Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Mikhail Chiaureli:The Fall of Berlin - Падение Берлина (1949)

Director: Mikhail Chiaureli
Music: Dmitrii Shostakovich
Cast: Mikhail Gelovani, Boris Andreev, Marina Kovaleva, Vladimir Savelev, Iurii Timoshenko, Nikolai Bogoliubov,

The Georgian director Mikhail Chiaureli’s The Fall of Berlin is perhaps the most important of the films that promoted Stalin’s “cult of personality.” Made in two parts by Mosfilm Studio and presented to Stalin as a 70th birthday gift, the film lasts over 150 minutes. It begins in the countryside near Moscow in June 1941 and ends with a highly fanciful victory parade attended by Stalin in Berlin in May 1945. The linking thread is the interrupted love affair between Natasha (Marina Kovaleva), the village schoolteacher, and Alesha (Boris Andreev), the Stakhanovite steelworker and recipient of the Order of Lenin for his achievements. She is captured by the German invaders and schlepped off to a concentration camp; he, shell-shocked during the invasion, recovers when he hears of her fate, and fights his way westward in the Red Army to liberate Europe. They are reunited in the final sequences of the film, but only recognise one another (well, it has been almost four years, and even undying love has its limits) in the context of their “unforgettable encounter” with the Great Leader Himself.

No expense was spared in the making of the film. Captured German tanks were refurbished and reused, a huge cast was deployed, and the final scenes were shot in the actual ruins of the German capital, although Stalin’s descent from the heavens is apocryphal! Indeed, there is anecdotal evidence that he found the film so persuasive that he wished he had flown to Berlin to celebrate “his” victory. The role of Stalin was played by his fellow Georgian, Mikhail Gelovani, who had been specialising in the role since the mid-1930s. Gelovani was famous for the precision with which he reproduced Stalin’s gestures and his Georgian accent when speaking Russian. Dmitrii Shostakovich was commissioned to write a largely bombastic score, parts of which he later reused in his Tenth Symphony to depict Stalin.

The film presents Stalin for the first time as a leader of the Soviet and world proletariat in his own right, with only one reference, in the final chorus, to Lenin. Stalin’s world role is justified by his achievement as saviour of humanity and civilization from the Nazi threat in his capacity as war leader and strategic genius....
Reviewed by Richard Taylor© 2007 in KinoKultura

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