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Monday, 17 May 2010

Abram Room - A Strict Young Man (Strogy Yunosha)

Among the many films that merit rescuing from near oblivion, Abram Room's 'Strogy Yunosha' (A Strict Young Man) is surely one of the most fascinating examples of what was still being made (if not shown) in the 1930s. This is a film that was not shown publicly until the seventies at a cinema dedicated to the reshowing of earlier films (Kino povtornogo filma) in Moscow but was to astound the likes of Alain Resnais and Michelangelo Antonioni who were to discover in Room's film of 1935 something that they were trying to acheive more than three decades later.

This is a fantastic example of Soviet Neo-Classicism the like of which was not seen again. The aesthetic might lead one to make references to Leni Riefenstahl, yet this is only true to some extent. This film is not just one of Room's best (argaubly as interesting in its own way as his earlier 'Tretia Meshchanskaya' or 'Bed and Sofa' which has been justifiably championed in an excellent book by Julian Graffy) but it also shows an attempt to put into film the themes of Yuri Olesha's novel 'Zavist' (Envy) who was the scriptwriter. The music for the film is composed by Gavril Popov whose talent some have compared to that of Shostakovich and there are fantastic performances by Yuri Yuriev,Maxim Straukh, Room's wife Olga Zizhneva and a young and brunette Valentina Serova. There is a unique atmosphere in the film in which the wife of an older and successful doctor is sought after by a young and poor Komsomolets. The 'liubov v troem' theme is played out once again but in this case there is a barrier and the idea of envy and unequalness is explored. This film in which Room arguably explored real philosphical issues surrounding equality in the new Soviet system is a film set. nonetheless, in a strange dream-like reality with a hint of the fantastic. Equally present in the film are Olympian ideals and ancient Greek myths. The notion lurking is that the present had somehow brought to life this ideal. Perhaps, the most surprising shot in the film is the first one in which the naked heroine comes out of the water (this is, probably, the only erotically shot nude - although no close up and from the back - in Stalinist cinema).

The Olympian ideal, the philosophical text, the dream-like and out of time atmosphere, the Neo-Classical architecture and style of the film makes it something unique in Soviet cinema. Having the aspect of a dream within a dream, it has hints of an early 'Last Year in Marienbad'. Its disco-throwing scene of custard pies is one of two or three moments in which it has a definitely Bunuelesque feel. Yet, just as Olesha's 'Envy' was a book which had no follow-up in Soviet literature, so Room's film is a unique moment in Soviet film history. A path that was not taken but an extraordinary example of a unique masterpiece that would only decades later be fully appreciated by some of the world's most masterful film directors.

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