Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Moi syn / [My Son]

Мой сын / El hijo del otro / My Son. A Lyrical Etude in 5 Reels / Syn / Staroe derzhit [Mio figlio / Son; The Old Keeps] (Sovkino, Leningrad, SU 1928). D: Yevgenii Cherviakov; SC: Aleksandr Macheret, Viktor Turin, Yuri Gromov, Yevgenii Cherviakov, based on the story “Case No. 3576” by Dmitrii Sverchkov; DP: Sviatoslav Beliayev; AD: Semion Meinkin; ass D: Nikolai Dirin; asst: Mikhail Gavronskii, Pavel Morozov; C: Anna Sten (Olga Surina), Gennadii Michurin (Andrei Surin), Piotr Beriozov (Trofim), Olga Trofimova (fat neighbour), Yelena Volyntseva (skinny neighbour), N. Mikhailova (old neighbour), Ursula Krug (mother of the dead child), Nadezhda Yermakovich (prostitute), Nikolai Cherkasov (“Pat”), Boris Chirkov (“Patachon”), Piotr Beriozov (“Charlie Chaplin”), Yevgenii Cherviakov (drunk), Vladimir Stukachenko (Head of the local committee), Boris Feodosiev (Head of the fire brigade), Gleb Bushtuev, Piotr Kuznetsov, Sergei Yegorov-Bystrov (firemen), Mark Cherviakov (child); rel: 21.8.1928; orig. l. (35 mm): 1900 m; DVD (from 16 mm) [created in 2011 for Belye Stolby], 49'; print source: Museo del Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken, Buenos Aires [identified in 2008]. Russian intertitles, with English subtitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (Anna Sten), with e-subtitles in Italian, grand piano: Neil Brand, 10 Oct 2012.

Peter Bagrov: "The rediscovery by Fernando Martin Peña and Paula Félix-Didier in the Museo del Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken in Buenos Aires (the source of the recently found complete Metropolis) of 5 out of the 7 reels of Yevgenii Cherviakov’s My Son can be considered the most important Soviet resurrection in the last half century. Here is the rare case when film history books should be not re-written perhaps, but re-edited."

"Though it will probably take a long time: the films of Cherviakov (1899-1942) are completely forgotten, even in his native country. For seven decades all three of his major works have been considered lost. Until the end of their days, his colleagues and friends, such as Leonid Trauberg, Sergei Yutkevich, and Sergei Vasiliev, regarded it as a point of honour to keep his memory alive – but now they are dead, and so is the memory."

"Cherviakov’s films were proclaimed a model of poetic cinema in Russia for only a short period: but that period happened to be 1928-29, the peak of Soviet silent filmmaking. The general view was that together with Vsevolod Pudovkin and Aleksandr Dovzhenko he represented the “personal” and “subjective” branch of avant-garde cinema, while Eisenstein and Vertov formed the “objective” and “global” one."

"But Cherviakov did not only polemicize against typage-montage aesthetics (he directly dissociated himself from Eisenstein’s “intellectual cinema”). In the late 1920s the problem of a new Soviet lifestyle was considered a theme of vital importance for the art of film, and there was even a special category of so-called “everyday life” (bytovye) films, made by such major directors as Fridrikh Ermler, Boris Barnet, and Abram Room. Nominally belonging to this group, Cherviakov should be distinguished from it. As he wrote in one of his few essays: “My main task was to show, by means of cinema, anger, love, despair, jealousy – in short, the entire complex of emotional phenomena that is called ‘human passions’. To show it outside any historical, everyday life (bytovye), industrial or any other accessories.” In a way, Cherviakov’s My Son may be called the antithesis of Room’s Bed and Sofa."

"My Son was Cherviakov’s second and most important film. Not only was it praised by critics and fellow filmmakers, but it was well received by the audience, too – in Germany (where it was released as Das Kind des Anderen) as well as in Russia. The director was able to satisfy everyone by hiding his manifesto of subjective, and, as it would be called 20 years later, existentialist cinema in the shell of a classical melodrama. The plot is as simple as can be. The wife tells her husband that their newborn son is not his. And this is practically the only event in the film. Until the very end the husband is obsessed with his own emotions and anxieties. He discovers who the father is, but that does not worry him. And neither does the wife. For it is not another man’s child, nor his wife’s infidelity, nor even the gossip and sneers of the neighbours which unsettle him. Something in his routine has changed – it doesn’t really matter what, exactly – and that is what stuns him. “Not objects, masses, beautiful views, and elaborate tricks of montage, but people. A psychological collision of two common people of today, in a dull, grey environment among other equally ordinary people with all their virtues and defects,” Cherviakov wrote in the same essay. This dictates a Kammerspiele-like attitude. Yet, the style of My Son is much closer to Impressionism than to Expressionism, resembling the works of Jean Epstein (with which Cherviakov was unlikely to have been very familiar)."

"Western critics noted the “enviable restraint” of Cherviakov’s style. There are none of the hectic experiments typical of the Soviet avantgarde of the 1920s, such as multiple exposures, dissolves, extravagant camera movement, or “obvious” lighting effects. Cherviakov considered the human face not only “the true centre of any lyric picture” but also “the most perfect ‘instrument’ of production”. So extensive are the close-ups in My Son and so ascetic are the medium shots and the few long shots, that the viewer is forced to observe every sign of life as closely as possible, and the slightest movement becomes significant. These lengthy close-ups were assaults on the viewer, no less than the rapid cutting in classic Soviet films. This wouldn’t have been possible without the emptied (or, should we say, purified) frame or the subtle tonal nuances in the portraits: the cameraman Sviatoslav Beliayev and the set designer Semion Meinkin were Cherviakov’s competent coauthors throughout the silent era."

"Anna Sten was Cherviakov’s favourite actress, and she, in turn, considered him one of the most talented directors in the world – even decades later, having worked with E.A. Dupont, Robert Siodmak, Rouben Mamoulian, and King Vidor. They had made two films together and were about to make a third when she left for Germany. She was already a star by the time they started to work on My Son, but it was this picture that earned her reputation as one of the best actresses of the Soviet screen."

"Her co-star Gennadii Michurin recalled: “Anna Sten was a self-reliant, intelligent, strong-willed, and very interesting actress, but not of a Russian cast of mind. She had too much rationality.” Perhaps it is just this rationality that made it possible for Sten and Michurin (himself possessing a rather moderate temperament) to fulfil the director’s nebulous demands. He wanted them to convey their emotional state solely through their eyes, without the aid of mime or gesture. Even sympathetic critics noted that “Cherviakov’s lyrical techniques seem to be merely individualistic”, and pointed out his “ability to emasculate the social matter of the subject”. In 1928 this could still be regarded as a peculiarity; a few years later it would be considered almost a crime. He had time to affect those few of his contemporaries who were willing to step aside from the general line of Soviet filmmaking, among them Aleksandr Dovzhenko (it seems that Cherviakov was the only director whose influence Dovzhenko openly admitted). But the general opinion was expressed by one of the culture officials, who wrote: “I think that here we have a refined work that is today somewhat premature for the culture of our film as well as for the culture of our audience. I doubt it is necessary to persist and continue moving in this direction. At the moment problems of greater importance and significance are facing the Soviet cinema.”" – PETER BAGROV

AA: There is a laconic, understated power in the visual storytelling of this "lyrical etude". Olga confesses at once that the baby is not Andrei's. All congratulations feel like insults. Andrei: "Whose son?" Olga: "My son". After the birth of the baby there is a sequence on listening to an orchestra via the radio. Olga is so immersed in the music that water boils over, there is a fire, the fire brigade arrives, driven by horses, there are explosions, the baby falls into the stairway, Andrei will not risk his life to rescue it, but a fireman, the father, retrieves it.

The drama is largely conveyed via stark close-ups, but there are blitz montage sequences during the fire. The performances by Anna Sten and other actors are convincing, and the feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, and sorrow are very moving.

I confess I had never registered the name of the director before. As Peter Bagrov states above, this is a major discovery, making one hope of further Yevgenii Cherviakov movies to be unearthed.

In the dvd projection it was only possible to appreciate the rough outlines of the cinematography.

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