Aleksandr Sokurov – Zhertva vechernyaya AKA The Evening Sacrifice (1987)

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Sokurov shows the official manifestation and fireworks on the 1st of May, one of the ritual celebrations of Soviet times, as a gathering of tired participants of a mass scene falling into pieces without the director’s orders and without any aims. Outbursts of joy without reason, mixed here and there with equally unmotivated signs of anxiety are given in brief sketches of a restless and pitiful crowd. A part instead of the whole, individual instead of common, a symbol growing up from details are the postulates of Eisenstein’s representation of the “people’s masses,” both the chorus and the protagonist of the Soviet official culture. Sokurov revises these postulates in the context of our time when the chorus has gone out of action, both in the aesthetic and in the social sense, and the protagonist is absent. However, both chorus and soloist are introduced into the picture of the festivity by the hand of the author: Sokurov puts a church canticle into the soundtrack of the film. It is an evening Orthodox prayer of repentance: “let my prayer be like incense before Thou, like my hands uplifted, an evening sacrifice.” Continue reading

Mikhail Kalatozov – Letyat zhuravli AKA The Crane’s are Flying (1957)

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Veronica and Boris are walking in the streets of Moscow and they love each other. Veronica is laughing, cause they are happy together this morning. They see some cranes in the sky. When arriving to Veronica’s house they talk about a rendezvous at the bank of the river. And the 2nd World War begins in Moscow. Boris works in a factory and he hasn’t got time to speak with Veronica. He has to go to the war … Continue reading

Tengiz Abuladze – Samkauli satrposatvis aka Necklace for My Beloved aka Ozherele dlya moey lyubimoy (1971)

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Three guys are living in a Dagestan aul, and all three are in love with the blue-eyed Serminaz. According to a mountaineers’ tradition, a young man seeking the hand and the heart of a beloved girl has to make her a present that she would remember for the rest of her life. The friends set out in search of the special gift… Continue reading

Aleksandr Sokurov – Sonata dlya Gitlera AKA Sonata for Hitler (1979 – 1989)

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Set to the music of Bach and Penderecki, Sonata for Hitler weaves together a bank of images from German and Soviet archive footage, drawing out a psychological dimension from the historical landscape at the end of World War II.

Alexander Sokurov’s Sonata for Hitler was banned by the Soviet authorities in his home country of Russia and was not released until a decade after it was completed. Much of his early work, in fact, was considered ‘anti-communist’ and remained unseen for years. It was not until 1996 that he produced his first internationally acclaimed feature, Mother and Son.
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Grigori Aleksandrov & Sergei M. Eisenstein – Oktyabr AKA October AKA Ten Days That Shook the World (1928)

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Description: Expanding on his editing experiments in Battleship Potemkin (1925), Sergei Eisenstein melded documentary realism with narrative metaphor to depict the pivotal events of the Russian Revolution in October (1927). Commissioned to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution, Eisenstein focused on a few key events from February 1917 to October 1917. Underlining the symbolic importance of those episodes, Eisenstein constructed October as an elaborate “intellectual montage,” deriving meaning from the metaphorical or symbolic relationships between shots. Drawing out narrative time through cutting, Eisenstein turns an opening drawbridge into a sign of the divisive struggle in St. Petersburg. Similarly exaggerating the time that it takes provisional leader Kerensky to climb a palatial staircase, and intercutting shots of Kerensky with a Napoleon statue and a mechanical peacock, Eisenstein satirically reveals Kerensky’s imperial hubris and vanity. Having done extensive research for accuracy, Eisenstein also staged mass battles, particularly the storming of the Winter Palace, with thousands of extras, including the Soviet army. Before October’s release, however, Josef Stalin’s ascent to power required Eisenstein to edit out all references to Stalin rival Trotsky. Neither the Soviet public nor the Soviet leaders cared for the finished film; the government accused Eisenstein of “formalist excess.” An edited version of the film was released in the U.S. using the title of John Reed’s book, Ten Days That Shook the World. While the film’s whole is not as great as its parts, the abstract power and narrative innovation of its greatest sequences still render it a seminal work in the development of film form.
~Lucia Bozzola allmovie Continue reading

Nikita Mikhalkov – Urga AKA Territory of Love AKA Close to Eden [+Extras] (1991)

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Plot Synopsis by Michael Betzold

Veteran Russian writer-director Nikita Mikhalkov’s film about the impact of modern civilization on an idyllic part of Mongolia won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film. A farmer (Bayyartu) and his wife, who live in a rural part of Inner Mongolia, have three children. Chinese population control policies prevent them from having any more. The farmer sets out for the nearest town to obtain birth control. He comes upon a Russian truck driver (Vladimir Gostyukhin) who has ended up in a lake. The farmer takes the man back to his farm, and after initially being appalled at the lack of civilization, the Russian becomes enchanted with the peaceful life of the backwards countryside and decides to stay. But his presence presages big changes for the peasants.
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