Russian cinema has always had its share
of geniuses. Directors like Sergei Eisenstein, Vsevolod Pudovkin
and Alexander Dovzhenko, who were all active from the silent
era of the 1920s right into the ’40s, each made at least one
masterpiece - Eisenstein’s "Alexander Nevsky" and "Ivan
the Terrible," Pudovkin’s "Mother" and Dovzhenko’s
Following World War II, Stalin’s noose-like restriction of artists not surprisingly made for a floundering in the film industry. It was not until after Stalin’s death in 1956, when his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced his policies, that Soviet directors were again able to flourish.
It is that upswing in artistry from an entire generation of filmmakers that is the basis for "Soviet Sixties," a selection of a dozen films that show just how powerful these directors’ visions were when left unshackled by state censorship. If you missed any of the 25 films that the Film Society of Lincoln Center presented under the rubric "Revolution in the Revolution" last November, then this will be your last chance to see any of these 12 unearthed classics before the prints return to Russia.
"Soviet Sixties" only skims the surface of the revelatory filmmaking that came from Russia - indeed, much of Europe - in that tumultuous decade. Taking their cues from such groundbreaking European directors as Antonioni, Bergman, Fellini and the members of the French and Czech New Waves, Russian directors turned away from the social realism that dragged Soviet art through the mire of Stalinism and made intensely personal, daring and occasionally impenetrable films that had the virtues of originality and insight.
The series opener, Mikhail Romm’s "Nine Days in One Year" (1961), was one of the biggest hits in Russian movie houses; upon its release, nearly 25 million people went to see this metaphorical treatise on the nuclear arms race, wherein two opposing scientists (representing Communist idealism and jaded cynicism) argue about the aims and realities of the Cold War.
Closing the series is a film by Ilya Averbakh that was actually made in 1972 - stretching the series’ title a bit - and one of the very few Soviet films of that era to actually deal with a theme that was running rampant throughout the world at that time: the generation gap. Averbakh’s "Monolog" studies an out-of-touch college professor who must deal with the unexpected return of his free-spirited daughter, who has come back with a youngster of her own.
In between, are several films that are not to be missed. Gleb Panfilov, one of the most prolific of his country’s filmmakers - indeed, his latest film, "The Romanovs," about the last Czar and his ill-fated family, was shot just last year - is represented by two completely diverse pictures that demonstrate Panfilov’s mastery of a wide variety of material.
"No Ford in the Fire" (1967), set during the 1917 October Revolution, is an achingly honest portrait of a young nurse who finds love and pain with a wounded soldier. The film contains an unforgettable performance by Inna Churikova. The more playfully satirical "Debut" (1970), again stars Churikova, this time as a factory worker chosen to play Joan of Arc in a movie.
Grigory Kozintsev, an iconoclastic theater director, was best known for his literary and stage adaptations. After tackling Cervantes’ "Don Quixote" with mixed results in the late-’50s, Kozintsev went after even bigger game. His "Hamlet" (1964) is an exciting, thoroughly cinematic interpretation of perhaps Shakespeare’s most difficult tragedy. Before his death in 1973, Kozintsev went on to even greater artistic heights with his visually poetic adaptation of "King Lear."
Perhaps the most original Russian filmmaker of her time, Larissa Shepitko showed her talent right from the start of a storied career cut short in 1979 by a fatal car accident. Her first feature, 1963’s "Heat," was made when she was only 25, but already her individual style was apparent in its story (based on Chingiz Aitmanov’s "Camel’s Eye") of a young state farm volunteer whose modernist views butt heads with the all-too-reactionary official who runs the place.
Shepitko’s later films, culminating in her prize-winning masterpiece "The Ascent" (1976), have cemented her reputation as one of Russia’s preeminent directors - and the qualifiers "female" and "of her generation" are happily not needed.
The "Soviet Sixties" film
series will play at BAMCinematek, 30 Lafayette Ave. at Ashland
Place, Dec. 3-20. Tickets are $9; $6 for students, seniors, children
under 12 and BAM Cinema Club members. For screening times, call
the BAMCinematek hotline at (718) 636-4100, or visit the Web
site at www.bam.org.
Dec. 3, "Nine Days in One Year," directed by Mikhail Romm
Dec. 4, "Heat," directed by Larissa Shepitko
Dec. 6, "No Ford in the Fire," directed by Gleb Panfilov
Dec. 7, "Brief Encounters," directed by Kira Muratova
Dec. 10, "Debut," directed by Gleb Panfilov
Dec. 11, "The First Teacher," directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
Dec. 12, "The Letter that was Never Sent," directed by Mikhail Kalatozov
Dec. 13, "Goodbye, Boys," directed by Mikhail Kalik
Dec. 14, "I am Twenty," directed by Marlen Khutsiev
Dec. 17, "Hamlet," directed by Grigory Kozintsev
Dec. 18, "Pirosmani," directed by Georgy Shengelaya
Dec. 20, "Monolog," directed by Ilya Averbakh