Sunday, 7 April 2013

Yuli Raizman: Dream of a Cossack -Кавалер Золотой Звезды (1950)

Director: Yuli Raizman
Writers: S. Babaevskiy (novel), Boris Chirskov
Stars: Sergey Bondarchuk, Anatoli Chemodurov, A. Kanayeva

Sergei Tutarinov a veteran of the Great Patriotic war returns to his native village to take an active part in its restoration. His initiatives are strongly supported by the local Secretary of the Communist party. Tutarinov becomes chairman of the party and begins to rebuild the whole town after the defeat of the Germans.

Yuli Yakovlevich Raizman, film-maker: born 15 December 1903; died 11 December 1994. Yuli Raizman was one of the finest of all Soviet film directors, in addition to being one of the most long-lasting.

Joining the Mezhrabpom-Rus Studio in Moscow in 1924; he was still fit and working for Mosfilm in the late 1980s. His final film, A Time of Desires (a dispassionate and rather cruel study of Soviet nouveaux riches), was released in 1984. In collaboration with the scriptwriter Yevgeny Gabrilovich, Raizman was responsible for a clutch of movies which - almost uniquely in their time - hinted that the experience of Communism was among other things an experience of suffering.

Sometimes he went the other way too. There were a number (but not a large number) of Socialist Realist films in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including The Knight of the Golden Star (unshown at the National Film Theatre retrospective of Raizman's filmsin 1984).

Of this genre, the director remarked that he merely wanted to see if he could "spit as far as the other fellow". As justification for a pure experiment in style - as opposed to a credo deeply believed in - this may or may not be disingenuous. Certainly, throughout his career, Raizman managed, more or less, to stay out of trouble. But it could have been because of an innate and rather aristocratic reticence as much as to discreditable alternatives.

As a Jew, and an exceptionally sophisticated artist, Raizman had a strong sense of style, inherited perhaps from his father, Iakov, who was a famous couturier, responsible among other duties for costuming the Moscow Arts Theatre in the period up to the Revolution, he must have been vulnerable to the campaign against "cosmopolitanism" which Stalin unleashed in the late 1940s; but he weathered that storm as he weathered all others. The most dangerous period of his career (as for so many other artists and intellectuals) was 1937. Raizman mixed at that time in the circle of Elena Sokolovskaya, the deputy head of Mosfilm, who earlier that year, for no particular reason, was arrested and subsequently shot. For Raizman an uncomfortable couple of months - at least - followed this arrest.

But he was rescued from embarrassment by the enormous national and international success of his current release (his first collaboration with Gabrilovich), The Last Night, an essay in Bolshevik heroics. The film's surface ideology endorses the usual Soviet platitudes: vigilance against enemies, omniscience of the Party, deific status of Lenin, and so forth. But in comparison with other films of the period (Mikhail Romm's Lenin, 1918, for example) it is notably lacking in bloodthirstiness. In u nexpectedplaces it is humorous and gentle. And as well as being visually elegant (a quiet, formal pictorial innovativeness was one of Raizman's hallmarks) it reveals, like all of his best films, an effort towards psychological complexity.

Raizman trained at Mezhrabpom-Rus - the most commercial and American- oriented of the studios operating in the 1920s. In film history terms, it was a period of vigorous experimentation; but from the outset Raizman felt no particular attraction towards fashionable theories of montage....

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