This movie was an interesting surprise to me because of its story. I know very little about the Russian Soviet Union but this was a nice introduction into the fear and paranoia surrounding that time period. Nikita Mikhalkov fills big shoes as the director, principal actor, producer, and writer. His performance was not only convincing in his times of sorrow but also in heart felt moments shared with his young daughter, Nadia.
Kotov, a loving family man and leading officer of the Red Army is deceived by his wife’s former lover. He attempts to be civil and let him enjoy their outing since Maroussia’s family welcomed him so easily. There are moments where Kotov looks skeptical about Mitya, as he is always framed before or after a suspicious incident occurs. His suspicions are confirmed towards the end of the movie when Mitya arrests Kotov and then kills an innocent traveler. Kotov knows his fate and breaks down while Mitya is unemotional. Kotov could be seen as representing the communist party and its reaction to Stalin’s invasion. He seems kind and reasonable but firm towards the armies. The talk with his daughter on the boat revealed that he is a gentle man only wanting good things for the people of Russia, including his family. It is also interesting to note that when Kotov incriminates himself and he and Mitya come to blows, they act as friends when Nadia comes in. It’s almost as if the two sides of government were represented but Mitya and Kotov and Nadia is the oblivious incarnation of other European countries.
Maroussia seems to be the most affected by Mitya’s return to her life. She couldn’t have possibly known about the conspiracy so I think her reasons for being so shaken when he arrives. Their tension is not only obvious, but a little unsettling since we see how passionate Kotov is about his wife and daughter. I was worried that there would be an affair and Mitya would die bloody at the hands of Kotov. Unfortunately, Mitya was only manipulating Maroussia to gain her trust and stay at their summer home. Her arrest is disheartening, as it leaves poor Nadia without her loving parents. Maroussia seems to be representing the Russian citizens that were unaware of such political tension and were put to death without reason or trial.
This movie was surprisingly easy to follow even though I had no prior exposure to the history of the Soviet Union. This drama is very well shot and took me through a romantic and political entanglement, a story that is told often but not often so dramatically moving.
The plotline of “Twilight of a Woman’s Soul” is quite melodramatic at times and seems to focus on an unsightly state of affairs rather than the important drama of the narrative. Vera, a bored rich woman, finds that her calling is to help the poor. But when she is naively swindled by Maxim, her drunken rapist, she escapes by stabbing him. Vera then woos young prince Doskii she is felt compelled to admit her dark secret. When she finally does she quite noticeably leaves out that she murdered Maxim. The prince finds her past too humiliating to handle and dismisses her. After some time Dolskii realizes he is still in love with Vera and goes to find her. Vera has become a stronger woman and refuses to take Dolskii back, leaving him to the traditional Russian ending, death by broken heart.
While this is one of the better silent films I have seen, I find this plotline to be a little ridiculous. It is probably because I belong to the 20th Century and am not an aristocrat whining about having too many friends but again, the plot stuck with me for the wrong reasons.
While Vera is an innocent virgin aristocrat, she is also naïve and completely unaware of the dangers of strolling through slums like her and her mother do. The “homeless” people that they walk past are seen gambling and drinking merrily until Vera strides past. They quickly turn into bedraggled helpless souls, needing the care and attention of those with money. This depiction of lower class society makes me wonder two things: did rich people actually believe them and were poor people actually dependent on upper classes for handouts? Neither side of the story sound just or moral, but then again it is just a movie. I was curious how that idea actually played into Russian society and how people perceive both classes. On the one hand the upper classes see anyone below a certain level as helpless orphans with no morals or idea of cleanliness. They, in turn see themselves as these people’s saving grace, come to provide for them and show them the path to righteousness.
In turn, the homeless look like lazy drunkards setting up shop simply for the handouts they will receive from the naïve women. Maxim, a particularly gruesome depiction of lower class males, plots to take advantage of Vera from the moment he sees her, criminalizing all males belonging to the lower class.
Aelita: Queen of Mars
Aelita: Queen of Mars was a landmark film that was the basis of many American science fiction films. Justly so, considering it was made with western cinema in mind. Even though it was an influence for western culture there was just as much relevancy to Russian politics and social economics. This film, which was so influential in the sci-fi genre, gave a particularly political message to the public, along with a sometimes confusing plot.
The overall story dives into a love story, but resurfaces and a murder mystery, whilst still remaining a science fiction plot of intergalactic battle. Obsessed with a transmission from space engineer Los is set out to find the origin of this transmission. Meanwhile, Aelita a princess of mars has been using an advanced telescope to play peeping Tom to Los and his wife. Only after the murder of his wife does Los finally use his ship to travel to Mars.
Russia (Earth) is portrayed as a dirty, sub level working class society, much like the one portrayed in Metropolis (influence influencing influence). While there are some definite similarities to the set design of mars and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Aelita mixes in a lot of soviet undertones with this twisted plot. Protazanov’s genius use of metaphors links a lot of differences. A lot of opposites including reality and fantasy, earth and space and others are shown to contrast soviet rule compared to other countries. He uses these differences to bring the science fiction to life and make it accessible to the public.
The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West and the Bolsheviks
It is interesting to note what Kuleshov absorbed from studying American Cinema. Many of those influences are found in his comedy, The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West and the Bolsheviks. Before explaining these similarities, I think it is important to discuss the famed Kelshov effect. This is a film technique that juxtaposes a person’s individual facial expression with a reactionary object. The images, edited to fit one right after the other, gives the audience the impression that the actor is thinking of and reflecting on the shown object or set of objects. This established the realm of artificial space; a concept that cannot be rendered by any other artistic medium. With the Kuleshov effect discovered and utilized in his films, The Great Russian director could establish a more progressive method of filmmaking.
In Adventures of Mr. West you can see the American influences of Harold Lloyd and the dark comedy. The underlying theme of this film seems to be that of mockery. Director Kuleshov addresses the naïve views of the western world, including America. The story is essentially about an American businessman and his bodyguard having life changing interactions with Russian Bolsheviks. For the majority of the plot the Russian stereotype is enforced. Mr. West encounters a couple groups of brutish swindlers, looking to gain his trust and then take his money. Eventually good prevails and the Bolshevik police sweep in to arrest the “barbarians”. Mr. West’s bodyguard, Jeddie shows him the army marching, which seems to having lasting effects on West’s opinion of Russians. While he criticizes our closed-mindedness and prejudices of eastern countries, he is also adapting the editing style and techniques used in popular American Cinema. Kuleshov turns prejudice into satire, but also brings together Russian and American film.
Kuleshov’s use of progressive American montage mixed with Russian acting styles truly makes Mr. West a hybrid film. His use of quicker shots and fast paced editing put his film ahead of others because it strayed away from the traditional landscape shot and long takes. By using the Kuleshov effect, as previously mentioned, he could film two completely different subjects at different times and juxtapose them next to each other, letting the audience make the assumption that the two subjects are related, physically or metaphorically. This brings about a smarter type of filmmaking; a direction that tells a narrative without holding the hand of the audience. This type of editing is more in touch with the psychological interworking’s of the brain and how filmmakers can use this new science to produce cohesive content.
Circus, a film by Grigorii Aleksandrov, follows Marion Dixon, an American woman working for the Russian circus after she has fallen victim to brutal racism. Upon moving to Russia, she joins the Circus and falls in love with Martynov, a performer in said circus. Marion faces more discrimination at the hands of Von Kneishits, who blackmails her into staying with the Circus. Fearing that her unspeakable secret will be revealed, she continues to work for him, keeping her black son concealed and hidden. The most moving scene takes place when all of the circus performers gather around to sing Marion’s son to sleep.
The film is part musical comedy, part drama, with subtle hints of propaganda. A nice, entertaining story compared to the Soviet push other films of the time were known for. While there is a political message in this film, I couldn’t help but notice the significance of color in Circus. The film is in black and white, but the costume evolves as the story does. Good and evil are easily identified in Martynov’s white costume and Kneishits shown in black, occasionally with a cape to make him more menacing. Marion’s child is not revealed for some time but there is always threat of exposure. In the final scene he is a distinguishable dark figure in a sea of white. Marion’s costume progression is most notable as she transitions from dark to light. She removes her dark wig to reveal her natural blonde hair and in the final scenes, wears a turtleneck just as the other circus members do. Her transition from dark to light reflects her transformation from a repressed single mother to an accepted member of the circus community.
The sameness of everyone’s outfits in the final scene refers to the ideology of the Soviet Union. There is less emphasis on racial issues and social class. Instead, the focus is mass allegiance to one system of values. The choreography, costume, and group singing all back up this idea of mass uniform and sameness. The baby’s different race is not to be a signifier of racial discrimination, but rather the reminder that while we have differences we can unite under the same beliefs.
Daisies was a wildly entertaining film to not only enjoy, but to spot the ways in which it is a feminist film. I found it particularly interesting how food was used in this film, not only as a slap in the face to communism, but the sheer entertainment found in watching these girls tear apart a feast in a matter of minutes. Often the girls are seen pigging out in their bed, at restaurants with their sugar daddies, and finally in a great hall. But to look closer at what they are eating is even more interesting. The Maries are found lying in bed with little clothing, eating phallic symbols of pickles and sausages. Marie even hacks away at a sausage with a pair of scissors, paying no mind to the man on the telephone professing his love for her as she dangles him along on a string.
These women are young and seemingly naïve but really they hold a lot of power in their innocence. They dominate all the men they encounter, much like their lust for the next big meal, they are never satisfied with the men they meet up with. If you address the symbolism of food literally, these girls seem to be broke, living in a very cramped apartment, but with all the excess of food of a Russian political figure.
Literally these women have no regard for waste or how much excess of food they are consuming. In a time where there was a lot of poverty and essentially not enough food to go around, the women almost dangle their lifestyle in the faces of communism. They care not that they are sloppily tearing through plate after plate of food, dancing and prancing on the leftovers. Something that young girls of their age and time period would never be caught doing or probably do if given the opportunity. They balk in the face of conventional living, pranking older men on their dates and upstaging a dance troupe in a bar. Their antics were radical, which is why the government placed a ban on this film before it was rereleased in 1968. Their death solidifies the director’s intentional message for the film. These girls are a product of idleness and irresponsibility. The chandelier falling on the girls, presumably killing them, reinforces that lack of purpose ends badly, but the strong willed ladies were persistent in their quest until the very end.
The editing style in this film struck me as rather experimental. I enjoyed the “cutting of heads” scene where the two girls ended up chopping each other’s bodies up. These interesting editing styles further the story by showing just how disconnected from reality these women are. Wholly involved with each other, they sache through life without a care in the world. Paying attention to specific details, such as locks on doors, they seem to be literally locking themselves away in their own gluttonous bubble.
Stalker is a film that plays with the absence of excessive set design and fantastical plots to achieve a successful science fiction film. Tarkovsky’s adaptation of a novel entitled “Roadside Picnic” takes us on a hike to a mystical “Zone” where a professor and writer will each have a wish come true. The film is set in a rural wasteland guarded by military who guard this “zone”. The stalker leads people to a room within the zone for monetary compensation. Throughout their trek, the three men discuss what they want out of the room, although the Stalker tells them a story about a man getting his wish of being rich at the expense of his brother being killed. The men must follow every instruction the Stalker gives them as he leads them around invisible traps within the zone. The Writer and Professor must not only desire the fulfillment of their wishes, but also have faith that the room exists at all.
Stylistically, this film takes a less narrative route than others. There are very long takes throughout, giving the film a sort of seamless reality as we wind our way through meadows and ditches to reach this presumably real place. The characters as well as the viewer have no way of knowing if this place exists or if it is just a fabrication of the Stalker’s own insanity. With our minds surrendered to the Trio’s journey, we in turn must assume the zone is real, giving the viewer more curiosity about the properties of the zone. It looks seemingly harmless, but once we are aware that there are traps, our eyes are constantly trying to find rhyme or reason out of the landscape. To do a science fiction film without the use of special effects and still maintain a sense of mystical reality is a feat that Tarkovsky accomplishes with gritty, ominous finesse.
The mis en scene during Stalker’s dream tells that he is disconnected from the Zone while asleep, revealing that he is only an extension of the Zone and what it stands for. The film is what you make of it. Its own visual poetry comes from what you see mis en scene and how you interpret the “other worldliness” of the Zone. It seems that the cinematography just simply follows the group alone. Effortlessly artistic in a way that panning over objects seems like simply scanning the scenery. It is what the viewer does with these images that the film derives its true, possibly abstract, meaning.
Adoption, a film by Marta Meszaros, could be interpreted as a dramatized biography of her own life experiences. An orphan herself, Meszaros often made films about the disparity between expectation and reality. She is mostly concerned with the commonplace stories told from a woman’s perspective. Even though she is considered a Hungarian director, Meszaros was raised by her foster mother in the USSR and studied at Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow. She then returned to filmmaking in Hungary. It is easy to see how there are pieces of her in both Anna and Kata, the two main protagonists of Adoption.
Kata is a lonely middle-aged woman who desires to find happiness in the form of a child. While she is having an affair with a married family man, he refuses to discuss her having a child with him. It seems that Kata is tired of her mundane life and cannot escape the routine she has followed of a fruitless affair and empty life. She seems to alienate herself from everyone and everything; complacent with the wall she has built around herself. When Anna, an orphaned teen residing in a nearby orphanage comes to her for refuge, Kata’s life is stirred up. Anna also has the same sentiments about other people, never knowing whom to trust and always closing herself off from the outside world.
The two bond in the most unlikely of ways, skipping normal conventions and take each other in as their own. Kata quickly becomes a motherly figure for Anna, who at first resists their relationship. Anna’s journey is much more eclectic than Kata’s though. She wishes to marry her boyfriend who she cannot regularly see while she stays in the orphanage. Kata takes Anna in and helps her marry Sanyi, Anna’s equally adolescent boyfriend. Kata also fulfills her desire to have a child by adopting a baby from the orphanage Anna previously lived at. The film leaves us wondering about the long-term happiness of these women’s’ lives.
Each of these desires is representation of the standard female expectation. Kata’s desire for a child is the belated reaction to not starting a proper family, but carrying on a dead end love affair. Anna’s need to marry her boyfriend may stem from the desire to solve her own loneliness and in turn solve her problems of being an orphan in an overcrowded system. Although the protagonists each acquire what they set out to obtain, the last images we have of them are not joyous or reassuring of their futures. Anna is seen at a distance fighting with her new husband and Kata is trying to catch a bus while toting her new baby along. Both of these images seem to not be the happy ending they or the audience expected, a very realistic result of their hastiness to fulfill their needs.
Repentance was one of those movies that feel like a horrible, repetitive nightmare of which you will never wake up. Varlam Aravidze, the mayor of a small town, has just died and is being dug up and placed in specific parts of town. A woman accused of the act is put on trial, stating that the man enforced a Stalin-like rule and should be held accountable for the disappearance of her parents. As she recounts a story, Varlam’s reign is portrayed in flashbacks.
Throughout these flashbacks we see that Abel, Varlam’s son, is looking to clear his father’s name of all the accused crimes. This part of the narrative has a direct correlation to how the predecessors of Stalinist rule tried to cover up the atrocities of Stalin’s regime. While Varlam systematically wiped out any threat to his reign, the children of that generation grew vengeful, as seen in Ketevan’s painful testimony. She represents the most affected generation, those who were left orphaned and confused about their ruler’s morality. This in turn justifies her scheme to hold the truth in the face of Varlam’s family and cohorts by re-digging his body back up. She seeks justice for those who cannot claim it themselves, a deeply heroic act that causes Abel to face his father’s atrocities and see him for the evil ruler he was.
A powerful scene happens after Tornike has committed suicide. He could not come to terms with the truth of Varlam’s rule, but Abel bucks tradition to end the reminder of his father’s madness. When he throws the ex-ruler’s body off the cliff he rids himself of the painful facts of his father’s past which allows him to absolve himself of that past and move forward with his own life.
Time of the Gypsies, a film by Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, follows a boy and the rise and fall of his mystical family. This movie is a cross between realistic fantasy and coming-of-age. Perhan, a gypsy boy with telekinetic powers tries to woo his love while saving his family from his gambling addict of an uncle. There are many instances where magic is used to drive the story forward, but it always seemed like a forced power that was hard to accept. The story follows the vein of family crime dramas and could have been equally as powerful without Perhan’s powers.
Even so, the main plot remains strong as we see the evolution of a gypsy boy gain some amount of wealth at the expense of losing his love. Our main character learns his gypsy trade from a mafia-lord like character. Perhan is lead away from his beloved gypsy community to Italy where he becomes even better at thieving. When he returns home he is disappointed and finds his family in a worse state than when he left. He marries Azra, his childhood love who claims to be carrying his child. Perhan reluctantly accepts this, but loses his wife to said birth.
The child was taken by Perhan’s boss Ahmed and raised by the band of thieves he was taught from. Perhan Jr. is spiteful of his father and foreshadows the death of Perhan. Ahmed dies at the telekinetic hands of Perhan who is in turn brought down by Ahmed’s soon to be wife. This messy ending replaces gunfire with magic, something I just am not attracted to. Although the dream sequences in this film were beautiful, I prefer a more heightened sense of realism as opposed to what is to me, a sloppy interjection of magical elements throughout a realistic plot. The film could have stood alone as a gypsy crime story and I think the plot would have advanced with much less clutter if done that way.
Sweet Emma, Dear Bobe is a haunting look at the lives of Hungarian teachers in the midst of political changes in Budapest. Emma and Bobe barely make a living wage so they live in a one-room apartment in a boarding house. Emma’s emotional stability is in the hands of a cheating, married principal who sleeps with both of these women. In a climactic scene where Emma and Bobe find this out while staying in this man’s cabin for the weekend, their true friendship is shown.
I appreciate their strong bond, but do not understand how Emma is so blinded by her own affair with the principal to not see that Bobe was making reckless decisions. She is even in the room when her friend brings home a strange man. I do not fully blame Emma for the eventual suicide of her friend but there were definitely opportunities for her to steer her in the right direction. I suppose this lack of communication drives the story to its tragic, climactic end.
The tensions between teachers in this uncertain time of political rule is so present throughout the film, especially when there is a transition from teachers quarreling to Emma and her lover sneaking away to talk about their relationship. Emma’s unimaginable uncertainty they face is so unsettling to watch. Her explosion of frustration and desperation during class time is exactly what was expected when so many elements of your life come crashing down at once. She is attempting to adapt to a new curriculum of English and has to teach what she learns only days before. To have your profession thrown away and to be so determined to stay relevant during this switch is a valiant effort by these educators. Bobe’s death and the chilling ending of Emma being reduced to selling papers in the subway has stuck with me since the screening of this film.
Mongol was an intense, stylized film about the repercussions of war and how a life of war and turmoil affects a family. Temujin, who would later be known as Genghis Khan, picks his bride at the ripe age of 9 right before his father is poisoned by an enemy tribe. Now the heir to the tribe his father was Khan of, Temujin is kidnapped and held captive by one of his father’s warriors, Jamukha. He vows to kill him once he is older, but they engage in a series of cat-and-mouse chases throughout the scenic landscape of Mongolia.
This epic continues to follow the life of Temujin, including the marriage to his bride and his many heroic battles in which he saves hundreds of lives. Throughout the film, there are direct negative results of endless war. Temujin seems to never have a legitimate child with his wife, who is constantly in danger of being kidnapped by rivaling tribes. He does the noble thing though and claims both children as his own. Temujin risks his life many times to ensure the safety of his family and the families of his soldiers. He is kidnapped and sold as a slave to a Tangut Garrison chief. He risks decades of alienation from his family to ensure his tribe remains powerful.
I loved the cinematography of this film. The story intercuts between glorious battle scenes, a dramatic love story, as well as struggle between a once strong bond between Temujin and his “blood brother”. This film has everything an epic war movie should have, including a plot that withstands the length of the movie. I was never once bored with this film. If the action scenes weren’t enough, the beautifully shot landscape was there to entertain me. The final scene where the myth of thunderstorms told in the beginning comes full circle is so dynamic, using both visuals as well as a great score to drive the dramatics forward. This was probably my favorite film we watched all semester.
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