|Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kiev|
Ivan Kozlenko: "The Self-Seeker is the story of an enterprising Ukrainian “philistine”, Apollon Shmyhuev, whose peaceful bourgeois existence is upset by the 1917-1921 Civil War. He accidentally joins a Bolshevik military regiment that leaves the city, and is made responsible for the regiment’s “vehicle” – a camel. Escaping from the regiment, he finds himself in a locale occupied by the Bolsheviks. Zealous and adaptable, Apollon quickly becomes the head of the local commissariat. However, his unquenchable thirst for profit puts his life in danger, and he has to flee. When the Whites capture him as a spy for the Reds, he quickly gains their confidence. Travelling on the camel to hostile camps of the Bolsheviks, royalists, and “neutrals”, Shmyhuev succeeds in making friends with everybody, until the Bolsheviks ultimately consolidate their rule."
"In 1917, after graduating from the Faculty of Law at Novorossiysk University in Odessa, the Kyiv resident Mykola Shpykovskyi found himself in Moscow. In 1925 he made his film début as the screenwriter and co-director (with Vsevolod Pudovkin) of Chess Fever (Shakhmatnaya goryachka), a short comedy whose action took place during an international chess tournament in Moscow. After filming another satire on bourgeois life, A Cup of Tea (Chashka chaya, 1927), for Sovkino, Shpykovskyi returned to Ukraine, where he made one more satirical comedy, Three Rooms with a Kitchen (Try kimnaty z kukhneyu, 1928), based on Vladimir Mayakovsky’s script How Are You? (Kak pozhyvayete?)."
"The Proletkult experimental movement in Soviet Russia enjoyed a widespread revival in the early days of “War” Communism, up to 1922, but by the second half of the 1920s it was increasingly criticized by the Party and its leaders sought refuge in Ukraine. There the People’s Commissariat of Education, headed by Mykola Skrypnyk, the ideologist of the strategy of Ukrainianization, provided an independent liberal policy of national protectionism, encouraging experiments by Vladimir Mayakovsky, Dziga Vertov, Nilolai Okhlopkov, and Mykola Shpykovskyi. It was in this cultural climate that VUFKU commissioned from Mayakovsky 10 scripts, 3 of which were filmed in 1928: Shpykovskyi’s Three Rooms with a Kitchen, Oktiabriuhov and Dekabriuhov (Oktiabriuhov i Dekabriuhov), directed by Oleksii Smirnov and Oleksandra Smirnova, and The Three (Troye), directed by Oleksandr Solovyov."
"Shpykovskyi’s film satires took particular aim at the “philistines” of the NEP (New Economic Policy), the apolitical and zealous petty bourgeoisie who were not ready to accept Soviet austerity. The Self- Seeker, filmed by Shpykovskyi in 1929, is an adventure road-movie with touches of the absurd. Featuring a camel as one of the main characters and mocking Bolshevik bureaucracy and fanaticism, as well as the White Army’s kleptocratic pomposity in the Civil War, this adroit farce is one of the best examples of early Ukrainian comedy. The revolutionary agitation of the Red Army is depicted in an openly sarcastic way. When the Soviet government saw itself caricatured, the film was banned, on the grounds described in report No. 2974 of the Senior Repertoire Committee of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, dated 27 April 1929: “The Civil War is presented in the film only in terms of its dark ugly side. It shows only robbery, dirt, the stupidity of the Red Army and the local Soviet authorities, etc. As a result, a nasty lampoon on the reality of that time was produced.” However, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam evaluated The Self-Seeker differently in his essay “The Spy”, dedicated to the film: “The more perfect the film language is, the closer it is to the not-yet-implemented thinking of the future, which we call film prose with its powerful syntax, the more valuable is the cinematographer’s work in the film. From this perspective, Shpykovskyi’s work of art, despite its modest realistic ‘appearance’, is an achievement of a very high quality.”"
"Since the film was never screened until the 1990s, it had to wait to be rediscovered by the Russian scholar Naum Kleiman and introduced to the academic public by another Russian scholar, Yevgenii Margolit, in his 1995 book Izyatoe kino (The Withdrawn Cinema, 1924-1953). As with most Ukrainian films, the negative and prints of The Self- Seeker were removed from Ukraine and transported to the USSR’s newly created Gosfilmofond in 1938. Since neither Shkurnyk nor Shpykovskyi’s next film, Bread (Khlib), were distributed in Soviet Russia, their original Ukrainian intertitles were retained."
"Restoration. A 2K digital restoration of the film was implemented in 2011 by the Dovzhenko National Film Studios on the orders of the State Film Agency of Ukraine."
"Music. In 2012, a new orchestral score for the film was created by the cinema composer Vyacheslav Nazarov at the request of the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Film Centre. The restored version of The Self- Seeker was screened with live accompaniment by the Symphony Orchestra of the National Opera of Ukraine as the opening film of the 42nd Molodist International Film Festival in Kiev in October 2012. The film will be accompanied live at the Giornate by the Polish composer, musicologist, and performer Marcin Pukaluk, whose varied career has included an enthusiastic involvement in silent film accompaniment. His scores include Metropolis, The General, and Earth (Zemlya), which he has already performed upwards of a hundred times in Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. His music for Shkurnyk was commissioned by the 3rd Odessa Mute Nights Festival." Ivan Kozlenko
AA: A rich sense of milieu and juicy characters are strengths of this movie full of funny details. The civil war is seen from the viewpoint of a coward and a turncoat. There are memorable scenes of making moonshine liquor and making hay. Maybe there was not a feeling of an irresistible force in the total vision of this movie. There was a royal disregard to the images in the live music. A movie that occurred to me during the screening was Andrzej Munk's Zezowate szczęście / Bad Luck, also a film with the sum less impressive than the parts. Or perhaps I am suffering from festival fatigue.
|Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre, Kiev|