Saturday, October 01, 2011

Gantsirulni / Obrechennye - Russkie vo Frantsii / The Doomed - Russian Soldiers in France

Обреченные / [I condannati; Russi in Francia / Russians in France] (Sakhkinmretstvi / Goskinprom Gruzii, Georgia SSR, SU 1930) D: Lev Push; SC: Aleksandr Gidon, Lev Push, Boris Sharanskii; DP: Vladimer Kereselidze; AD: Lado (Vladimer) Gudiashvili; ass. D: Davit Rondeli; C: N. Kolomenskii (Chernov), Galina Egorova-Dolenko [Dolengo-Egorova] (Louise), Anton Martynov (sergeant major, an internal enemy), Shalva Khuskivadze (Colonel Khrushchev), Iuli Maroti (Ribot); 35 mm, 1933 m, 70’ (24 fps); print source: Gosfilmofond of Russia. Russian intertitles. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone, with e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: John Sweeney, 1 Oct 2011.

Sergei Kapterev (GCM Catalogue): "The Doomed (subtitle: Russian Soldiers in France) is the least known and most ambitious of Push’s films. An eclectic construction of epic proportions, it comprises elements of historical fiction, anti-militarist rhetoric, intrigue-and-adventure film, prison escape drama, romantic melodrama, and compilation documentary. The film deals with one of the less-known events of 20th-century Russian and European history – the mutiny of the Russian expeditionary corps in France after the Russian Revolution of October 1917. It does not pretend to be a precise historical reconstruction, opting instead for a narrative centered on one protagonist. Back in 1930, the theme of The Doomed was interconnected with a very painful problem confronted by the Soviets: the presence in Europe and elsewhere of very large numbers of military-trained émigrés who were forced to leave Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution and who craved revenge. The possibility of their unification into an anti-Bolshevik military force was regarded by the Soviet regime as a major threat to its existence, and a considerable part of the Soviet propaganda effort was spent on exposing the émigré community. In this context, the story of “good” Russians fighting for the opportunity to return to their changed country not as enemies but as true patriots represented a more than appropriate subject. However, instead of turning into a powerful propaganda tool, The Doomed became to epitomize those films which, in the eyes of Soviet critical establishment, demonstrated “excessive attention to foreign topics inspired by bourgeois literature.

"It is likely that the criticism targeted at The Doomed was instrumental in Lev Push’s exit from Georgian – or, for that matter, “big” – cinema. The above-cited dictum by the prominent critic Boris Alpers was part of his diatribe against Push’s film as “a simple pretext for Georgia’s Goskinprom to construct a cheap adventure drama with emasculated socio-political content.”"

"While Soviet critical responses to The Doomed now firmly belong to history, Lev Push’s film can be enjoyed on its own, as a professionally presented stylistic hybrid."

"One of the most appealing features of The Doomed is the tactful imitation of French reality under the guidance of Lado Gudiashvili, one of the most important 20th-century Georgian artists, who spent 1919-1925 among the artistic community of Paris. Gudiashvili chose simple sets and mildly atmospheric locations which successfully implied the distinctiveness of the represented environment without artificial and potentially counter-productive articulation of its “Frenchness.”"

"The stylistic versatility of The Doomed is announced in the film’s prologue, where an assemblage of World War I documentary footage narrates the prehistory of the Russian mutiny. Another instance of this versatility / eclecticism is provided by a symbolist sequence which serves as a transition from the prologue to the main narrative and is reminiscent of Vsevolod Pudovkin’s semantic montage in The End of St. Petersburg."

"Together with Gypsy Blood (shown in Pordenone last year), The Doomed represents Lev Push’s work in the most profound way. In these two films, directed entirely by himself, he is revealed as a fascinatingly eclectic filmmaker, ready to absorb diverse influences without compromising his temperament and professionalism." Sergei Kapterev

AA: A powerful movie in the grand style of the heroic age of the Russian revolution. It starts with a montage of the Great War, proceeds to show the prison-like circumstances in the Russian barracks of France, details the escape of the rebel soldier and his acquaintance with the French war widow (similarities with La grande illusion here, the humanity between people who have suffered in the war), the ingenious plot to hijack the Russians to the Foreign Legion in Morocco, and ends with a mutiny on the ship. The account of the mutiny is very different than in Battleship Potyomkin, yet apparently inspired by it. The destination of this ship is Odessa, too. The presentation of the characters is still based on a commedia dell'arte style typage, yet there is a movement towards psychological nuance especially in the male and female leads, as remarked by Sergei Kapterev. The montage is effective. The print is clean, and the contrast is at times a little low.

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