Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Zvenyhora / Zvenigora

Zvenigora poster by the Stenberg brothers.
Звенигора / Zakoldovannoye mesto [Zvenigora; La montagna incantata / The Enchanted Place] (VUFKU – Odessa [Centro direttivo della fotocinematografia panucraina / All-Ukrainian Photo-Cinema Administration], SU 1927). D: Oleksandr [Aleksandr] Dovzhenko; SC: Maik [Mykhailo] Ioganson, Yurtyk [Yuri Tiutiunnyk]; DP: Boris Zavelev, asst.: Aleksei Pankratiev; AD: Vasyl Krychevskyi; ass D: Lazar Bodyk, Cherniayev, M. Zubov; C: Mykola Nademskyi (grandpa, general), Symon [Semyon] Svashenko (Tymish, first grandson), Oleksandr [Les] Podorozhnyi (Pavlo, second grandson), Heorhyi Astafiev (Scythian chief), I. Seliuk (Haidamak ataman), Leo Barbe (Catholic monk), Maria Parshina (wife of Tymish), Anastasii Simonov (fat officer on a horse), T. Dovbysh (student in the train), Iu. Mikhaliov (aide-de-camp), Nikolai Charov (Pavlo’s assistant abroad), Polina Skliar-Otava (Oksana, a peasant girl), Vladimir Uralskii (peasant); 35 mm, 1928 m, 93' (18 fps); print source: Österreichisches Filmmuseum, Wien. Russian intertitles. Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone (The Canon Revisited), with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 9 Oct 2012.

Sergei Kapterev: "Zvenyhora (Russian: Zvenigora), Oleksandr Dovzhenko’s fourth film and his first truly individual work, premiered in November 1927 in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. This country had received a chance to reformulate its identity after the fall of Russian tsarism and at the same time was confronted with the new Soviet regime’s efforts to impose a unifying Marxist vision on different cultures. Zvenyhora marked the appearance of a talent remarkably original even in the context of that search for originality which characterized Soviet cinema in the second half of the 1920s."

"Dovzhenko’s previous film, The Diplomatic Pouch (Sumka dipkuriera, 1927), was a contemporary adventure story which proved his ability to produce narratively efficient and ideologically acceptable cinema. Zvenyhora’s complexity provided a baffling contrast to the convincing yet fairly unexciting professionalism of The Diplomatic Pouch. In Dovzhenko’s own words, in Zvenyhora he wished to make cinema “without intrigue, without romance, without Asta Nielsen…”"

"Zvenyhora’s commercial release in April 1928 was far from successful. Filmgoers and most film critics refused to accept its elliptical structure and eclectic and vague symbolism. However, at the preliminary viewing in Moscow it was hailed as a masterpiece by the two most influential Soviet filmmakers of the silent era, Pudovkin and Eisenstein. The latter called Zvenyhora “an amazing interweaving of reality and deeply national poetic license, topicality and mythology, humour and pathos”. For Eisenstein, Dovzhenko was “a Red Hoffmann”, a comrade-in-arms who ingeniously put his predilection for the fantastic at the service of the revolution."

"In Dovzhenko’s “cine-poem”, the steppe region of Zvenyhora is a symbol of the Ukrainian people’s soul, of their quest for happiness. Images taken from different moments of Ukraine’s 1,000-year history are linked to its present and future by the epoch-spanning figure of an old peasant. In his modern incarnation, he is the grandfather of two brothers who symbolize the struggle for a new Ukraine: one is a committed, triumphant Communist; the other, an enemy of Soviet power. Dovzhenko declared Zvenyhora a “Bolshevik film” which promoted Soviet goals and ideals. However, the film’s sensibility sometimes feels closer to the romanticized nationalist notion of Ukrainian history than to the Soviet interpretation, which stressed that Ukrainians had a mutual destiny with the working people of Russia. In the late 1920s, doubts about the political correctness of Zvenyhora were exacerbated by the fact that its original script had been authored by two individuals who held views quite different from the official ideology (and were later executed for this difference in opinion): Yuri Tiutiunnyk, a former anti-Soviet general granted amnesty by the Soviet regime, whose troubled biography was partially incorporated in the script; and Maik Ioganson, a poet and writer whose patriotism failed to embrace Soviet ideology."

"Dovzhenko profoundly reworked Tiutiunnyk and Ioganson’s script – to such an extent that they demanded that their names be removed from the film’s credits. However, while Ukrainian history is presented in Zvenyhora as an integral component of Soviet Ukrainian identity, the filmmaker’s sentimental, admiring attitude toward Ukrainian peasantry could be interpreted as a view of Ukraine’s historical development as an experience separate from Russia."

"In his search for non-traditional and provocative imagery which would embody the uniqueness of Ukrainian cultural tradition and delete borders between epos, lyricism, satire, folklore, and history, Dovzhenko was assisted by Vasyl Krychevskyi, an art scholar, artist, and architect passionately interested in Ukrainian folklore; and cinematographer Boris Zavelev, whose expertise had matured in prerevolutionary cinema, especially under one of its supreme filmmakers, Evgenii Bauer. In spite of Zavelev’s complaints that Dovzhenko stubbornly ignored principles of shot composition and film editing, Zvenyhora is distinguished by impressive stylistic integrity and genuine emotional power, which could hardly be achieved without the cinematographer’s understanding of the director’s artistic intentions."

"Dovzhenko considered Zvenyhora his “most interesting picture”, which he “didn’t make” but “sang as a bird”; and which provided him with ample opportunities “to expand the screen’s frame, get away from clichéd narrativity, and speak in the language of vast generalizations”. This film revealed to the world Dovzhenko’s outstanding and idiosyncratic talent, nurtured by the riches of Ukrainian culture. In a sense, today it remains as astounding as it was in the late 1920s, largely defying the norms of canonical judgement." – SERGEI KAPTEREV

AA: I have seen Zvenigora several times but not in this version. Our Helsinki print is somewhat nonsensical, but this mostly linear version is easier to follow, at least in comparison with ours. Zvenigora is about a mythological quest of a treasure, Hustonian in the idea that the treasure is never found, and profound in the insight that the treasure is inside ourselves, in our own talent to make things grow and flourish. The film is so rich in detail that every time different things impress. Memorable aspects this time: the midsummer night (Ivan Kupala) dance around the bonfire during which the women put their garlands into the river; "many a mother cried for her son in the lands of Germany and Ukraine"; the dissolve from haystacks to rifles; the rhythmic montage in the soldier's mutiny sequence; "once upon a time there was Roxana": the dream vision of the Scythian past, the exquisite stylization of the mythical pantomime; the noble montages of reconstruction: construction sites, coal mines and steel mills; an ancient Ukrainian warrior walking the streets of modern Prague; Prague - Paris - Poltava: the parody in the speech sequence of the Ukrainian prince fails to impress; the old man wants to stop the fire monster (the engine), but he is saved in the last moment and invited to join the train riding to the future. In the English translation there was no attempt to convey the poetic dimension of the titles which I know from the fine Finnish translation by Esa Adrian. As always in Dovzhenko the movie is inherently musical, but I felt that the energetic pianist ignored both the inner music of the movie and the explicit music cues. There is a beautiful definition of light in the second reel but otherwise the visual quality is variable. Anyway this was a great Zvenigora experience.

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