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Thursday, 5 May 2011

Italians in Soviet Cinema : Gino de Marchi.

One of the lesser known stories , as far as I know, is the presence of many foreigners in the history of Soviet cinema. Of course, the Herbert Marshall's, the Jay Leyda's and the Willy Munzenberg's have had their tales told. In Italy a number of books have come out on the life of Francesco Misiano- a character I mentioned in a previous blog. Another book recounts the tragic life of an Italian documentary filmmaker - Gino de Marchi - as well as the struggle of his daughter to fight for his memory. The account by Gabriele Nassim is written in the context of a tale about the behaviour of Italian communist emigres towards each other. It damns many of them but holds up the moral stature of Antonio Gramsci who was one of the few to help De Marchi out of genuine difficulties upon his arrival in the Soviet Union. There developed a close tie between De Marchi and the Gramsci family from generation to generation. De Marchi's subsequent fate in the Soviet Union was to prove a bitter one: in Italy in a moment of weakness he had confessed to the existence (and pointed out the whereabouts) of a cache of arms to be used for the revolutionary struggle against fascism (he did so to save his own mother from arrest). He was sent by his comrades to the Soviet Union as much as a punishment as to save him from a three and a half year jail sentence. In fact he was to begin his Soviet odyssey in prison (and it was Gramsci who was to save him from this initial fate). He then was to work on collective farms. It was to be Francesco Misiano who would employ him at Mezhrabpom and Gino would eventually become director of a number of documentary films, mainly on the Kolkhoz and Stakhanovite themes. De Marchi himself would gain the reputation of a Stakhanovite director, managing to organize a work method allowing him to cut production times.

The book by Nissim says little about his actual films- just that they were "documentary films dedicated to the 'great successes' of Stalinist agricultural collectivisation" (p 184)- alas, he gives little more detail. The book also concentrates little on the detail of his cinematic work - the few details he gives are to delineate the just (some of his cameramen) from the unjust (a certain Britikov who would denounce De Marchi and go on to make a successful career in the Soviet cinema world as well as to block the career of De Marchi's daughter as actress). Nonetheless, she (Luciana De Marchi) was to work with Giuseppe de Santis on his film about Italian soldiers in the Soviet Union during the Second World War, entitled 'Italiani brava gente'. Nissim also speaks of a Russian film scripted by Lev Roshal on the life of De Marchi made in 1992. Another Italian in cinema who was to share De Marchi's eventual fate (that of execution) was Aldo Gorelli who was better known as Gheffi Torre and would work as a sound technician from 1932 at Soyuzdetfilm. Whether there were other Italians working in the Soviet cinematic studios is a field that deserves some research.

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