleidoscopic city symphony took parallel action to the third—or fourth—dimension. Designed to destroy habitual movie watching by revealing the ways in which the camera and film editor construct reality, Vertov’s masterpiece had the remarkable effect of encouraging the spectator to identify with the filmmaking process. Indeed, given the density of the editing, this supreme film-object demands to be studied on an editing table to be fully appreciated. Small wonder that it was condemned, by Sergei Eisenstein, among others, for formalist madness and fetishized technique; there had never been anything like it.

Man With a Movie Camera’s whirligig visual ruckus cried out for audio accompaniment; a year later, Vertov produced his first sound-object. With Enthusiasm (1930), the kino-eye met the radio-ear. As in an animated cartoon, sound was synchronized to but not synchronous with the image: Enthusiasm, subtitled Symphony of the Donbass, was a composition in noise, making brilliant use of contrapuntal, artfully mismatched audio effects. Nominally an attack on religion (which is brought down to earth amid a cacophony of factory whistles and industrial ululation), Enthusiasm more fundamentally celebrated sound as a thing in itself. This, however, was as far as Vertov would march as the vanguard’s vanguard.

Enthusiasm is musique concrète made visible. There was nothing disjunctive about the sound mix in Three Songs of Lenin (released in 1934 and re-edited four years later), a hagiographic conglomerate of lyrically edited stock footage and direct interviews (a cinematic first) that would become Vertov’s greatest hit as well as the film with which—reconciled to the demands of socialist realism—he hit the wall. Vertov was harassed throughout production by the doctrinaire Russian Association of Proletarian Writers, whom he attempted to placate by criticizing his earlier masterpieces: “In previous work I frequently presented my shooting methods outright. I left the construction of those methods open and visible. . . . And this was wrong.” And so was that.

Vertov was neither exiled nor executed but merely marginalized. (His career ended as it had begun; he spent his last 15 years editing newsreel footage, anonymously.) His last personal project, filmed largely in Central Asia, would be a joyful celebration of mothers and children—and Stalin. Hardly artless in its rhythmic editing, Lullaby (1938) is as soothing as its title suggests. Coming from the filmmaker who, not even a decade before, declared cinema’s mission the production of a sentient audience rather than “an unconscious mass submissive to any passing suggestion,” it was also a tragic irony, a wake-up call in reverse. ...

Village Voice