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Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gennadi Shpalikov- The Soviet Vigo?

Among the many names of the 1960s New Wave in Soviet films only rarely is the name of Gennadi Shpalikov mentioned. Perhaps for the good reason that he only ever actually directed one film of his own Долгая счастливая жизнь (A long, happy life) but also for the negative reason that in the last years of his life he is said to destroyed his talent through alcohol. A third reason was that Shpalikov was not a director as such but a scriptwriter. His name is there on the credits of some of the most significant films of this Thaw period. Apart from his work on Khutsiev’s Заста́ва Ильича́ (Ilich’s Gate) as well as on Danelia’s Я шага́ю по Москве́ (I stroll through Moscow) he also wrote the scripts of some of Khrzhanovsky’s animated films including the truly great masterpiece Стекля́нная гармо́ника (A Glass Harmonica, 1968) and one of Shepitko’s extraordinary small crop of films Ты и я (You and I, 1971). Apart from this Shpalikov was an extraordinary poet in his own right. So in effect in his short life he accomplished some truly outstanding tasks and his suicide at the age of 37 in 1974 was a tremendous blow to Soviet cinema even if the blows to Shpalikov had made that act almost inevitable. Dimitry Bykov has argued, in a small piece, dedicated to the 75th anniversary of his birth this week that Shpalikov died of the fact that it was awkward for him to live and if the main theme of Dovlatov was irritation and if Chekhov was the poet of disgust or fastidious (брезгливость), then Shpalikov’s was an excellent chronicler of awkwardness.

The only film that he directed is yet one more of those not altogether rare exemplars in Soviet cinema that betrayed a real link to French Poetic Realism. And it is, perhaps, not too great an exaggeration to call him a kind of Russian Vigo as well as someone whose links to The Silver Age of Russian literature are also present. His fine sensibility towards details and intuition of emotional states make his single film one of those many films which need to be rediscovered alongside the films of the more prolific and well-known directors of the period. Alongside the rare films of Mikhail Bogin and Mikhail Kalik, Gennadi Shpalikov is another of those who forged a Soviet poetic realism- worthy successors of the Vigo’s and Rene Clair’s of the French school.

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