Semyon Aranovich & Aleksandr Sokurov – Altovaya sonata. Dmitriy Shostakovich aka Sonata for viola (1981)

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A deeply moving and reverent biopic of Soviet composer and pianist Dmitri Shostakovich. It’s co-directed by Aleksandr Sokurov (“The Russian Ark”) and veteran filmmaker Semyon Aranovich. Shostakovich was born in St. Petersburg in 1906 and died in Moscow in 1975. The understated black-and-white biopic follows Shostakovich as a frail young man as seen through photographs and traces his life through personal documents, recorded appearances, and concert performances of his work set against archival footage of daily life in the Soviet Union. It shows him during his glory days of early critical acclaim until his disfavor under Stalin because of his political views and struggle for creative freedom. He was honored in 1958, five years after Stalin’s death, by his country, as he was awarded the second Order of Lenin after graciously not accepting it a year earlier in order for the first Order of Lenin to be posthumously awarded to Sergei Prokofiev. He was recognized for his genius in composing the 7th Symphony during the Second World War, which was an uplifting reminder of the war. It opens with the scene set in a besieged Leningrad. Shostakovich’s dream was to bring his music to the masses and give his people an appreciation for their rich culture. The title comes about because Shostakovich’s “Sonata for Violin” was the only work he composed that he never heard performed. The film, made in 1981, was discovered after it was buried to hide it from the KGB, who at an earlier date banned it.
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Ivan Pyryev – Traktoristy AKA Tractor Drivers [1939 original version] (1939)

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From Mosfilm:
A musical comedy.
The mid 30s. Klim Yarko, a demobilized tank driver from the Far East returns to the Ukraine collective farm where Maryana Bazhan, his long-standing love, lives. But Maryana is a famous tractor-driver of the vicinity and her admirers are legion. In attempt to get rid of them she invents a story of her love to Nazar, a butch and bummer. Klim, a simple soul, finds himself in a complicated situation but finally due to his sincerity and industry he wins sympathies of the whole farm and the famous Maryana’s love. Continue reading

Ivan Pyryev – Partiinyi bilet AKA The Party Card (1936)

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Everything seems swell when a young Siberian moves to Moscow, finds work in a factory, joins the Communist Party, and marries a beautiful young Bolshevik girl. But when the girl loses her all-important party card (i.e. identification papers), the Siberian’s dark past comes to light…Commissioned in the wake of Kirov’s assassination (in which an assassin got access to Kirov’s office with a stolen party card), this is both a fantastic melodrama and a chilling work of propaganda. Continue reading

Aleksandr Sokurov – Odinokiy golos cheloveka aka The Lonely Voice Of Man (1987)

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Made in 1977, and only finally released in 1987, this is Sokurov’s first feature-length film. Extraordinarily beautiful, utilising an array of unusual stylistic devices, it seems as if Sokurov’s style was fully formed from the outset. A sublime meditation on love, loneliness, life and death, it still stands as one of his finest achievements. Continue reading

Sergei M. Eisenstein – Stachka AKA Strike (1925)

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Russia, 1912. Sick of the conditions under which they have to toil for a meagre salary, the workers at a factory are on the brink of rebellion. The flashpoint comes when one of their number hangs himself after having been unjustly accused of stealing a tool by his foreman. The workers walk out on mass, refusing to return until their managers have agreed to their terms. The factory owners, fat industrialists with a taste for luxury, are infuriated by this illegal revolt and resolve to bring the workers to heel – by any means possible… Continue reading

Larisa Shepitko – Voskhozhdeniye AKA The Ascent (1977)

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A Soviet masterpiece

In the Belarus of 1942, two Soviet soldiers are captured by Nazi-friendly Belarusians. In captivity, the attitude of the two men toward their fate differs greatly. One of the soldiers manages to find an inner strength and spirituality, incomprehensible to the other man. Larisa Shepitko’s last film is one of the most beautiful war films in cinema history. Continue reading

Sergei M. Eisenstein – Aleksandr Nevskiy [+Extras] (1938)

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From Criterion Collection:

Eisenstein drew on history, Russian folk narratives, and the techniques of Walt Disney to create this broadly painted epic of Russian resilience. This story of Teutonic knights vanquished by Prince Alexander Nevsky’s tactical brilliance resonated deeply with a Soviet Union concerned with the rise of Nazi Germany. Widely imitated—most notably by Laurence Olivier’s Battle of Agincourt re-creation for Henry V —the Battle on the Ice scene remains one of the most famous audio-visual experiments in film history, perfectly blending action with the rousing score of Sergei Prokofiev. Continue reading