Поручик Киже / Porutshik Kizhe / Lieutenant Kizhe / The Czar Wants to Sleep / [Luutnantti Kizhe / Näkymätön mies / Löjtnanten Kizhe / Den osynliga mannen]. SU 1934. PC: Belgoskino. P: M. Minin. D: Aleksandr Feinzimmer / Aleksandr Faintsimmer. SC: Juri Tynyanov – based on his story (1928). DP: Arkadi Koltsatyi – b&w – early sound aperture 1,2:1. AD: Pyotr Snopkov, Konstantin Kartashov. Cost: Mariya Itina. Makeup: Anton Andzhan. M: Sergei Prokofiev. Conductor: Isaak Dunayevsky. Orchestra: Leningrad State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. S: N. Kosarev, B. Beerwald – Tagefon sound system. Brigade director: I Rummel. Consultants: B. Glinka, Y. Krinkin. C: Mikhail Yanshin (Czar Paul I), Boris Gorin-Goryainov (Count von Pahlen), Erast Garin (adjutant Kablukov), Nina Shaternikova (Princess Gagarina), Sofia Magarill (Maid of honour Nelidova, her companion), Mikhail Rostovtsev (fortress commandant), Leonid Kmit (army scribe), Andrei Kostrichkin (Lieutenant Sinyukhaev), Konstantin Gibshman (Leibarzt). Russian Wikipedia: 98 min [?]. 2370 m / 86 min
Classification in Finland 18408 – board 30.5.1934 and appeal board 31.5.1934 verdict: banned – import attempted in 1934 by The Trade Delegation of the USSR.
Sergei Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kije suite (op. 60): «Рождение Киже» / The Birth of Kizhe, «Романс» / Romance, «Свадьба Киже» / The Wedding of Kizhe, «Тройка» / Troika, and «Похороны Киже» / The Funeral of Kizhe. Plus two songs (op. 60bis): «Стонет сизый голубочек» / Glaucous Dove Moans and «Тройка» / Troika.
In Ernst Lubitsch's film on Czar Paul I, The Patriot (US 1928), Emil Jannings was cast as Paul I and Lewis Stone as Count von Pahlen. Florence Vidor played the female lead.
Introduced by Martti Anhava who has translated Tynyanov's story into Finnish (2015).
A KAVI print of 86 min with e-subtitles by Timo Suni operated by Onni Nääppä viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Lieutenant Kije), 31 March 2016
IMDb plot summary: "A sarcastic comedy about the Russian-Soviet bureaucracy, based on the eponymous novella by Yuri Tynyanov. Set in the reign of Emperor Paul I. A copying error by a military scribe turns the Russian words for "the lieutenants, however" into what looks like "lieutenant Kizhe". The Tsar reads the error, and wants to meet this (non-existent) Lieutenant Kizhe. His courtiers are at first too frightened to contradict the Tsar, but then the fiction turns out to be all too convenient for them. So Lieutenant Kizhe gets himself exiled to Siberia, recalled from exile, promoted, and married. He dies and receives a state funeral. In many ways, he is the most charming and lovable character in the film, even though he remains throughout the film a "confidential person, without a shape"." - Written by Steve Shelokhonov, rev. by Skripach
A satire on bureaucracy, a farce, a fairy-tale.
Martti Anhava in his introduction found an affinity in Yuri Tynyanov's story with H. C. Andersen, and indeed, "The Emperor's New Clothes" springs to mind while reading the story and watching the film. The difference here is that clothes do exist for General Kizhe (for that is the rank to which the title character is elevated) but there is nobody inside. Tynyanov's story belongs also to the tradition of Potyomkin's village tales: the main thing is to keep the facade.
As a satire on bureaucracy and the madness of dictatorship Lieutenant Kije is blunt and bold. It belongs to the amazing films of the early Stalin era like Viktor Shestakov's Can't You Leave Me Out? (1932) which stunned us last year in Pordenone. This was the feature film breakthrough for Aleksandr Feinzimmer who had debuted two years earlier as a director. His long career continued into 1980.
As a film Lieutenant Kije resembles a little also the films based on H. G. Wells's The Invisible Man, but here the man is not only invisible, he is non-existent, although he is the title character. Everybody goes through the motions of pretending that Kije is there. He is whipped a hundred times. He is escorted to Siberian prison exile on foot by a drummer and two grenadiers. He is promoted, brought back, wined and dined, and given a magnificent wedding, an estate with 3000 souls, and a government treasury of 10.000 rubles. He is claimed sick, taken to the Czar's personal physician, given a lavage, declared dead, and honoured with a big state funeral. "My best men die on me", laments the Czar until he hears that Kije has embezzled the entire treasury entrusted to him. He is posthumously demoted, and Adjutant Kablukov is promoted to General instead, free to marry the "widow", Princess Gagarina. Kablukov and Gagarina's flirtation which had disturbed the Czar's sleep was one of the two accidents which had given birth to "Lieutenant Kije" in the first place.
Interestingly, Ernst Lubitsch had made a serious drama on the mad Czar Paul six years earlier. Even Tynyanov's story would have been in his territory. There is some affinity with Forbidden Paradise but even more with Lubitsch's early fairy-tale films such as Die Puppe. Lieutenant Kije looks like a modest budget film with superimpositions, miniatures, and simple optical effects.
Sergei Prokofiev's music has gained a life of its own more prominently than this film itself which suffers from clumsiness. There are funny and witty scenes and good performances, especially by Boris Gorin-Goryainov as Count von Pahlen. But the characters of the young lovers remain too shallow for us to relate to them particularly. There is a studio echo in this early Soviet sound film.
I have been fascinated by cinema's obsession with the cancelled wedding. Here there is a related case, a wedding with an absent husband. (In Nagisa Oshima's The Ceremony there is a wedding without a bride).
The source of this print is not brilliant. Instability, wrong framelines, and soundtrack noise belong to the problems. I hope there is a good print somewhere.
PS. 1 April 2016. Lieutenant Kije is an excellent April Fools' Day movie. Today in Kauppalehti Martti Kiuru writes from St. Petersburg: "When Czar Peter the Great opened the windows to Europe in the beginning of the 18th century also the tradition of the April Fools' Day was washed up on the shore of Russia as a side effect. On April Fools' Day (in Russian, День смеха, День дурака = "the day of laughter", "the day of the fool") communists bury V. I. Lenin and Siberian mammoths are revived from deep freeze. Occasionally it may seem that a culture of fooling is inbuilt in the entire Russian society, and every day is April Fools' Day. Several classics of literature, including The Twelve Chairs by Ilf & Petrov, and Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, are based on the theme of fooling. According to Russian sources Gogol was even born on April Fools' Day in 1809".
OUR PROGRAM NOTE BASED ON JAY LEYDA AND IAN CHRISTIE: