With the gradual publication of Andrei Platonov's published works in Russian, there is now finally a chance to view his work in film. It's true that the six screenplays published offer only a limited selection of what he actually wrote for film (many others may still be discarded in some obscure corner of a film archive). As far as I know one of these scripts, Father and Son has been translated into English. The review introduces it thus:
Father-Mother’ seems to have been written in parallel with Platonov’s unfinished novel Happy Moscow,
whose protagonists yearn to transcend their existing selves while
around them the Soviet capital is being physically remade. The upheaval
of demolition and construction also forms part of the backdrop for
‘Father-Mother’. The screenplay’s main narrative strand is enclosed in
one paragraph of the novel, but ‘Father-Mother’ otherwise stands further
from Platonov’s prose than the rest of his film scripts—making it an
even more unusual document of his response to the brutal reforging of
the world going on around him. Littered with Socialist Realist tropes,
it consistently subverts them with its humour, sadness and intense
engagement with the fears and contradictions traversing its time.
Platonov was not unique in terms of writers turned script writers in the 1920s and 1930s- Mayakovsky, Shklovsky, Babel, Tynyanov, Sergei Tretyakov, Kirson, Shershenevich, Erdman Zazubrin, Mariengof and even Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky (to name but a very few). Platonov, himself, replied to an appeal for screen writers after a 'script famine' in the mid 1920s. Platonov replied to this appeal and worked very enthusiastically. the enthusiasm was mutual. In letters to his wife he talked about the reaction of the film studio to his first script Песчаная учительница (The Sand Teacher). At one point, Pudovkin was expected to shoot the film and in another letter Platonov informs his wife that "I was told that I could become a great screenwriter and as soon as Eisenstein gets back from Leningrad then they'll introduce him to me." However, the work on the scenario during the second half of 1927 proved to be a long and unsuccessful one and he was called on to do many rewrites. Even though it was in keeping with the general line of proletarian the film wasn't released until it went under a completely reworking by another scriptwriter Maria Smirnova as Айна (Aina, 1930). The film theme was the transition of nomads in the peripheries and their transition to a more settled way of life. Alas, even in the film Aina (directed by Nikolai Tikhonov) has not been preserved.
Whether Platonov was introduced to the "maker of obscure films" (as Platonov had referred to Eisenstein in a short story) is uncertain but his enthusiasm did not dim immediately. Platonov sent in suggestions for turning practically all of his tales from 1927-28 into films. Some of the names of other scripts known about but not published or accepted for publication have come down to us. One of these was entitled Лампочка Ильича (The Lenin Lamp). In many ways Platonov's scripts represent documents through which we can interpret his prose given that so many of them as reworkings of some kind.
One such script is Машинист (The Engine Driver) is very much related to the tale of Котлован (The Foundation Pit). Because of the impossibility of staging this text, he was to reuse much of what he had written in new texts. This screenplay was, in many ways, an original development of the themes and heroes (especially in the Kolkhoz part) of Kotlovan. In 1930 Platonov was working on several scripts about the year of the Великий Перелом (The Turning Point or the Great Break) both related to village and city life. However, it was Platonov who in an unpublished article in 1931, was to call for a turning point in cinematography calling the Great Blind One. He was to write that "our cinema is blind, like a new-born creature; the majority of
pictures say nothing at all to the pressured consciousness of
contemporary man". This great ignorance of life could only continue under Stalin's socialist realism: art's role was to produce reality and not to reflect it by this time.
Platonov's break from script-writing and, it seems, his disillusionment would last a few years. But in the mid 1930s the film factories renew their work with Platonov. A contract is signed in May 1936 for a screenplay written in the framework of a state-inspired project to create works about railway heroes and entitled Воодушевление (Enthusiasm). Unlike his previous film this was written for sound cinema. It, too, had to be rewritten four times and while it gained a positive response from the film studios it wasn't sent into production even if Platonov continued to fight for it.
A similar fate was to await a screenplay originally written for Soyuzdetfilm (the film studio for children's films) and for which a contract was signed in 1938. The script eventually entitled Неродная Дочь (Step daughter) was never to see production in spite of rewritings and a change of genre which would be sent to Viktor Shklovsky at Mosfilm in 1941. Other scripts from Platonov were laying in the script studio, not one of which was accepted.
After the war, in December 1945 another script was contracted by Mosfilm, entitled Семья Иванова (The Ivanov Family) but once again, tragically, nothing come of this either.
The story of Andrei Platonov and film seems one of the many but most depressing stories to emerge in the history of Soviet cinema. One could only imagine what could have been and yet was not to be.
Films based on the imagination of one of the Soviet Union's most original writer whose works will live on while others are forgotten.
This is both a comment on a film which
attempts to reimagine Soviet cinema and its role in the Twentieth Century as
well as an interview/dialogue conducted with the director of the film. Being
shown at many film festivals throughout the world but will soon be out on
general release throughout Spain in early November. It is only to be hoped that
as well as a Spanish release, it will gain an international release of some
sort. Imagining Soviet cinema and the cultural and artistic revolution
accompanying the Russian Revolution has rarely been attempted before by a
non-Russian film. That Valenti Figueres has attempted this and found a way to
reflect on the Twentieth Century merging cinema and utopia and brooding on
the century’s light and shadows is an achievement that deserves to be
Being able to watch El Efecto K (The K Effect) in Russia- a film
that has been shown at over 50 film festivals worldwide and gained more than
twenty festival awards- seemed like a special treat. For this is a film
designed to evoke a Russia at the very centre of world cinema- a Russia that
seems painfully distant from the present day Russia of religious conservative nationalism
but not altogether forgotten. At the Moscow Film Festival it was presented by
one of Russia’s foremost film critics as well as the Festival’s Programme Director,
Kirill Razlogov, and shown as part of the ‘Russian trace’ programme (a programme of films related, at times tenuously,
at times directly, to Russia).
The foreign film about Russia
Films about Russia or with Russian characters
or set in Russia tend to get a rather rough ride with the Russian viewer. This
may be because there are just too many implausibles or false notes which make
the film unacceptable for a Russian audience and this was, for example, the case with another film in the programme: A Siberian
Education by Gabriele Salvatores. Yet El efecto K disoriented this type of easy
dismissive reaction amongst the Russian audience because it had other claims, mainly that of representing a highly stylized, re-imagining of history. The
'implausibles' in this film are there for a reason (a stylistic one). In some ways it would be wrong to emphasize any comparison between Maxime Stransky and Forrest Gump (as one critic suggested) or with Zelig
(as I was first inclined to think). Rather, I would make some comparison to a Russian film which imagined an
unknown Soviet space programme launching its first man on the moon in
1938. In Fedorchenko’s film First on the Moon the character returns to earth in
Chile and travels back to the Soviet Union only to be captured by the NKVD and
be interned in a psychiatric ward from which he escapes and is forced to assume a series of different
identities in order to survive in the Soviet
environment. In Valenti’s film the
mockumentary form allows us to follow the life of a childhood friend of Sergei
Eisenstein recruited into the Soviet intelligent agencies as a spy acting
as Stalin’s agent in decisively important moments of twentieth century history but also as his eventual unmasker. When given orders to make a film he decides to tell the tyrant the unpalatable truth. In a way Valenti’s film (like Fedorchenko’s) through the mockumentary form seeks a
way to return to that moment when cinema had the ludic spirit it had in the
One of the reasons why Figueres has avoided falling into the trap of trying to recreate Russia realistically is that he has had the opportunity of living in many of the cities of the former Soviet Union. He reels off the names of places he has been to or lived in: Moscow, Leningrad (Saint Petersburg), Novgorod, Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand, Almaty ... This acquaintance with these places didn't push him towards a greater realism but prompted him to try and recapture the dreams of a time and a place through stylization.
The dawn of
When I asked Valenti to comment on what
attracted him to a story about Soviet cinema in the first place he had this to
The dawn of Soviet
cinema[was a time] full of instinct, creativity, research, investigation… They
had an eagerness to represent the reality they were living in a different way.
For me [early Soviet
cinema] was an outbreak of creativity, intense, like a light that illuminates
the shadows. This lasted only a few years, 7 or 8, but those years were a gift
I see this cinema
like a tool, like a fist, a plough, a finger that points out. Or just as mere
eye that looks through the artists’ subjectivity, the creators that made it
There was also a
fusion and mixing of different arts: performing arts, painting, theatre,
architecture, and the new art that started getting ground: the cinema, the
In the very moment
where constructivism, Dadaism, surrealism, social utopia like anarchism,
socialism and communism came together, an exceptional breeding ground was
created: the years from 1921 till 1929. An exploding magma of creativity and
social change that marked global cinema forever.
Valenti’s film wanted
to show both the dreams and nightmares of the Soviet period and indeed the film
starts with the protagonist Maxime Stransky on a mission in Madrid 1937 to
assassinate the Spanish anarchist and civil war hero, Cipriano Mera (the
protagonist of Figueres’s previous documentary film) Living on Your Feet. In
many ways this is indcative of how the film aims toset the scene of the Revolution plunging from
light into darkness which is the central leitmotif of the film. Maxime
Stransky’s odyssey through the twentieth century (from Russia to the US, China,
Australia, Spain etc) is the odyssey of the Revolution itself. So that Maxime
Stransky becomes a high Symbolic figure as well as a figure who portrays all
the demons as well as the hopes of the Revolution. He is there, too, to give
voice to the great debate in Soviet Cinema between the Cine Fist (of
Eisenstein) and the Cine Eye of Vertov. The manipulator of images and
attractions versus the searcher and manipulator of reality. Yet there is also a
sense that they were finally searching for what the other represented.
Valenti Figueres: Cine-Eye (documentary) becomes
Cine-finger (fiction). The film represents the moment in which these two paths
separate, both in the personal friendship between Eisenstein and Stransky (
here representing Vertov) and in filmmaking. Both schools – documentary vs.
fiction – will move apart to get to these days as a common field: storytelling
through images which of course tell their meaning. This is the great discovery:
how the meaning is built in the mind of the spectator. How it is possible to
change that meaning and its consequences in the immediate future. Stalin knew
that memory was fragile and the past is a gun loaded with future.
The Critical Roots of
Figueres and his co-scriptwriter Helena Sanchez are both philosophers by
training and being close to critical theory for them cinema always aims at some
kind of transformative effect. In this way it is not difficult to understand
why the Soviet 20s were chosen being the time when cinema was at its most
transformative. Moreover, the list of names that Figueres’ mentions when asked
to comment on possible influences are not contemporary but show a broader
historical sweep speaking to us of a time when cinema really did seem to be on
a mission of some sort:
VF: Tarkovski, Eisenstein, German expressionism, a Brechtian approach to acting, epic cinema, adventures of solitary heroes, social cinema…
The fascination with the artistic
explosion of the 1920s is palpable in the film and the fact that it was at this
very moment that artistic transformation was to appear indivisible from a
social (and civilisational) transformation of reality. So, in the words of the
director, the Soviet Union becomes a unique breeding ground, where both artistic
and social utopias live together; they interlink and feed each other. They will
shape the way people look and see, which will then change their way of being.
It is what Figueres
calls a blinding moment that will enlighten future generations of filmmakers
and social change-makers…an endless
moment where people believed that the future had yet to come. It is a pristine
and eternal present with no past.
This is the moment of
Vertov, Kuleshov, Eisenstein, Maiakovski, Lili Brik, Pasternak, Pudovkin,
Meyerhold, of the Proletkult and so many others whose names deserve recording.
That so many are forgotten or were eventually eliminated under Stalin makes the
character of Maxime Stransky a kind of collective portrait of those hundreds
and thousands of figures, that history has, in some way or other, consigned to
oblivion being at the same time a portrait of those who consigned this dream to
Stransky as a collective
Stransky is, then, in
the wordsof Valenti: a fictional character that lives the life
of hundreds, thousands of people who existed and were wiped away. People with
no face and no memory. The forgotten of history, the ones who died in the
transit camps of Valdivostok and Magadan. This is the hidden history. The
consequences of the great social K effect.
What Figueres calls
the social K effect is how the images were not simply merged amongst themselves
on film but that life itself was contaminating (and being contaminated by)
these images. A K experiment was being carried on in both cinema and in society
so that new worlds and new meanings were created. While in cinema this was a
creative process, in social reality this had more sinister undertones given the
character of the editor:
Stalin, the Cannibal-God, the Great Vulture of Memory,
the creator of a vast social K Effect.
The Chiaroscuro of
the Revolution, Memory and Resistance
It was the past which
would soon become unpredictable and Comrade Stalin using the fragility of the
past would drown the blinding light out whith his dark shadows. In many ways
this is close to the central theme of this film: the chiaroscuro of the Revolution
as well as about how memories can be manipulated and distorted to give a new
meaning to events lived and the hope for resistance against this. Figueres gives what
seems to be a rather optimistic vision of Stransky trying to resist Stalin at a
final moment. Optimistic ? Or perhaps not- for wasn’t Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible Part Two just such a
moment of resistance whereby cinema tried to resist and throw back everything
that the arch manipulator had done to imprison the original dream? While
Eisenstein’s meeting with Stalin about his incorrect picture was eventually to
lead to Eisenstein’s premature death by heart attack (The K Effect has a scene where Eisenstein celebrates his 50th
and final birthday with Stransky), Stransky’s truth-telling film gets him sent
to the camps from which (implausibly) he escapes and lives out Maxime was to say at
the beginning that: ‘Reality was our testing ground. Filled with a radiant
spirit of justice and humanity, we were going to change the world. We were the
innocence with no past.’ Yet years later Stransky by trying to alter reality
under the order of the great Editor was to find that he had become the past
with little innocence left. The Making of The K
In terms of how the film was made, Valenti Figueres had this to say: We made it was quite quickly: fundraising for one year
(2010) our principal photography started in 2011. During the year we shot,
edited and finalized post-production. It was quite a complex film to make in
terms of shooting fragments of scenes with the actors which later would be
included in a bigger editing. The actors were prepared for each scene of with a
different mind set and needed to perform a different kind of movement. Later we
had to coordinate all the home movies in order to fit them within the story as
a whole, so that they shared the overall aura and worldview adding to the sense
of this story as a kind of wonderful fairytale, an epic odyssey and an
historical road movie.
The editing was quite easy for me and the editor
(Carles Candela) as we got to know each other in my last film, Living on your Feet. The
Struggles of Cipriano Mera where we edited 3 movies at the same time. Everybody thinks that
it was hard, but it wasn’t. We acquired around 500 home movies in 16mm and 8mm
a year before. We selected scenes with kids, planes, boats, tanks that we
thought could be included. We had a list of different cars divided by years and
makes, typical Hollywood and Moscow dressing codes. We managed to find amateur
videos from Russia from the 20s and 30s, and with a great deal of visual memory
and instinct we managed to square it.
I even edited an extra 30 minutes, but my friends and
the film team rose up to put an end to the film. It was great fun to edit more
than 5.000 shots and remember each and every one of the first and final takes
of each shot. As well as the emotions that the shooting bring with it.
As well as a
chronological editing evidenced in the films chronological movement, the film
also tried to capture the successive styles of the periods in question. So
while recounting the 1920s it was done in a Dadaist – Constructivist style. The
shadowy spirit of Stalinism would be captured with an expressionist tinge that
gives way to socialist realism. The 1940s would then be captured using film
noir techniques with the 1950s portrayed in the more open shots of cinemascope.
Equally the broken Black and White film of the 1920s shots would be turn to
contrasted Black and White in the next decade with the first colour images
being used at the time of the Spanish Civil War and World War Two. In this way the interplay between styles,
techniques and the vicissitudes of the social utopia comment upon each other.
The Significance of
film is a rare attempt to return to that period of bright explosions of the
mind and of victories over the sun when a whole generation seemed ready to
storm paradise and remind us that, however, far it plunged into the darkness of
disapparance and and the nightmare of terror, the dreams of the utopians and the
artists in their grandeur – the Eisenstein’s, the Vertov’s, the Dovzhenko’s and
the Meyerkhold’s – seem like towering giants of a new Renaissaince- whose time seems irrevocably lost. That Valenti has
attempted to recapture the best minds of another generation that prefigured and
towered above others of the twentieth century is testimony to the importance of
this film. That he has done it so valiantly with such an impassioned force
dragging back those dreams lost to that nightmarish machine symbolised by the
Lyubyanka’s and Magadan’s of Stalin’s infernal gambol. Valenti, himself,
should be given the final word:
The Effect K is an odyssey of those who dared to dream and were swollen by
their dreams. An adventure in the origins of cinema and utopias, but at the
same time a story of adventures, a mythic tale about cinema, the legend of a
friendship, the myth of an hero and his descent into hell…
It is a fiction film made of fragments of reality.
With this film, we go through a tumultuous XX Century with beautiful utopias
that engendered nice dreams and terrible nightmares. Lights and shadows. The
great metaphor of Cinema.
My interests include Soviet/Russian (as well as post-Soviet) film, world cinema, Soviet/Russian literature,Argentinian literature,radical thought, history. The works of Juan Rodolfo Wilcock, Dino Campana, Cesar Vallejo, Roberto Arlt and the philosophy of Evald Ilyenkov and the works of many, many others. I have a twitter account @GiulianoVivaldi where smaller news is added and a Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/GiuVivRussianFilm For any interested in events surrounding the 40th anniversary of Pasolini's murder and exploring the Italian 1970s, please join the Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Pasolinianni70/