Shepitko graduated from VGIK, where she had studied in the workshop of Alexander Dovzhenko (whom she always referred to as her mentor) and Mikhail Romm in 1963. Her diploma work was Znoi / Heat (1963), made for Kirgizfilm from “The Camel’s Eye”, a story by the Kirgiz writer Chingiz Aitmatov, about a clash of generations in which a middle-aged woman, director of a civil engineering school, yearns for her days as a pilot during World War II and struggles to understand her daughter’s generation. Shepitko’s next project was the short film Rodina elektrichestva / Homeland of Electricity (1967), from the story by Andrei Platonov about the coming of electricity to a Russian village after the Revolution. Frequently compared to the work of her master Dovzhenko, this film, like Andrei Smirnov’s Angel, was shot as part of a portmanteau film, Nachalo nevedomogo veka / The Beginning of an Unknown Century, made to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Revolution. But the films were banned for twenty years, and Rodina elektrichestva surfaced only in 1987, long after Shepitko’s death.In Ty i ya / You and I (1971), a brain surgeon suddenly experiences an identity crisis and goes to Siberia to sort out his life. Shepitko’s greatest achievement is Voskhozhdenie / The Ascent (1976), taken from Vasil Bykau’s story “Sotnikov” and set in German-occupied Belorussia in 1942. This story of the tragic fate of a group of partisans is replete with spiritual strength and religious symbolism. It won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 1977. Shepitko died in a car crash in 1979, after beginning work on a version of Valentin Rasputin’s lament for a Siberian village, “Farewell to Matyora”. The film was completed by her husband, Elem Klimov, as Proschchanie / Farewell (1983). He also directed a short film made in her memory, Larisa (1980).
The Homeland of Electricity, Larisa Shepitko’s adaptation of an Andrei Platonov story, was one of three short films collected in an omnibus work (Beginning of an Unknown Era) commissioned to honor the 50th Anniversary of the October Revolution. Censors eventually shelved the film and it would not see the light of day until well after Shepitko’s death, during Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika. Any number of things could have offended the post-Thaw powers-that-be, though in Shepitko’s case I’d posit that their concern stemmed primarily from Homeland’s ambivalent tone. In construction the film is clearly pro-Communist: a fresh-faced young engineer comes to a desolate village to introduce the old-world residents to electricity, the film’s not so subtle metaphor (perhaps euphemism) for the ideologies of Lenin, Marx, et al. The engineer builds a pump out of one of the villager’s motorbikes—in theory, it will act as the town’s electrical conduit and irrigation system—and Shepitko lingers over its construction, the sounds of hammer against metal harmonizing into perfect musical tones. Beautiful as the sequence is, its underlying meanings are thuddingly obvious and Shepitko works hard to subvert them. It helps that the director’s striking black-and-white visuals owe a substantial debt to her mentor, Aleksandr Dovzhenko: Despite the film’s Socialist subtexts, the faces of the villagers remain stubbornly specific, every crease and every wrinkle uniquely etched in fleshy stone. Shepitko’s faith in the individual over the collective fosters a burgeoning sense of tension (one extending well beyond the narrative proper) that comes to a head in Homeland’s climax as the engineer and the villagers greet a last-minute miracle—quite literally an opening of the heavens—with uncertain stoicism. Asks Shepitko: How far ingrained the thoughts of man before they usurp the ways of God?
the new york times wrote:
”Homeland of Electricity,” also has an inspirational ending that does not much ease a depressing story. Bolshevik headquarters sends a young engineering student to the drought-stricken village of Verchovka for the job of building a generator that can pump water into the parched fields. The peasants, evidently selected for their harshly weathered faces, look on longingly as he goes about his work. They contribute the family samovars and telescopes to the cause, not useful but a sign of comradeship.
The gush of water, when it finally comes, to the accompaniment of clanging church bells, makes a rousing scene. Unfortunately, a few minutes later, the makeshift pump blows up. As everyone is standing around despondently, a voice is heard expressing hope in the future. Could it be the engine driver’s daughter?
Despite the simplicity of the story, ”Homeland of Electricity” keeps fighting against the rules of Socialist Realism. Through Dimitri Korzhikhin’s camera, the peasants in a religious procession or in their fields become white-on-white mirages. At times, we seem to be in the middle of somebody’s dream. Roman Ledenev’s dissonant score battles reality all the way. The director, Larisa Shepitko, may have invented a new film form: Socialist Unrealism.