Thursday, 4 August 2011

Stanislav Govorukhin: Not by Bread Alone - Не хлебом единым(2005)

Director: Stanislav Govorukhin
Writers: Vladimir Valutskiy (screenplay), Vladimir Dudintsev (novel)
Stars: Svetlana Khodchenkova, Mikhail Eliseev,Viktor Sukhorukov

In a recent interview, Stanislav Govorukhin described the excitement with which he read Vladimir Dudintsev’s 1956 literary sensation. Appearing in Novyi mir, the Bible of the Thaw, Not by Bread Alone became the most important literary text of de-Stalinization’s early stages. As a twenty-year old, Govorukhin waited impatiently for a library copy and devoured it. He has stated that he took it in “as a fresh wind, as the sweet word of freedom.” [1] For Govorukhin and other Soviet citizens who came of age during the Thaw, reading Not by Bread Alone became a defining moment in their lives, a cultural text that claimed a hallowed place alongside films such as Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying (Letiat zhuravli, 1957).

Now Govorukhin has updated Dudintsev’s novel for contemporary audiences. As a film, Not be Bread Alone can be read on multiple levels. It represents another installment in Govorukhin’s personal attempt to explore Russia’s past, following his 2003 film Bless the Woman (Blagoslovite zhenshchinu) as well as his three non-fiction films of the early 1990s. It can also be placed as a third part of a loose trilogy—alongside Sharpshooter of the Voroshilov Regiment (Voroshilovskii strelok, 1999) and Bless the Woman—about Russian women and their symbolic role as bearers of Russian-ness. In addition, the film follows Govorukhin’s reliance on genre cinema drawn from literary roots. Finally and more broadly, Not by Bread Alone represents one of the increasing numbers of Putin-era films that wrestle with the Soviet past. It can therefore be compared to Pavel Chukhrai’s A Driver for Vera (Voditel' dlia Very, 2004), Sergei Ursuliak’s Long Farewell (Dolgoe proshchanie, 2004), Aleksandr Veledinskii’s Russian (Russkoe, 2004), and Aleksei Uchitel'’s Dreaming of Space (Kosmos kak predchuvstvie, 2005), just to name the most recent examples of this exploration.

Not by Bread Alone follows the basic plot of Dudintsev’s novel about the postwar Stalin era, though Govorukhin gives the tale a new ending (more on this below). Its hero, Lopatkin (Mikhail Eliseev), attempts (first in the industrial city of Muzga and later in Moscow) to invent a new tube-casting machine that will benefit Soviet industry. As a former war hero who has not joined the Communist Party and who holds individualistic ideas, Lopatkin runs afoul of Soviet bureaucracies at every level. His particular enemy, Drozdov (Viktor Sukhorukov), personifies the entrenched structures of Soviet power and the Stalinist values that governed this nomenklatura. In the middle of both the personal and political struggle between these two men is Drozdov’s wife, Nadezhda (Svetlana Khodchenkova, the “blessed woman” of Govorukhin’s previous film). Nadia has married Drozdov as a means to escape poverty and to obtain the lifestyle that only a wife of a connected bureaucrat can enjoy. She is, however, drawn to the younger, more attractive, more Russian, idealistic Lopatkin. Eventually she chooses him—and, thus, the proper morals—over her husband. As a result of this decision, Drozdov and his mother (played by veteran actress Valentina Berezutskaia) throw Nadia out of their luxurious Moscow apartment and brand her a whore. Drozdov and his cronies successfully steal Lopatkin’s inventions and have him arrested for crimes against the state. This ominous Stalin-era charge is “proven” because Nadia worked with Lopatkin on his latest project without proper security clearance. Thus, the personal and the political collide and have devastating costs. True to Thaw-era culture, which Govorukhin painstakingly recreates and evokes in the film, the end offers some hope. Nadia saves Lopatkin’s notebook from the attempt to burn his ideas, enlists the help of a sympathetic Soviet minister (played by Putin’s favorite singer, Aleksandr Rozenbaum), and bears Lopatkin’s child (whom she names for her lover). By making good on an earlier promise not to abandon Lopatkin and the ideas he stands for, Nadia has preserved not only a sense of morality that contrasts with Stalinist ideals, she also has ensured that these qualities will survive in future generations.
Reviewed by Stephen M. Norris© in KinoKultura

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