Saturday, December 26, 2015

The centenary of The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich

Kazimir Malevich: Чёрный квадрат / The Black Square (RU 1922). © Russian Museum.

At the Russian Museum I mostly focused on representational art, although that museum has also the largest collection of Russian avantgarde, including a lot of pioneering abstract art. During my visits there was also a striking display of key works by Kazimir Malevich in the permanent exhibition.

The Black Square project was a major obsession of Malevich's for some twenty years. His final Black Square (1932) I saw at the Hermitage two years ago. There it was a startling full stop to a giant survey of world art history. The Black Square at the Russian Museum is from 1922, a part of a triptych including also a Cross and a Circle.

For the first time Malevich displayed a Black Square in 1915 (that work I understand is now on display at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow), a hundred years ago.

The Black Square can be interpreted in many different ways. For me, it is an intervention in the history of art and the philosophy of history.

World War One had started, and the Belle Époque had abruptly ended. In the history of art, key concepts such as the beautiful and the sublime became meaningless for truly creative new art. (They kept their relevance for traditional art and new art produced in a traditional or conventional fashion).

"The end of art" became a relevant question then, and it has never lost its relevance since.

The Black Square conveyed the shock of WWI in a startling fashion. The reverberations of that shock still go on, and we keep reassessing its reflections in art.

Might The Black Square be considered the most definitive artistic reflection of WWI?

The Black Square is also an intriguing work in the discussion about the prohibition of the image, the Judaic-Christian-Islamic issue relevant to the Second Commandment. In that sense there is a direct link from Kazimir Malevich to Mark Rothko.

On my second visit to the Russian Museum I also saw the special exhibition "Russia. Realism. XXI Century" with contemporary artists such as Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt, Ekaterina Gracheva, Vadim Grigoriev-Bashun, Alexander Dashevsky, Frol Ivanov, Denis Ichitovkin, Taisia Korotkova, Kirill Koteshov, Pavel Otdelnov, Olga Osnach, Ekaterina Pestova and Igor Pestov, Vladimir Potapov, Vitaliy Pushnitskiy, Kerim Ragimov, Hamid Savkuev, Victor Safonkin, Maria Safronova, and Mikhail Khazin. The newest works are from this year, 2015.

For me the general spirit of this special exhibition is a profound distrust in the conventions of realism. Many works refer to the realistic tradition of the Soviet Union in an ironic or satiric fashion. There are also giant photorealistic works which highlight the glossily denatured way in which their subjects are depicted. None of the works feels real. All have an alienated approach.

There is a meta-realistic aspect in the exhibition. As if a direct account of reality would have become impossible.

From this special exhibition there is a direct access to the rooms displaying "Socialist Realism" in the permanent exhibition.

I begin to understand that the Russian Museum is not just a place where you can visit the great classics. It is also a place of rewriting and reappraising art history. Among the museum's projects is a rehabilitation of artists who were discriminated and persecuted during the Soviet Union. Entire schools of art are being rescued from oblivion. There will be a lot to discover at this Museum.

Viktor Safonkin: The First Snow, 2014. Oil on canvas. © Viktor Safonkin.

Fyodor Vasilyev: Оттепель / The Thaw, 1871. Oil on canvas. 53,5 x 107. © Russian Museum. Please click to enlarge!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tales from the Great Terror: the story of Vsevolod Zaderatsky told by his son

Vsevolod Zaderatsky. The X Mariinsky International Piano Festival.
On the playbill tonight at the new Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg on 25 December 2015 was Alexander Malofeev. It was astounding and a bit scary because he is only 14 years old and already able to convey the tragic and epic dimensions of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto. The conductor: Valeri Gergiev.

From the X Mariinsky International Piano Festival programme booklet, 2015.

VSEVOLOD ZADERATSKY - by Vsevolod Zaderatsky, Jr.

The name of Vsevolod Zaderatsky cannot be found in any reference books, encyclopaedias or study guides about art history of the 20th century. Nevertheless, it is frequently to be found in prison archives from Ryazan to Magadan.

Zaderatsky was born in 1891 and died in 1953. The mature period of his life absolutely coincided with the military-revolutionary fracture and the age of Stalinism. He was a brilliantly educated man, having graduated from the Law Faculty of the Moscow University and the Moscow Conservatory e as a pianist, composer, and conductor.

At the conservatory he studied under Taneyev and Ippolitov-Ivanov. From 1915-1916 he was one of the music teachers of the heir to the throne Tsesarevich Alexei, from 1916-1918 he was an officer in the imperial Army and participated in military manoeuvres during World War I and from 1918-1920 he was an officer with the White Voluntary Army of General Denikin.

Zaderatsky was captured in 1920, but Dzerzhinsky personally intervened to spare his life and, as they said back then, "tell him where to live".

That meant the loss of the right to vote, the right to live in a city, the right to publish works, the right to perform them, the right to a playbill and generally the right to be involved in any public activity whatsoever. 

Zaderatsky's life in the 1920s-1930s was a mixture of free life (albeit without a passport) and imprisonment. In Ryazan he was arrested in 1922, 1922, and 1926. His last arrest resulted in the destruction of everything he had written, and today we have the composer's manuscripts beginning from 1928. Yaroslavl, Krasnodar, Zhitomir - these are the places in which his life unfolded, ending in Lvov.

By the time of the onset of the Great Terror, Zaderatsky had composed six piano sonatas (which have survived and been published in Ukraine), a cycle of twenty-four preludes (1934), three programme piano cycles, two operas, and symphony and ensemble scores. His arrest in 1937 in Yaroslavl was the last in a series of experiences the composer had in prison.

It is historically accurate that he was known as a "story-teller" in the camps. The story of the Russian Empire, the ancient world, the Arabian caliphate, the discovery of America, and of course, matters of jurisprudence and the comparison of various legal codes (in which he was a true specialist) - these are the themes from which he drew succour for two years.

It is also known that his listeners included not just fellow prisoners but jailers as well. Thanks to his skill, Zaderatsky managed to receive some patronage, and he had, it would appear, some time to create. He was allowed not to go to work with everyone else, he was given "alibis" of illnessess and other reasons.

Having convinced the jailers that he would write only sheet music and no words, Zaderatsky gained access to paper and pencils. The paper he used was a pile of telegraph forms.

Zaderatsky composed his Twenty-Four Preludes and Fugues for Piano in a prison camp between 1937 and 1939. This was the first successful attempt at reviving the Baroque genre in 20th century music practice in Europe. Hindemith would only complete his Ludus tonalis as late as 1942, and Shostakovich's famour Opus 87 was written only in 1953.

In impossibly difficult circumstances Vsevolod Zaderatsky managed to create a work rich in lofty artistic qualities.



Thursday, December 24, 2015

Russian Museum (permanent exhibition)

Ivan Shishkin: Корабельная роща / Mast-Tree Grove. 1898. 165 x 252. Oil on canvas. © Russian Museum. Please click to enlarge the images!

Russian Museum / Русский музей, Mikhailovsky Palace, Benois Wing, 2 Griboyedov Canal. Mon: 10-20. Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun: 10-18. Thu: 13-21. Closed on Tuesday.

The Catalogue:
Russian Museum from the Icon to Modernism. Director of the Russian Museum: Vladimir Gusev. Editor-in-chief: Evgenia Petrova. Artistic design: Joseph Kiblitzky. Articles: Vladimir Gusev and Evgenia Petrova. Texts and biographies: 34 experts. Translated by Kenneth MacInnes. Large format, hard cover, richly illustrated. Printed in Italy by GRAFICART snc, Formia (LT). 392 p. 3rd revised edition. St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2013.
    Available in Russian and English.

The official website: "The Russian Museum today is a unique depository of artistic treasures, a leading restoration center, an authoritative institute of academic research, a major educational center and the nucleus of a network of national museums of art. The Russian Museum collection contains more than 400.000 exhibits. The main complex of museum buildings - the Mikhailovsky Palace and Benois Wing - houses the permanent exhibition of the Russian Museum, tracing the entire history of Russian art from the tenth to the twentieth centuries. The museum collection embraces all forms, genres, schools and movements of art. Over the past twenty years, the museum complex has grown to include the Stroganov Palace, St Michael's (Engineers) Castle and the Marble Palace. The complex also includes the Mikhailovsky Gardens, Engineering Gardens, Summer Garden (including the Summer Palace) and the House of Peter the Great."

Wikipedia: "The State Russian Museum (formerly the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III) is the largest depository of Russian fine art in Saint Petersburg. The museum was established on April 13, 1895, upon enthronement of Nicholas II to commemorate his father, Alexander III. Its original collection was composed of artworks taken from the Hermitage Museum, Alexander Palace, and the Imperial Academy of Arts. After the Russian Revolution of 1917, many private collections were nationalized and relocated to the Russian Museum. These included Kazimir Malevich's Black Square. The main building of the museum is the Mikhailovsky Palace, a splendid Neoclassical residence of Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich, erected in 1819-25 to a design by Carlo Rossi on Square of Arts in St Petersburg. Upon the death of the Grand Duke the residence was named after his wife as the Palace of the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna, and became famous for its many theatrical presentations and balls."

AA: I visited for the first time the Russian Museum which some of my friends even prefer to the Hermitage. In one day you can get a magnificent overview of Russian art, history and culture.

It is Christmas Eve, but Russians celebrate Christmas two weeks later because of the Julian tradition. Thus, here everything is open, and life seems normal. There is, however, already a Christmas atmosphere on the Nevsky Prospect, a couple of blocks from here. You can easily find restaurants and cafés in the neighbourhood, and the museum café itself is good, too.

We came in the morning on the Allegro bullet train. It takes only 3½ hours from the center of Helsinki to the center of St. Petersburg. The border control, customs, and currency exchange procedures are taken care of during the train ride. The currency rate is especially favourable for a foreign tourist.

I said life seems normal, but the Ukraine crisis affects us all. I condemn Putin's actions in Ukraine and support the sanctions but that is no reason to boycott Russian culture. I believe like Tolstoy that true art is inherently against bigotry and nationalism. True patriotism is not nationalism. There is dignity in acknowledging one's roots while respecting those of others. The greatest values are universal, common to all.

To see the entire permanent collection of the Russian Museum is a walk of many kilometers. Wear light clothes and change into moccasins or other good indoors walking shoes. Don't carry anything. You need to take breaks, and that means you get to walk the distance back and forth many times. There is only one café and wc conveniently accessible.

Beyond the jump break is my annotated room visit plan. We did not see the rooms in that order, however. We started at Krebsgang (backwards) at the Benois Wing (the 20th century), continued at the ground floor of the main Mikhailovsky Palace (late 19th century) and finished at its first floor (Old Russian Art, 18th century, early 19th century).

Watching the beloved masters Shishkin, Levitan, and Repin I am reminded of the deep affinity in the Finnish and Russian art of seeing the landscape. Finnish masters of the Golden Age such as Halonen, Järnefelt, and Edelfelt have a lot in common with them, although Finnish artists usually received their influences in Paris.

Today, one of the most deeply impressive artworks was Ivan Shishkin's Mast-Tree Grove. In Finland and Russia a forest like that has a profound atavistic impact for the visitor. It is a space of pantheistic meditation. There is a sense of the sacred in a visit to such a forest and such a landscape. Even half an hour in such a space can make the difference. Shishkin's painting conveys that sense of a soulscape.

Today I was reflecting a lot on the undiminished impact of figurative art. In the 19th century photography put a lot of artists out of business. New trends of great art since the 19th century have been as a rule non-figurative or at least not aiming at faithful representation. Photography has taken care of that.

Today I was thinking that this need not be. No photograph can surpass a good realistic portrait painting. No photograph can convey the spiritual sense of a landscape like in Mast-Tree Grove. NB: a photograph of the painting Mast-Tree Grove can be mistaken for an actual photograph of a landscape. But seeing the painting itself you at first sight may find it startlingly photorealistic while it actually is not. It is an adventure in light and nature impressions conveyed with paint. There are secrets and mysteries in the landscape. The invisible conveyed via the visible.

Nikolai Ge: Portrait of Leo Tolstoy, 1884. Oil on canvas, 96 x 71. © Russian Museum.
Art makes us see. I am thinking of the chapter on Anna Karenina's portrait. Vronsky, a good Sunday painter, makes with great effort a fine representational portrait of his wife. Along comes a true artist who swiftly paints a portrait, too, and catches there the characteristic look in Anna's eyes. Vronsky for the first time recognizes that look via that painting, and after that always sees Anna in a different light.

Vasily Vereshchagin: At the Door of a Mosque, 1873. Oil on canvas. © Russian Museum.

There can be something uncanny in representational art. Vasily Vereshchagin's graphic realism is startling in its trompe l’œil impact. Yet when you approach the painting you see the stylized way in the brush strokes of the two desolate beggars at the sumptuous door of the mosque. Again we cannot help thinking about those floods of refugees of today.

Andrei Rublyov: St. Paul. From Deisus Tier. Moscow. Ca 1408. Tempera on wood. 311 x 104 x 4. © Russian Museum. Google Art Project.

Andrei Rublyov's icons still seem modern in their stark stylization.

Miracle of St. George and the Dragon, with Scenes from His Life. Novgorod. First half of the 14th century. © Russian Museum. Google Art Project.

Other icons contains multiple small images, entire series that belong to the pre-history of the bande dessinée and the cinema.

Nikofor Krylov: Winter Landscape (Russian Winter), 1827. Oil on canvas. 54 x 63,5. © Russian Museum.

In Nikifor Krylov's paintings we are at the roots of Russian winter landscape painting.

Ivan Aivazovsky: The Wave, 1889. © Russian Museum

Size matters. The sublime of the nature is conveyed via the grandeur of Aivazovsky's seascapes. The large format is essential for the full impact. Turner, a soulmate, had made his seascapes in the early 19th century and proceeded radically towards impressionism. Aivazovsky had no trouble continuing with his personal synthesis of romanticism and graphic realism.

Ilya Repin: Ceremonial Sitting of the State Council on 7 May 1901 Marking the Centenary of its Foundation. 1903. Oil on canvas. 400 x 877. © Russian Museum. Google Art Project.

The trompe l’œil impact of graphic realism in large format is playfully displayed by the museum in the hanging of Ilya Repin's magnificent panorama. If you look at it via doorways, you may be fooled to believe that an actual meeting is taking place right now. Film folks recognize the size and the format of the painting as that of CinemaScope.

Boris Grigoriev: Portrait of Vsevolod Meyerhold, 1916. Oil on canvas. 247 x 168. © Russian Museum.

Beyond realism we find new approaches of stylization. Boris Grigoriev's portrait of Meyerhold catches the eccentricism of the great man of the theatre. Marc Chagall was not on display today.

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin: Portrait of Anna Akhmatova, 1922. © Russian Museum.

The Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin room is one of the most gratifying in the museum. His way with the red colour in Mother (1915), The Mother of God of Tenderness Towards Evil Hearts (1915), Thirsting Warrior (1915), and Morning (1917) is thrilling. He was deeply influenced by the icon art of the Old Believers. His passion for the red colour comes from icon art and folk art. There is majesty in his approach to the nude figure and the human face.

Lyubov Popova: Man + Air + Space, 1913. Oil on canvas. 125 x 107. © Russian Museum.

Among the early masters of abstract art, cubism and futurism are, besides Malevich, Tatlin, Kandinsky, and Rodchenko, also equally talented women such as Natalia Goncharova, Lyobov Popova, and Olga Rozanova.

Alexander Deineka: Collective Farm Girl on a Bicycle, 1935. Oil on canvas, 120 x 220 cm. © Russian Museum.

The story of the Soviet art from experimentation to Socialist realism (which can also be total idealization) ends in the 1980s. On display is also the freedom of glasnost before the fall of the Soviet Union and the early period of the post-Soviet Russia until the 1990s. Among the masters of the Soviet period was Alexander Deineka, a graphic artist among other things. He has an exciting sense of style and form.

Mark Antokolsky: Nestor the Chronicler, 1890. © Russian Museum.

There is a continuum of great sculpture exhibited along the entire stretch of the rooms. One space is devoted to the master Mark Antokolsky. There are, also dispersed in other rooms, his sculptures of Spinoza, Ivan the Terrible, Nathan the Wise, and Nestor the Chronicler, a founding father of Russian literature and history.

Zinaida Serebryakova: Banya / Sauna, 1913. Oil on canvas. 135 x 174. © Russian Museum.

The range is from the spiritual to the sensual. There is also an aspect of art on display here that Brecht called culinaristic. But I prefer to speak with Rodin and see that in art everything is spiritual. The delight in the natural female form is a continuous inspiration in art, not least in Russia. Zinaida Serebryakova's sauna painting was not on display today, but I cannot resist mentioning it here, since a reproduction of it is a delightful memory from my boyhood when I was studying a new edition of H. J. Viherjuuri's amply illustrated sauna book.

The hanging and the selection are excellent. The rooms are huge, and there is plenty of space also for giant panoramas. Almost all art is on display without a glass shield, but many of the early icons are in glass cages. The lighting is pleasant to the eye. Some works are shadowed without spotlights, probably for protection.

The weighty official museum catalogue is highly readable offering intelligent and relevant commentary, context, and background. It cannot help being highly selective, but the selections are excellent. Study the catalogue under a good light to appreciate the full impact of the beautiful illustrations.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cookie’s Fortune

Cookien perintö / Cookie's Fortune [Swedish title] / Complot pour un magot / Aufruhr in Holly Springs. US © 1999 Kudzu Productions, Inc. PC: Elysian Dreams, Kudzu, Moonstone Entertainment, Sandcastle 5 Productions. EX: Willi Bär. P: Robert Altman, Ernst Etchie Stroh. D: Robert Altman. SC: Anne Rapp. DP: Toyomichi Kurita - camera: Panavision Cameras and Lenses - lab: Consolidated Film Industries (CFI) (Hollywood) - colour - 1,85:1. PD: Stephen Altman. AD: Richard L. Johnson. Set dec: Susan Emshwiller. SFX: Thomas Kittle. VFX: Steven Fagerquist. Cost: Susan Kaufmann, Dona Granata. Makeup: Martial Corneville, Manlio Rocchetti. M: David A. Stewart. Musicians: Chucho Merchán (double bass), Patrick Seymour (harmonium), David A. Stewart (gtr), The Edge (gtr). ED: Abraham Lim. S: Frederick Howard - Dolby Digital. C: Glenn Close (Camille Dixon), Charles S. Dutton (Willis Richland), Patricia Neal (Jewel Mae ”Cookie” Orcutt), Julianne Moore (Cora Duvall), Liv Tyler (Emma Duvall), Chris O’Donnell (rookie policeman Jason Brown), Ned Beatty (Lester Boyle), Courtney B. Vance (Otis Tucker), Donald Moffat (Jack Palmer), Lyle Lovett (Manny Hood), Danny Darst (Billy Cox), Matt Malloy (Eddie ”The Expert” Pitts), Randle Mell (Patrick Freeman), Niecy Nash (Wanda Carter), Rufus Thomas (Theo Johnson). Loc: Holly Springs (Mississippi). Helsinki premiere: 8.3.2002 Kinopalatsi 2, Tennispalatsi, released by: Buena Vista International Finland Oy – telecast: 17.1.2003 and 15.10.2004 Yle TV1 – VET 101327 – K12 – 3245 m / 119 min
    Songs: "Cookie", "Wild Women Don't Get The Blues", "Helios", "Camilla's Prayer", "The Cookie Jar", "Hey Josie", "All I'm Sayin' Is This", "A Good Man", "I Did Good Didn't I?", "A Golden Boat", "I'm Comin' Home", "Willis Is Innocent", "Patrol Car Blues", "Emma", "Humming Home". All songs composed by David A. Stewart, except "Cookie", "Camilla's Prayer" and "Patrol Car Blues" composed by Candy Dulfer and Stewart. The soundtrack album features appearances by the saxophonist Candy Dulfer. (Wikipedia).
    A KAVI 35 mm print (deposited by Buena Vista International Finland) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marko Hartama / Saliven Gustavson.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Robert Altman), 22 Dec 2015.

I saw this minor Robert Altman movie for the first time.

Compared with Altman's epic, macrocosmic multi-narrative studies and big ensemble pieces Cookie's Fortune is more intimate. It takes place at the small Mississippi community of Holly Springs where everybody knows each other. It is still eine Gemeinschaft. People go fishing together. Catfish provides a main trade.* Easter is forthcoming.

The microcosmic multi-narrative approach is launched at once with scenes at the police station, the bar, the First Presbyterian Church, Emma's shack, and Cookie's house.

At the bar, Cookie's handyman Willis (Charles S. Dutton) is getting drunk. He "never drinks before Tom Brokaw".

At the church, Camille Dixon (Glenn Close) and Cora Duvall (Julianne Moore), Cookie's nieces, rehearse an Easter play - Oscar Wilde's Salome revised by Camille.

Emma (Liv Tyler), Cora's mixed-up daughter, lives in a shack. She has been away and beaten; there is a bruise on her chin.

Cookie (Patricia Neal) is hiding easter eggs in the garden. Later Willis returns to the house to clean the gun collection as promised. Those guns belonged to Buck, Cookie's beloved deceased husband.

Altman has been accused for misogyny (woman-hating) even in this film and Dr. T & The Women, both written by Anne Rapp.

I think there is a confusion here. It is true that Altman often (usually? always?) presents women who are to some degree crazy. It is also true that he often presents men who are crazy. He loves them all. So did Fellini who may have had a macho chauvinist bias, but things are not simple, and it can be equally be claimed that both Altman and Fellini satirize macho chauvinism.

The question is not trivial. On the contrary, in Altman's world one might say it's all about the courage to look into the heart of madness. Altman's world is a madhouse, but we can find and cultivate islands of sanity. There are values such as community, caring, tenderness, and love. Women are especially talented in them. Cookie's Fortune is also about that. It does not idealize women but neither does it ridicule them wholesale. Great comedy is about confronting the ridiculous without losing dignity.

In Ron Mann's wonderful documentary Altman (2014) it is revealed in the finale that Altman's personal favourite film was Brief Encounter. The revelation of seeing it inspired him to become a film-maker. Also in Altman's own films there are brief encounters (not necessarily love affairs) which give value to life even when that life is trivial, tedious, irrational, terrible or otherwise hard to bear.

When Camille discovers Cookie's body she immediately starts a cover-up since "nobody in this family commits suicide". She thinks that only mad people commit suicide.

There are two great performances in Cookie's Fortune. Patricia Neal in her penultimate film role is an excellent Cookie. She is a widow longing for her dear Buck: "I miss you so much". She is still active and independent, smoking a pipe, tending her garden, preparing an Easter dinner. But the house is getting out of shape without Buck. It is getting harder for her to climb the stairs. Even mentally she is sometimes getting lost. With sound judgement she goes to bed, covers her head with a pillow and pulls the trigger. "Here I come, Buck. I'm gonna be in a golden boat". Feathers fly and the gun cabinet's defective door swings open. She is not mad. She loves life as long as it can be lived with dignity. Now it's time to go. It is her Easter sacrifice.

Charles S. Dutton gives a great performance as Willis, Cookie's caretaker. Because his fingerprints are on the gun and everywhere, he is arrested as a suspect for murder. But everybody knows Willis, and nobody believes in his being a murderer. Willis and Emma are the ones who are most heartbroken at Cookie's death. There is depth and nuance in Dutton's performance. His craziness is alcohol, and he may be an alcoholic, but he manages to keep it checked with his "never before Tom Brokaw" rule.

The performances of Glenn Close and Julianne Moore start as caricatures, and in a multi-character study there is hardly any other way than to start with caricature. But their characters never grow, rather on the contrary. Camille falls into the trap of her own ingenious staging of an imaginary murder, and in the prison cell, dressed in orange, she falls herself into madness (or her madness is exposed, and perhaps the suicide cover-up was also an unconscious attempt to a cover-up of her own madness). Maybe Altman lost steam and had the energy in this film for only two fully realized performances.

The film is laid back and even lazy at times. The editing could have been sharper.

There is a fine original blues score by David A. Stewart and Candy Dulfer.

The print is fine, and the visual quality is usually perfect (but slightly variable: soft / speed-printed in the beginning).

* There has been a species of catfish even in Finland called monni, now extinct in our country.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Vremya zhelany / Time of Desires

Yuli Raizman: Время желаний / Vremya zhelany / Time of Desires (SU 1984) starring Vera Alentova as Svetlana Vasilyevna.

Время желаний / Vremja zhelani / Toiveiden aika / Förhoppningarnas tid.
    SU 1984. PC: Mosfilm. P: Vladimir Zeitlin.
    D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Anatoli Grebnev. DP: Nikolai Olonovski / Nikolai Olonovsky. PD: Tatjana Lapshina / Tatyana Lapshina. Cost: Nadezhda Buzina. Makeup: Irina Kirejeva / Irina Kireyeva. M: Aleksandr Beljajev / Aleksandr Belyayev. ED: Galina Patrikejeva / Galina Patrikeyeva. S: Igor Urvantsev.
    C: Vera Alentova (Svetlana Vasilyevna), Anatoli Papanov (Vladimir Lobanov), Tatyana Yegorova (Mila), Vladislav Strzhelchik (Nikolai Nikolayevich, composer), Aleksei Mikhaylov (Valeri), Vladimir Antonik (Dima), Stanislav Zhitaryov (Lyosha Yeremeyev), Boris Ivanov (Andrei Sergeyevich).
    Soviet premiere: September 1984. Helsinki premiere: 21.12.1984 Kosmos 1, released by: Kosmos-Filmi – VET 92174 – S – 2810 m / 103 min
    A vintage KAVI 35 mm Orwocolor print (deposited by Kosmos-Filmi) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yuli Raizman), 18 Dec 2015

Time of Desires, Yuli Raizman's final film, had its premiere on the eve of perestroika and glasnost. Raizman was 80 years old; he lived to see the full period of change, dying at 90 just before his 91th birthday. Making Time of Desires he was the oldest still active Soviet director. He had been working without a break during seven decades as a director, screenwriter, and in charge of a production unit, even fleetingly as an actor in a bit part (as a pharmacist's assistant in Pudovkin's Chess Fever).

Many Soviet films of the stagnation and glasnost periods (including even Abuladze's momentous Repentance) were sclerotic and needlessly prolonged, carrying the curse of the planned economy mentality: the longer the film the higher the bonus.

None of that happened with Raizman. Neither does Time of Desires belong to the special class of veterans' final films with a senior master's aesthetics such as The Countess from Hong Kong (Chaplin), Gertrud (Dreyer), or L'innocente (Visconti).

Time of Desires is a film of wisdom, crisp, witty, and acutely aware of the conditions of life in the contemporary Soviet Union. There is nothing archaic, nostalgic or stylized here.

Raizman's Time of Desires and Private Life are Chekhovian films. As in "Dama s sobachkoi" ("The Lady with the Dog") there is here is a woman alone visiting a popular holiday resort. And as in "Poprygunya" ("The Grasshopper") the wife proves fatal to the husband. The narratives and the characters in Chekhov and Raizman's works are quite different, but the affinity runs deep. There is something similar in the sagaciousness about people and the simple yet complex art of observation.

Chekhov has been criticized, by Sophie Laffitte and Irmeli Niemi, among others, for his misogynist streak. One could imagine how Chekhov might have handled Time of Desires. In this aspect Raizman is more sophisticated. Even in his stories of "strange women" he is never misogynistic. What Svetlana accomplishes in Time of Desires is catastrophic, but we understand that she is a victim, as well.

Watching the film I was thinking about Donald Winnicott's distinction between "true self" and "false self". In his own way, considered as too humble by Svetlana, Vladimir Lobanov has found his true self. With her relentless energy and talent Svetlana focuses on changing Vladimir so totally that he becomes a stranger in his own life. Vladimir's weakness is his passivity. He is unable to resist the acts of Svetlana whom he truly loves. Svetlana's tragic weakness is that she has never found her true self. She has no life of her own. She lives through her husband, and when the husband's circumstances prove too modest, she changes them. She is an ingenious opportunist, and she, too, really loves her spouse in her own way and is faithful, devoted and committed. (Maybe even too much so). Vladimir dies of heartbreak. Both lose everything.

Svetlana is a memorable anti-heroine. She is a survivor, a player, an arranger. Truth has no meaning for her. She bends facts at will. Both Vladimir and another man interested in her, the composer Nikolai Nikolayevich, see through her lies but are fascinated by her all the same. And even though she has been exposed she goes on in her truth-ignoring fashion. Her perseverence is remarkable, but there is also something self-destructive in her behaviour.

One way to sum up Time of Desires is to say it is a tragedy of living in a lie.

The performances are excellent, including smaller roles. The veteran Anatoli Papanov creates a character who is very laid back and whose refined qualities emerge gradually. The impact of his performance keeps growing after the screening. Vera Alentova had become a star known by everybody in her performance in Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Before that he had played one of the nurses in Miklós Jancsó's The Red and the White. Her Svetlana is an expert swimmer in the turmoil of life, but there is a sense that her inner core is somnolent. To convey that is difficult, and Vera Alentova succeeds in it very well.

In the most disturbing sequence of the movie, as Svetlana is preparing to sell her apartment, a man from her past, Valya, appears. He, too, has keys to the apartment. He is an ex-lover, a married man, drunk and violent. He rapes Svetlana. It is also because Svetlana abhors men like him that she has selected Vladimir. I do not know how common it was for a Soviet film to depict sexual violence. The scene is very convincing and disturbing, making its point with clarity without being explicit or exploitative.

The most elegic sequence is the one at the dacha full of memories dear to Vladimir since childhood. Thanks to Svetlana, it, too, has to go.

The middle-aged Vladimir (his first wife has died and he has a grown-up son) is in great physical shape. He exercises and always walks to the office. Until Svetlana comes along. After Vladimir's promotion to a senior position, there is a company car. Vladimir's health breaks down.

According to Mia Öhman (her source: Mosfilm. 90 shagov. "Vremja zhelani") Time of Desires is the third part of Raizman's Gubanov trilogy (The Communist, Your Contemporary, Time of Desires). Svetlana Vasilyevna is the daughter of Vasili Gubanov (Jr.) (Your Contemporary) and the granddaughter of Vasili Gubanov (Sr.) (The Communist). In Time of Desires the name Gubanov never appears. In fact, when Svetlana is asked what her family name is she replies: "I won't tell".

Ten years later Russia was sucked into a vortex of predatory private enterprise and a ruthless stealing mentality. Perhaps Svetlana is already a figure of the coming age. She advances her private goals and only protects those who protect her. She has no social conscience.

The print is used with splices invisible to the viewer and fine rain in the changeovers, but the visual quality is brilliant. The colour is perfect, and there is the fine soft detail typical for a print of a first generation. If this print has not been struck from the negative it is at least not far removed from it.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cadaveri eccellenti / The Context / Illustrious Corpses

Arvokkaita ruumiita / Utsökta lik / Excellenta lik. IT/FR © 1975 United Artists Corporation. Year of release: 1976. PC: P. E. A. Produzzioni Europee Associate (Rooma) / Les Productions Artistes Associés (Pariisi). P: Alberto Grimaldi. D: Francesco Rosi. SC: Francesco Rosi, Tonino Guerra ja Lino Januzzi – based on the novel Il contesto by Leonardo Sciascia. DP: Pasqualino de Santis – Technicolor – 1,85:1. PD: Andrea Cristanti. Cost: Enrico Sabbattini. M: Piero Piccione. Frédéric Chopin: "Marche funèbre" (from his piano sonata No. 2, Op. 35, 1839). Tango ”Jeanne et Paul”, comp. Astor Piazzolla. ED: Ruggero Mastroianni. C: Lino Ventura (ispettore / tarkastaja / inspector Amerigo Rogas), Charles Vanel (yleinen syyttäjä / Procurator Vargas), Fernando Rey (turvallisuusministeri / Security Minister), Max von Sydow (korkeimman oikeuden presidentti / Supreme Court President Riches), Tino Carraro (poliisipäällikkö / chief of police), Marcel Bozzuffi (joutilas mies / the lazy), Paolo Bonacelli (Dr. Maxia), Alain Cuny (Judge Rasto), Tina Aumont (the prostitute), Maria Carta (Madame Cres), Luigi Pistilli (the left-wing journalist Cusan), Renato Salvatori (police commissary), Paolo Graziosi (Galano), Anna Proclemer (Nocio's wife), Carlo Tamberlani (Archbishop). Loc: Palermo and Agrigento (Sicily), Museo Napoleonico and Palazzo Spada (Roma), Naples. Helsinki premiere: 14.1.1977 Adlon, released by UA – telecast: 17.5.1985 Yle TV1 – VET 85010 – K16 – 3280 m / 119 min
    A SFI-FA print with Swedish subtitles by Gun Muresu and e-subtitles in Finnish by Lena Talvio viewed at Cinema Orion (Francesco Rosi in memoriam), 17 Dec 2015

Cadaveri eccellenti is Francesco Rosi's visually most powerful film. It seems like he and his regular cinematographer Pasqualino de Santis have seen The Parallax View directed by Alan J. Pakula and shot by Gordon Willis. They do not imitate them, but there is a new eerie dimension in the imagery of Rosi and de Santis. I sense a spiritual affinity, a new way to convey modern conspiracy.

Inspector Rogas is investigating a series of murders of distinguished judges. At first he senses that the killer must be a victim of a miscarriage of justice, the pharmacist Cres, but then he discovers a much larger conspiracy using Cres as their front. He finds incriminating evidence of corruption around the murdered judges but is asked to investigate the crimes only in the context of leftist terrorist groups. The establishment is collaborating with the Communist Party, and the terrorists are a useful common enemy.

There is an international top cast: Lino Ventura, Charles Vanel, Fernando Rey, Max von Sydow, Alain Cuny, Tina Aumont, Renato Salvatori... all speaking perfect Italian thanks to the country's incredibly talented synchronization professionals.

There is a haunting rhythm of quiet and meditative passages of threat and persecution alternating with huge and noisy crowd scenes (banquets, demonstrations). In the beginning there is also a recurrent motif of funerals.

Until this film Rosi's political films had been firmly rooted in reality, documented by thorough research. Cadaveri eccellenti is not based on documentary realism and although it has a powerful paranoid nightmare atmosphere its substance is not as convincing as in Rosi's Brechtian Lehrstücke.

Memorable: - Procurator Vargas in the passage of the dead, the catacomb of the mummies, the site of communicating with the dead - the obsession of Vargas with jasmine - Vargas knew all the secrets of the city - the chalkline of judge Sanza on the highway - "he was the one who took care of expropriation" - we see the new city of modern block-houses - the immense tango record collection of pharmacist Cres - Astor Piazzolla's "Jeanne et Paul" becomes the sound of death - President Riches's lecture: "there is no miscarriage of justice" - decimation is also justice in martial circumstances - "and we are at war" - the white Swiss Mercedes Benz, the car of death - the sound of the tanks at night - the final murders at the National Gallery amongst Roman statues - the dead inspector Rogas is framed as the murderer, having "gotten mixed up and lost his mental balance in his investigations of conspiracy" - "the truth is not always revolutionary" is the darkly dystopian final statement in the closing scene of "historical compromise".

The final ironical disclaimer states that the film has no connection with reality.

The print is complete of this visually exceptionally ambitious movie. There is the regular look of a print which is some generations removed from the negative. Although the factory is Technicolor there is some fading and bleaching of the colour. A strong visual experience nevertheless.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Tvoy sovremennik / Your Contemporary

Yuli Raizman: Твой современник / Tvoy sovremennik / Your Contemporary (SU 1968).

Твой современник. Киноповесть, 2 серии / Tvoi sovremennik / [Sinun aikalaisesi].
    SU 1968. Year of production: 1967. PC: Mosfilm. P: Y. Rogozovsky.
    D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Jevgeni Gabrilovitsh / Yevgeni Gabrilovich, Juli Raizman. DP: Naum Ardashnikov – black and white – ш.-э. = Sovscope 2,35:1 (also shot in an Academy 1,37:1 version). PD: Georgi Turyljov / Georgi Turylyov. Cost: M. Abar-Baranovska. Makeup: Yelena Lomova. ED: Klavdiya Moskvina. Incidental music incl. "Letkajenkka" (comp. Erik Lindström, 1922–2015). S: Sergei Minervin.
    C: Igor Vladimirov (Vasili Gubanov), Nikolai Plotnikov (Professor Maksim Petrovich Nitochkyn, a Member of the Academy), Tatyana Nadezhdina (Katya Chulkova), Antonina Maksimova (Yelisaveta Kondratyeva), Nina Gulyaeva (Zoika / Zoyka), Nikolai Zasukhin (Georgi Kuzmich, varapääministeri / Deputy Chairman of the Soviet of Ministers / [Deputy Prime Minister]), Arkadi Arkayev (Stepan Ignatyevich, Minister), Yuri Leonidov (Sergei Aleksandrovich Kolesnikov, Minister), Mikhail Ladygin (Vladimir Sergeyevich, Deputy Minister), Sergei Smirnov (Referent), Yuri Svirin (Arkadi Arkadyevich Serebryakov, Member of the Academy), Lyudmila Maksakova (guest at the café), Nikolai Kuzmin (Samokhin, Secretary of the Beryovski Regional Committee), Mikhail Debyatkin (doorman), Nadezhda Fedosova (Mariya Sergeyevna, Deputy), Anastasiya Georgiyevskaya (floor hostess), Aleksei Borzunov (Misha Gubanov), journalists Edmund Stevens, Tilly Young, Peter Young, Gilbert Luttweit, and Derek Lambert as themselves.
    USSR premiere: 15.1.1968 (IMDb), 22.1.1968 (Sov. hud. filmy). Imported by Kosmos-Filmi (but not released nor telecast in Finland). IMDb: 140 min – Sovetskije hudozhestvennyje filmy [VI] 1966–1967: pervaya seriya: 1631 m, vtoraya seriya 2830 m = 4461 m / 162 min
    A vintage KAVI print (deposited by Kosmos-Filmi), Academy version, 144 min
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yuli Raizman) with e-subtitles by Mia Öhman (Part I) and Marja Holstila (Part II), Paul Éluard's "La mort, l'amour, la vie" translated by Aale Tynni, 16 Dec 2015
J'allais vers toi j'allais sans fin vers la lumière
La vie avait un corps l'espoir tendait sa voile
Le sommeil ruisselait de rêves et la nuit
Promettait à l'aurore des regards confiants
Les rayons de tes bras entrouvraient le brouillard 

– Paul Éluard: "La mort, l'amour, la vie"

Your Contemporary is the second film in Yuli Raizman's Gubanov trilogy (The Communist, Your Contemporary, Time of Wishes) covering three generations of a Russian family in the Soviet Union. The first Gubanov was a storage manager. His son, Vasili Gubanov, the protagonist here, is an internationally acknowledged chemist. He never knew his father.

Your Contemporary belongs to the self-critical Soviet genre of production films. One of the most famous of them was Sergei Mikaelyan's Premiya / Bonus (1974). The masterpiece of the genre was perhaps the very first one, Ghiorgobistve / Listopad / Falling Leaves (1966) directed by none other than Otar Iosseliani. Those films examined fundamental questions of why the planned economy did not work.

In this film engineer Gubanov marches to meet the Government regarding a magnificent construction site of chemical industry led by himself at Beryozovka. He requires that it must be shut down immediately because the technology on which the factory is based is getting obsolete and there is much better technology available. The consequences would be enormous, affecting 250 other factories in the five year plan.

The situation is shocking and dramatic for everybody. Gubanov is backed by his friend, the Academician Nitotchkyn, who is sharing a room with him at the hotel. The main narrative is about production and government. There are long meetings and debates. They are never boring.

Gubanov belongs to the Raizman protagonists who have trouble in their private lives. In Moscow he meets his ex-wife and his estranged son Misha who has never had a real father figure. The young Misha has interrupted his studies and gotten married with a more mature woman who is also a single mother. Gubanov tries to establish a contact with them but he reproaches them in a way which is deeply insulting for both and perhaps estranges them fatally and irrevocably. We realize that Gubanov has profoundly misunderstood them.

Nitotchkyn (Nikolai Plotnikov) is an interesting character, inspired by Indian philosophy. He talks with Gubanov about avoiding rush. You should bite carefully when you eat. First then you really taste food. Breathing is the most important thing. "One must live more passionately", is also one of his principles. And: "Every invention begets new inventions. That is progress".

Gubanov belongs to Raizman's workaholics. He is always focused on work. He is also a communist by conviction. "I believe in the victory of communism. Bad organization should not be elevated to a principle". "Communism is not about understanding everything and keeping silent. It means transcending oneself".

The characters are not simple and linear. Expecting to meet Misha and his wife Gubanov gets acquainted with Zoya, a young woman full of life but without a sense of direction. Somehow Gubanov takes Zoya to a dance palace. He does not have that swing. It is to Zoya that Gubanov tells his life's story. Zoya: "You seem to be a man of ideas. You totally confuse me. You are so strange. So polite". More than once there is a remark about today's young men who are not chivalrous.

In the final sequence Gubanov meets Western journalists. He tells them that he hates war. He considers US standard of living very high. He sees no prospect of a backlash to the Stalin cult. US literature he hardly knows. His Russian favourite writers include Chekhov, Tolstoy, Fedin, Simonov, and Isakovsky. Of Western writers he only mentions Paul Éluard whom he does not know but who has been quoted to him by Misha. He confesses that he has made an error in Beryozovska, will probably be fired and be a rank engineer from now on. "The end of your career". "We build a lot. We also build communism. It is not so important to what task one is assigned. I am a communist".

Your Contemporary belongs to Raizman's key films of communist self-definition. It is also a record of the political atmosphere after the Thaw in the early period of Brezhnevian stagnation. Gubanov's tired and resigned but stubborn visage is a face of the age.

Raizman's approach is matter-of-fact, based on simple and alert observation, psychological and social. Raizman tests the limits of freedom available within the constraints of Soviet cultural self-censorship.

The visual approach is urban, realistic, with a sociological passion in the milieux observed, not far from documentary. The spaces of power are exact replicas built on Mosfilm studios.

The key sequence takes place at Alexei Kosygin's office, partly shot on location, partly in the Mosfilm replica. The film was shot in 1967, a year before the crushing of the Prague Spring by Warsaw Pact tanks (which Kosygin opposed). It was the beginning of the Brezhnev Doctrine and the beginning of the end of the Communist rule in the Eastern bloc.

Like But What If This Is Love? also Your Contemporary was shot in black and white and scope.

Our print, however, is not in scope but in Academy, and the image has low contrast. It looks like it might be a print made for television. It is clean and looks like it has never been screened before. According to the official Soviet filmography the original version was 18 minutes longer than the one we screened.


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Chastnaya zhizn / Private Life

Yuli Raizman: Чaстная жизнь / Chastnaya zhizn / Private Life (SU 1982) starring Mikhail Ulyanov as Sergei Nikitich Abrikosov.

Чaстная жизнь / Tshastnaja zhizn / Yksityiselämä.
    SU 1982. PC: Mosfilm. EX: Vladimir Tseitlin / Vladimir Zeitlin.
    D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Anatoli Grebnev, Yuli Raizman, [Mikhail Ulyanov n.c. according to Wakeman ]. DP: Nikolai Olonovski / Nikolai Olonovsky – colour – 1,37:1. PD: Tatjana Lapshina / Tatyana Lapshina. Cost: Vera Romanova. Makeup: I. Kirejeva / I. Kireyeva. M (theme music): Vyacheslav Ganelin. Incidental music: Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 2. "Mighty Quinn". S: Igor Urvantsev. ED: Valeriya Belova.
    C: Mihail Uljanov / Mikhail Ulyanov (Sergei Nikitich Abrikosov), Ija Savvina / Iya Savvina (Natalya Ilyinichna Abrikosova), Irina Gubanova (Nelli Petrovna), Tatjana Dogileva / Tatyana Dogileva (Vika), Aleksei Blohin / Aleksei Blokhin (Igor), Elena Sanaeva (Marina), Lilya Gritsenko (Marya Andreyevna).
    Telecast in Finland: 18.1.1983 Yle TV2, imported by Kosmos-Filmi – 102 min
    A Gosfilmofond print.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yuli Raizman) with e-subtitles by Jertta Ratia-Kähönen operated by Mia Öhman, 13 Dec 2015

Mikhail  Ulyanov becomes the incarnation of the stagnation era of the Soviet Union in this psychologically convincing account of a big boss who steps down (or is asked to leave) and gets a personal retirement package when two companies merge (at his own initiative, but he had been expecting to be nominated himself).

Ulyanov, one of the most notable actors in Soviet theatre and cinema, was known for his portrayals of great men of respect such as the protagonist in The Chairman, Marshal Zhukov, and even Lenin whom he portrayed repeatedly. This background provides extra gravity for this quietly devastating movie directed by Yuli Raizman.

Private Life is a specifically Soviet story yet with universal relevance as an account of an ageing man who faces retirement, modern times – and private life. Ulyanov was amazed that he won the Golden Lion at Venice Film Festival. Private Life was also the only Raizman film nominated for the Academy Awards (Best Foreign Language Film). Ulyanov's performance made me think about Jack Nicholson in About Schmidt and Antti Litja in Mielensäpahoittaja / The Grump.

The sober judgement in the observations, the witty but restrained dramatization, and the combination of elegy and a sense of humour made me think of Anton Chekhov, both his great plays and his great tales such as "A Dreary Story (Notes by an Old Man)". Raizman's storytelling is simple and laconic, but there is always a dramatic tension in the scenes.

Sergei Abrikosov is a man of experience who defines himself as belonging to a generation with ideals. He belongs to the work-committed protagonists in Raizman's oeuvre together with Rogachev (The Pilots), The Knight of the Golden Star, Gubanov (The Communist), and Sergei Romashko (A Lesson in Life). All sacrifice private life for public life. It is possible to do so for a while. The lesson in A Lesson in Life is that there can be no consistently successful public life without a balance in private life.

When Sergei retires it is a catastrophe for the family. It is less harmful that they lose the datcha and the company car. The big trouble is Sergei himself who has become a stranger in his own family. Sergei finds hardly anything positive to say about his children.

Sergei visits the doctor and learns that his health is excellent. "You could fly to space".

Sergei learns to walk in the city, pay attention to traffic lights, and use public transportation.

He seeks old friends, but many are dead. His loyal secretary welcomes him, but with his clumsy manners Sergei manages to offend even her. "I have never seen you laugh", she says. Sergei notices a portrait of a man. "My man. Not officially. He had a family. I was happier than many who are married". Sergei starts to leave. "I do not know how to live. My wife spends her time who knows where."

His devoted wife (from a second marriage) Natalya (Iya Savvina) now does have a life of her own. As a true Raizmanian protagonist Sergei has urged her to study ("You created me", admits Natalya), and she now has a successful academic career of which Sergei knows nothing. Physical tenderness has disappeared. Natalya refuses to let Sergei see her naked or even to touch his hand ("Don't be foolish").

Sergei fails to communicate with his daughter from his first marriage, and as daughters tend to do, she tells him the truth: "You are out of touch of what is going on in your own house". "Neither of us love anybody".

But even Natalya finally speaks out. "You hurt me and the children repeatedly". "I cannot speak with you". "You never listen". "Leisure is important. You never had any". "Sundays were just a gritting of the teeth".

Natalya takes Sergei to the circus. For once, he laughs. The circus was the place where they were dating while Sergei was still married to his first wife. During the break Sergei finally asks, "How are you?" And even: "Do you have someone?" Natalya: "We have never asked questions like that. It does not matter." She is devoted and committed to the marriage. But: "You have been away for a long time".

There is a wartime personal autographed gun which Sergei takes with him in a cigar box from the office. His son Igor takes it away from him in secret. Contrary to Chekhov's maxim nobody fires it.

Sergei's first wife dies in a nursing home. Sergei drives to tell the news to their daughter. The sequence is the most moving in the film, displaying both emotional power and restraint.

There is a call from the ministry. Briskly Sergei changes to his smartest dress, helped by Natalya. His movements slow down, and we realize his contradictory feelings. In the mirror he sees an old and bitter man.

There is a slightly dull touch in the colour world. In the fifties there was stylized or juicy colour in Raizman's films. What If This is Love? was shot in crisp black and white scope. In the Private Life the light and the colour are not bright. Rachmaninoff''s Second Piano Concerto during the credits is a bit off; soon we realize that it is played on the radio.

The print is quite good.


Saturday, December 12, 2015

A yesli eto lyubov? / But What If This Is Love?

Yuli Raizman: А если это любовь? /A yesli eto lyubov? / But What If This Is Love? (SU 1961) starring Zhanna Prokhorenko (Ksenya) and Igor Pushkaryov (Boris).

А если это любовь? / A jesli eto ljubov? / A esli eto lyubov? / [Jos se onkin rakkautta?] / [Rakkauttako?] / If This Be Love.
    SU 1961. PC: Mosfilm. EX: J. Rogozovski.
    D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Iosif Olshanski / Iosif Olshansky, Nina Rudneva, Yuli Raizman. DP: Aleksandr Haritonov / Aleksandr Kharitonov – black and white – scope 2,35:1. PD: Ippolit Novoderezhkin, Sergei Voronkov. Cost: Lidiya Novi. Makeup: Vera Rudina. M: Rodion Shtshedrin / Rodion Shchedrin. ED: Klavdiya Moskvina. S: Sergei Minervin.
    C: Zhanna Prohorenko / Zhanna Prokhorenko (Ksenija / Ksenya), Igor Pushkarjov / Igor Pushkaryov (Boris), Nadezhda Fedosova (Tatyana, Ksenya's mother), Aleksandra Nazarova (Nadya), Nina Shorina (Rita), Sofya Pavlova, Andrei Mironov (Pyotr), Evgeni Zharikov (Sergei), Anatoli Golik (Igor), Viktor Khokhryakov (Pavel, Boris' father), Mariya Durasova (Anastasiya, school director), Anna Pavlova (Boris' mother).
    Soviet premiere: 19 March 1962. The film was not released in Finland – 102 min
    A Gosfilmofond print.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yuli Raizman) with e-subtitles by Mia Öhman, 12 Dec 2015.

An unhappy tale of young love realized with an approach of sober and tender understanding.

A lost page from a love letter creates a scandal at school. There is an agitated debate at the senior common room. A model Komsomol student girl is asked to inform if she finds out who wrote it.

At the school hall someone reads aloud from the letter, the deeply offended lovers recognize it, and there is a fight.

The rumour spreads all over the school and at home on the huge courtyard between the high rises.

Ksenya and Boris, the "culprits", refrain from going to school the next day. Instead they go to the forest. It starts to rain and they find shelter in a ruined church, a place dear to their grandparents. "My father did not let me be baptized". They playfully enact church ceremonies. He kisses her. "Never go any further".

Ksenya's mother is one of the worst. She hits Ksenya in public on the courtyard. "You do not eat, you do not sleep". "They are all after that one thing". "Love is but a sweet word for that thing".

The worst is the German teacher who created the scandal in the first place about the lost page of the letter which is a sweet and beautiful confession of love.

Ksenya and Boris defy the world and walk together openly but cringe every time someone is laughing. They think they are the cause of the laughter.

The black and white scope cinematography by Aleksandr Kharitonov is completely different from the previous Yuli Raizman films that I have seen. Common to them is the obvious inspiration of neorealism. The visual look is crisp, almost graphic. There are some striking compositions as that of six schoolmates walking side by side, filling the scope screen. Some extraordinary distant shots have an aspect of abstraction that fleetingly reminds me of Marienbad. During the (First of May? Victory Day?) feast Ksenya and Boris find a private tryst, and a street lamp swinging in the wind creates mysterious moving shadows. Mostly the scope frame is used to emphasize the sociological milieu of the intimate story.

People live in apartment blocks that have just been built, and there are new construction sites everywhere. I recognize here something familiar from my own childhood at the same time on the other side of the iron curtain in the city of Tampere at Sammonkatu when we moved to a house that had just been built and across Joukahaisenkatu the next block was still under construction.

On the highway the students have to cross there is a non stop traffic of discourteous truck drivers transporting building elements. Towards the conclusion trees are being planted on the wide empty courtyards.

The students find the fuss about the letter amusing. "In every book the topic is love. In life it is such a shame?"

The scene in the ruined church is not blasphemous. Instead there is a sense of something sacred that has been lost.

There are those who understand. Most of the teachers, including the headmaster, find nothing wrong in Ksenya and Boris. The classmates start to display tact and solidarity, but it is too late. "I don't want love", Ksenya finally says. "I just want to study and work". The pressure of conformity is overwhelming.

The film is based on a true story of two young lovers who committed suicide. Here Ksenya tries to poison herself but is saved. There is no future for the love of Boris and Ksenya. Boris leaves for Kursk with his father. Ksenya is heading for Novosibirsk.

Raizman's psychological insight is impeccable. Ksenya and Boris are mysteries to themselves, and their Platonic love affair is a stage in their journey of self-discovery. In their correspondence they write about love. "We write letters like that. When we meet we talk about something completely different".

This beautiful and serious film is an affirmation of privacy, love and freedom, and an accusation against authoritarianism, prejudice, conformity, group pressure and informer mentality.

The print is brilliant and looks like it might have been struck from the negative.


Urok zhizni / A Lesson in Life

Yuli Raizman: Урок жизни /Urok zhizni / A Lesson in Life (SU 1955) starring Valentina Kalinina (Natasha) and Ivan Pereverzev (Sergei Romashko).

Урок жизни / Elämän oppitunti / Livets lärdom / Conflict.
    SU 1955. PC: Mosfilm. EX: Z. Rogozovski / Z. Rogozovsky.
    D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Jevgeni Gabrilovitsh / Yevgeni Gabrilovich. DP: Sergei Urusevski / Sergey Urusevsky – colour. PD: Levan Shengeliya. Cost: M. Zhukova. Makeup: V. Rudina. M: Arkadi Filippenko. ED: Klavdiya Moskvina. S: Sergei Minervin.
    C: Valentina Kalinina (Natasha), Ivan Pereverzev (Sergei Romashko), Olga Aroseva (Raija / Raya), Georgi Kulikov (Kostja / Kostya), Marina Jurjeva / Marina Yuryeva (Lilja / Liliya), Viktor Avdjushko / Viktor Avdyushko (Vasja), I. Aktasheva (Liza), F. Shimanski (Suteikin), Jevgeni Vesnik / Evgeni Vesnik (Pjotr Zamkovoi / Pyotr Zamkovoy), Nikolai Parfenov (engineer), Valentina Ananina (domrabotnitsa), Aleksandr Hanov / Aleksandr Khanov (in a bit role).
    Helsinki premiere: 17.8.1956 Capitol, released by Kosmos-Filmi – VET 44316 – 112 min
    A KAVI 2K DCP scanned for this screening from our vintage nitrate print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles.
    Introduced by Mia Öhman (a general overview of the film career of Yuli Raizman).
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yuli Raizman), 12 Dec 2015.

We screened back to back The Knight of the Golden Star and A Lesson in Life, the two consecutive films by Yuli Raizman which he directed with a pause of five years in between. During those five years Stalin died and the Thaw began. From anti-realistic and anti-truthful propaganda Raizman returned towards reality, inspired by the Thaw and perhaps by Italian Neorealism.

Raizman also returned to collaborating with his favourite screenwriter Yevgeni Gabrilovich who had already written The Last Night (1936) and Mashenka (1942) for him.

The ace cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky who had co-created the Potemkin village of totalitarian propaganda for The Knight of the Golden Star started to bloom in Thaw realism. Pudovkin's final film The Return of Vasily Bortnikov (1953) was a transition film moving forward from the ossification of the malokartina period, and Mikhail Kalatozov discovered Urusevsky for The First Echelon (1955). After A Lesson in Life Urusevsky had his international breakthrough in Chukray's The Forty-First (1956) and Kalatozov's The Cranes Are Flying (1957). Beyond neorealism, there was a new approach of flamboyant and baroque stylization in the cinematography, innate for Kalatozov since his early years in Georgia. In contrast, Raizman's approach was more sober, although he was also always interested in trying something new.

The story is contemporary, the age is that of magnificent building projects of cities. The post-war reconstruction, urbanization and modernization is going on everywhere.

Sergei is an engineer who is getting promoted to a big boss of immense building projects all over the country.

At a students' ball he meets Natasha who studies to become a teacher. She is the top student of her class.

Sergei and Natasha are incompatible but cannot resist each other even though the distance is great. Five years pass: they are married with a little son. Natasha has given up her studies.

Sergei is so single-mindedly focused to his projects that he ignores everything else. He forgets to provide the trucks needed for the workers' holiday excursion, important for Natasha. On Sunday he arranges an urgent meeting that lasts until midnight. At home after midnight he expects a warm dinner.

Natasha: "I am ashamed of you". Sergei: "I am building Communism". Natasha: "People don't like you".

"We do not have a family". Sergei promises a wedding anniversary trip on the Volga but forgets about that, too, and Natasha takes the trip alone with her son. She meets the old gang of the student days.  There has been a triangle story from the start. Kostya has never married.

With her best friend Natasha discusses Sergei. "He is honest, talented, and sincere". "But other people mean nothing to him".

Sergei keeps hearing truths from his real friends: "You are rude". "Sycophants thrive in your company". He does not listen, he does not get the message.

All the time Sergei keeps trying to reform. Natasha agrees to move with him to Kharkov (now in Ukraine). The apartment is spacious and lucrative. But the festive dinner where the biggest boss fails to appear turns into a disaster. This sequence is the anthology piece of the movie. Power has soaked into Sergei's brain and he acts like a tyrant. "I am not the lady of this house", Natasha exclaims.

There is a party committee meeting discussing Sergei's wanton behavior. He gets a warning and is fired from his position.

Natasha has finished her studies and becomes a teacher. Sergei is now at the bottom. But when he comes home at night he finds his estranged little son playing outside. He and Natasha have come back once again. "Can one re-build one's life from the start?" "You can do it". In the final images the private and the social are merged: the reconstruction of public and private life mirror each other.

There is a strong epic sense in the movie. The images of the huge construction sites are memorable. Typically for Raizman, the intimate story is even more impressive. The characters are unpredictable and interesting.

Mia Öhman considers A Lesson in Life perhaps the first Soviet film to criticize the cult of personality. Ivan Pereverzev creates of Sergei an intriguing Soviet anti-hero: a big boss who does not really care about other people (yet without being selfish in the sense of greedy).

Valentina Kalinina creates a complex character of Natasha. A Lesson in Life belongs to Raizman's pre-feminist films. For a change, the male protagonist does not urge the woman to study. She finishes her studies regardless.

The 2K DCP scanned from our vintage nitrate print gave a pretty good impression of Soviet colour cinematography in 1955. The colour feels right. There is a slightly soft and duped quality but the visual experience is agreeable all the same.


Kavaler Zolotoi Zvezdy / [The Knight of the Golden Star]

Yuli Raizman: Кавалер Золотой Звезды / Kavaler Zolotoi Zvezdy / [The Knight of the Golden Star] (SU 1950) starring Sergey Bondarchuk (Sergei Tutarinov).

Кавалер Золотой Звезды / Kultaisen tähden ritari / Gyllene stjärnans riddare / Riddaren av gyllene stjärnan / Dream of a Cossack.
    SU 1950. PC: Mosfilm. EX: J. Rogozovski.
    D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Boris Tshirskov / Boris Chirskov – based on the novel by Semjon Babajevski. DP: Sergei Urusevski / Sergey Urusevsky – Magicolor. PD: Aleksei Parhomenko / Aleksei Parkhomenko. Makeup: J. Lomova. M: Tihon Hrennikov / Tikhon Khrennikov. ED: T. Lihatsheva. S: V. Leshtshev.
    C: Sergei Bondartshuk / Sergey Bondarchuk (Sergei Tutarinov), Kira Kanajeva / Kira Kanaeva (Irina Lyubasheva), Anatoli Chemodurov (Semyon Goncharenko), Nikolai Komissarov (Khokhlakov), Boris Tshirkov (Kondratyev), Nikolai Gritsenko (Artamashov), Vladimir Ratomsky (Ragulin), N. Sevelov (Ostroukhov).
    SU premiere: 9 July 1951. Helsinki premiere: 28.9.1951 Capitol, released by: Kosmos-Filmi Oy – VET 33841 – S – IMDb: 95 min, 118 min - 3100 m / 113 min
    KAVI 2K DCP scanned for this screening from our vintage nitrate print with Finnish / Swedish subtitles. Bonus: from the Mosfilm YouTube release the extra epilogue of 6 min
    Introduced by Velipekka Makkonen.
    Viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Yuli Raizman), 12 Dec 2015

During Stalin's last years Yuli Raizman was assigned the job to direct one of the most false and infamous propaganda films of the period.

In continuation to Ivan Pyriev's The Cossacks of the Kuban also The Knight of the Golden Star is a story of "prosperous progress" immediately after WWII – also by the Kuban river.

The images of happiness and abundance are so contrary to reality that there is a feeling of an almost superstitious spectacle of wish-fulfillment so that the audience can forget the misery of life at least for the duration of the screening. (The prime audience member being Stalin himself who based his knowledge of Soviet reality on watching films like this).

In High Stalinist film fantasy gloss there is also an affinity with the Chinese model opera films of the Cultural Revolution. They created for the audience a parallel dream world. (Which is what MGM musicals also did in their more innocent fashion: the Hollywood musical was not the only truth).

Having seen Raizman's Thaw era movie Kommunist (made seven years later) yesterday I'm struck by parallels in the stories. (1) There is a story of the relationship by the energetic Communist and the hesitant young woman. (2) Rumours start circulating which seriously upset the woman (although nothing has happened). (3) The workaholic man neglects the woman, making the situation even worse. (4) In both films, the project is to build a power plant. (5) The man urges the woman to study (here she studies electronics, to become a technician, "a goddess of light" in the man's eyes).

As always with Raizman, the keyword in the account of human relationships is tact – even in a propaganda piece like this.

Raizman seems constitutionally unable to be anything but gentle and considerate. There is tenderness and sensitivity in the encounters. That is the main difference with Pyriev and The Cossacks of the Kuban, which rolls along in high gear from start to finish. On the other hand, in Pyriev's Kuban film there is a passionate undercurrent of profound grief which is probably the source of its emotional force. Remarkably, Pyriev creates a manifestly matriarchal tale while Raizman's world is patriarchal (but pre-feminist, Raizman being always a partisan for equal rights for women). Raizman is subtle and Pyriev is passionate, both with their dimensions of emotional truth in tales of public falsehood.

Sergei Urusevsky was about to become world famous during the Thaw with The Cranes Are Flying, Soy Cuba, and The Letter That Was Never Sent. Here he is already flexing his cinematographic muscles with soaring crane shots and long tracking shots. The takes are often long and ambitious, and there is already that flying, dizzying touch. The mise-en-scène is full of life in huge crowd sequences. There is a feeling of grandeur in the footage of the construction site of the power plant.

The Knight of the Golden Star is a fairy-tale about the victory of light. The power plant is finished, and the lights are turned on all over the valley. "See what a light is rising over our land". "Can you feel communism coming near?" Those are the last words of the original version of this film which we screened. From Mosfilm YouTube we even showed the epilogue shot later with features of the future already happening: efficient irrigation on the fields, a huge and shiny modern cowhouse – and the powerplant seen as a miracle palace from dreams.

Sergei Bondarchuk had his breakthrough as a film star in The Young Guard (1948) and The Knight of the Golden Star. Bondarchuk was ashamed of this account of the war veteran as a dashing hero gleaming with well-being. He envied the Italians who told the truth in their Neorealistic masterpieces. Bondarchuk revised utterly the image of the homecoming war veteran in his Thaw masterpiece The Destiny of a Man (1959).

Digitized from our vintage nitrate print the visual look is somewhat shabby and brownish, the Magicolor of the nitrate print by now being probably beyond salvation.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Kommunist / [The Communist]

Yuli Raizman: Коммунист /Kommunist / [The Communist] (SU 1957) starring Evgeni Urbanski (Vasili Gubanov) and Sofya Pavlova (Anyuta Fokina).

Коммунист / Aamunkoitteessa / I morgongryningen. SU 1957. PC: Mosfilm. EX: Yuzef (Zusman) Rogozovsky. D: Juli Raizman / Yuli Raizman. SC: Jevgeni Gabrilovitsh / Yevgeni Gabrilovich. DP: Aleksandr Shelenkov and Chen Yu Lan – colour. PD: Mikhail Bogdanov and Gennadi Maslikov / Gennady Myasnikov. Cost: Valentin Perelyotov, N. Buzina. Makeup: V. Rudina. SFX: M. Semyonov. M: Rodion Shtshedrin / Rodion Shchedrin. ED: K. Moskovina. S: Sergei Minervin.
    C: Jevgeni Urbanski / Evgeni Urbanski (Vasili Gubanov), Sofja Pavlova / Sofya Pavlova (Anjuta Fokina / Anyuta Fokina), Boris Smirnov (Lenin), Jevgeni Shutov / Yevgeni Shutov (Fjodor Fokin / Fyodor Fokin), Sergei Jakovlev / Sergey Yakovlev (Denis Ivanovitsh), Valentin Zubkov (Stepan).
    Helsinki premiere: 29.1.1960 Capitol, released by: Kosmos-Filmi Oy – VET 52485 – K12 – Finnish release print 2650 m / 97 min – IMDb: 115 min – Wikipedia Russia: 111 min – Mosfilm official YouTube: 105 min

Yevgeni Gabrilovich was Yuli Raizman's most important screenwriter. Gabrilovich debuted as a scenarist with Raizman (The Last Night, 1937), and he became also a key scenarist for Romm, Yutkevich, Schweitzer, Panfilov, and Averbach. Films based on his scripts were discussing Communist ideals in a psychologically sophisticated way. One might say that they are an essential source of Communist self-definition in the cinema. They went as far as possible within the compass of official Party control.

In the Raizman-Gabrilovich collaborations the director usually had the idea, and the scenarist developed the full screenplay in close collaboration with him.

Kommunist belongs to the Thaw, and for a film with an official character (it became the film screened on tv on days of official mourning when Brezhnev, Chernenko, and Andropov died) it is interesting to observe that the main theme is self-sacrifice.

The difference is abrupt to The Knight of the Golden Star with its propaganda slogans imbued in the dialogue. Here what we see remains usually within the realm of plausibility. However, Kommunist has the character of a story remembered by someone who was a baby when all this happened, and there is a confession that he does not remember everything of even that anymore. "From those days my mother usually started her tale... " Kommunist is a legend, a foundation saga for the USSR, to be compared with Westerns and Civil War sagas in the USA.

The year is 1918. Chaos, poverty, and hunger are rampant. The white armies are superior, and they are closing in from every direction. There are so many fronts that people lose count. There are two assassination attempts against Lenin (the second one later proving lethal).

In the midst of all this a construction site of a huge power plant is launched. Our protagonist Vasili Gubanov is in charge of storage, but there is a desperate shortage of everything. "Nothing will happen without bribes and bootleg liquor". There are not even nails, and in a fairy-tale like turn in the story Lenin hears about the missing nails and fixes the situation via a few well-placed telephone calls.

There is a general sense of disorientation and frustration, but with his spirit Gubanov becomes a model for everyone. When 40 wagon loads of bricks arrive he rises to the occasion, becomes a tribune to the people, and inspires a spirit of enthusiasm, complete with music and dance, thanks to which the bricks are unloaded in one night in a wonderful subbotnik work party (talkoot in Finnish = working bee, barn raising).

The famine is getting worse, and there is a typhoid epidemic. A train stocked with food is missing, and Gubanov is assigned the task to find it. After a long walk he finds the train which has stopped midway as there are no logs in the engine anymore. The personnel is relaxing in a shack. Soon they hear the sound of an axe. Gubanov is single-handedly felling trees. The others observe the madman for a while, then join him. Again there is a work site.

There is also the story of Anyuta, the mother of the storyteller. She is married to Fyodor Fokin, a tough dealer and survivor in the chaos, running a network of theft. Anyuta is very discreet but people start to spread evil rumours about her and Vasily Gubanov (nothing has happened, but they are attracted to each other). The workaholic Gubanov neglects her, too, putting Anyuta in a very bad position. Even Anyuta's life is in danger as Fyodor abducts her, ties her with ropes, and beats her brutally, even seriously intending to kill her, as is the traditional custom around here in circumstances like this. Kommunist is, among other things, a tale of women's emancipation. Anyuta is illiterate, and Vasily urges her to study.

In the climax, as Vasily and his team have managed to stock the engine with logs, Fyodor's gang invades it for robbery. Alone against them all Vasily fights to save the food train, but Fyodor' gang shoots Vasily. In the conclusion Fyodor comes to ask Anyuta to come back but she walks on alone with her baby towards a new, unknown world. Lenin hears about the train robbery, but he has forgotten who Gubanov is.

The epic scenes are exciting and well directed.

As are the intimate scenes where Raizman gives the actors enough space and time to express complex and contradictory feelings.

A keyword about Raizman in his handling of human relationships even in a story about a brutal civil war: tact.

We screened our vintage print abridged at Mosfilm before the Finnish release. According to Mia Öhman, scenes missing in our print: (1) Gubanov is reluctant to take the job at the storage, (2) Fyodor sells a bolt of cloth in the midst of chaos, (3) when we learn that Lenin has been shot the beginning has been cut: Gubanov demands to know what is the attitude of a communist to love, (4) Denis arrives on a food train from Ukraine, (5) the montage of builders eating soup from one year to the next has been changed so that the temporal aspect is lost, (6) funeral speech. Besides [7], the Finnish board of film classification cut the scene of the killing of Gubanov.

The print is clean, the colour is quite soft. Not brilliant but with the regular look of vintage Mosfilm of the era.