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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Alpe Adria (Trieste) Film Festival

Rather than taking a prolonged break while I am not watching nor reading about Russian and Soviet films, here is a short post about a festival that only has an indirect link to Russian film but is one of the most interesting showcases of cinema from the Eastern part of Europe. Occasionally Russian films are shown here including an excellent retrospective of Gherman films (both father and son) in 2006. This year few Russian films were represented although Todorovsky's 'Stilyagi' (Hipsters) was shown as a special event. A Georgian short was also shown (reportedly excellent although I could not make it to the cinema as planned). The protagonist of the film could not make it to her husbands funeral and so is present via mobile telephone wailing her grief through the telephone which is played at the funeral. The film is by Salome Aleksi and the Italian title is Felicità (Happiness).

Another film with a Russian context is Leslie Woodhead's 'How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin'. Very much a BBC made documentary which gives the Beatles more credit for overthrowing the Soviet system than it does Gorbachev. The director finds his quotes and his Beatle fanatics and makes an enjoyable documentary but one which repeats too many motifs that have a real hackneyed feel to them. The Soviet Union is portrayed as a country ruled by geriatrics with no access to any music other than weird national folk ensembles. No mention whatsoever is made of Vladimir Vysotsky who probably 'rocked' the Kremlin far more than the Beatles and although the film does go on to give a minimal explanation of how reality developed after Stalin, the Soviet images and film clips are mainly indicative of the Soviet Union in the late fourties and early fifties or of a frail and mentally defective Brezhnev. There are some witty moments when someone explains how one day all telephone boxes in the Soviet Union were vandalised after word got around that a part of it could be used to make a guitar. However it is a pity that the film gave such a traditioal Cold War image of Russians hankering after anything Western and not giving due credit to Russia's own brand of rock and alternative music (a short clip of Viktor Tsoy was all there was). Regrettably I missed other Russian documentaries on the Soviet space programme by Pavel Medvedev (the title of the film was Ascension) as well as Aleksandr Gutman's 17th August (about a prisoner condemned to life imprisonment). Ukraine was represented by Sergij Bukovskij's documentary on the holodomor 'The Living'. Alas I can not report anything on these films.

The festival in general was dedicated to a number of themes with a special emphasis on Greek cinema as well as on Musical documentaries. Anghelopoulos's superb early film Voyage to Cythera was, for me, the highlight of the Greek films retrospective and I was sorry to miss his more recent film 'The Dust of Time'. Voyage to Cythera is about a Greek exile who returns home after spending 32 years in the Soviet Union. His return is a bitter one and he is finally sent by the Greek police on a raft to international waters given that he is neither allowed to remain in Greece nor will a ship transport him back to the Soviet Union. Anghelopoulos has a superb craft of narrating in an absolutely unique way and combines Tarkovsky's meditative sculpting of time with Fellini's melancholic nostalgia.

The films in the competition at Alpe Adria are, this year, often impressive. One of my favourites was a Roumanian film called 'The Happiest Girl in the World' by Radu Jude. A tale of a girl from a poor family who has won an expensive car. She comes to Bucharest to star in a commercial thanking the company but the advertising never gets shot correctly and her day is spoiled also by her parents who convince her through nagging and bullying to turn the car over to them so that they can set up in business. The photo shoot takes up most of the picture as we watch the tens of failed shoots with which there is always something that goes wrong. A film very much in the style of 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu' and perhaps not quite sharing that film's brilliance but well worth a viewing. Other films from the Balkans have reflected on the wars of succession. The better of the two was 'Ordinary People' which managed to highlight one person's journey from normality to war criminal and showing it as a process of utter banality. There is no hint of dramatic conflict in the individual just an emphasis that this was a process that could happen to any ordinary person. The film was hard to watch because of it's utter lack of drama and many spectators left the hall and yet on reflection Vladimir Perishich has made a very poignant film. Other films included a Hungarian film called I'm Not Your Friend in which a mosaic of relationships between the main protagonists end in a finale in which the women each exact terrible revenge for their betrayal by their male partners (the film is preceded by a long piece in which four year old children try to make friends with each other in a pre-school playgroup). The son of Goran Paskaljevic, Vladimir, had debuted here with a black comedy on modern Belgrade. One of the film's protagonists states his desire to make two films- the first of which will portray all Serbs as completely crazy and then after pandering to this Western stereotype (and achieving international success) a second more patriotic film will then be made. It seems here as though Paskeljavic Junior has suceeded in making a parody of the first film & overall this black comedy was an interesting debut.

As Trieste is a city very close to my heart (perhaps the city closest to my heart) it is great that it offers such a wonderful chance to watch some fascinating films (and this is only of four annual film festivals of note). Another film festival held in Trieste - Science plus Fiction - occasionally also has a significant Russian/Soviet component to it. More than once retrospectives of Soviet science fiction films have been part of the bill.

This time my return to Trieste has also been greeted by Trieste's famous bora wind. A wind that reaches well over 100 km/h and which is probably Trieste's most famous feature for most Italian's. A film documentary has also been made on this natural phenomenon- a symbol of this unique city with its very specific history.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Trieste. Alpe Adria Film Festival & Vadim Abdrashitov

I'm off on a trip to Italy firstly to visit friends and attend the Alpe Adria film festival in Trieste and then to spend some time in Liguria. I'll try to send a couple of posts on the film festival (though few Russian films are showing here, the most high profile of which, however, is the Todorovsky musical 'Stilyagi' Hipsters) and will resume fuller postings later in February when I shall have more time to add the postings that I have written in the meantime.

Yesterday I hoped to post a long post commemorating the Markelov and Baburova murders and a reflection on the film 'Russia 88' which has finally passed the obtuse censors but alas a cranky computer prevented me from doing this. 19th January was also the birthday of Vadim Abdrashitov - a film director barely known in the West but one of Russia's finest. A director who developed a style of cinema with his script writer Mindadze mixing a form of social realism with forms of the fantastic. A director who has rarely been shown abroad but who deserves to be more widely known.

My post on Markelov and Baburova & Russia 88 will be posted later.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Otsep's & Barnet's Miss Mend on DVD & Mezhrabpom

Finally Otsep's & Barnet's Miss Mend is to be released on DVD by Flicker Alley, Dave Kehr the New York Times film critic reports. Very welcome news given that so few of Barnet's films are actually available in English-language versions. The critical reception of the film in the Anglo-Saxon world has, with the exception of Noel Burch's brilliant article 'Harold Lloyd versus Doctor Mabuse', been almost non-existent. Yet Burch's article provides a powerful case for seeing Barnet's and Otsep's film as a seminal work of world cinema in which two cinematic codes (American slapstick and German expressionism) battled it out on the screen. The Soviet detective genre exemplified by Shaginian's 'Mess Mend' drawing on and playing with the notion of a 'Red Pinkerton' was a relatively short-lived phenomenon. That this was to be produced in the Mezhrabpom-Rus studios is, of course, no suprise- the most colourful of early Soviet studios both in terms of output and its history as well as a number of its colourful personalities associated with it (Francesco Misiano and Willi Munzenberg being the most well-known). Finally a fuller account of its history in English is about to be written by Dr Jamie Miller (author of Soviet Cinema: Politics and Persuasion under Stalin). Very welcome news given the dearth of information on this fascinating film studio.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Chekhov adaptations in Russian/Soviet film.

In today's Guardian an editorial is dedicated to Anton Pavlovich Chekhov with the title 'Still the One to Trust' stating that his plays were the one's that lasted the best of all. Very true, although I have think his stories are still the best of Chekhov (though I have read too few of them). Chekhov was perhaps the most adapted author on Russian and Soviet screens. Soloviev has made some valiant efforts and even Mikhalkov's 'An Unfinished Piece for the Mechanical Piano' is worthy of mention (whatever one may think of Mikhalkov himself). Kheifits, Annensky, Bondarchuk, Lotianu were all to make their own well-known and loved adaptations of Chekhov's stories. Above are two of the more recent adaptations - a trailer for Shakhnazarov's 'Ward No. 6' which was premiered at the Moscow International Film Festival in June last year and shown at the Russian Film Festival in London this Autumn and Muratova's excellent 'Chekhovian Motifs' which I saw at the Moscow Film Festival in 2002. Her incredibly lengthy marriage scene is wonderful as is the earlier part of the film - this passage shows a family argument over money but in Muratova's inimitable style.

If there is a Chekhov in Russian cinema it is surely Boris Barnet. I think that Neya Zorkaya made this argument in one of her articles and it is undoubtedly true that his ability to merge comic elements with tragedy is Chekhovian to the hilt. Though Barnet himself never worked on a Chekhov adaptation. Of Chekhov's major plays adapted to the Soviet screen I think Konchalovsky's 'Uncle Vanya' & Karasik's 'The Seagull' are the immediate ones that come to mind. Not (as far as I remember) masterpieces like Konchalovsky's adaptation of Turgensky 'A Nest of Nobility' but both definitely worth a viewing.

Other significant films from Chekhov (which I have yet to watch) have been Dykhovichny's 'The Black Monk' & Sniezhkin's 'Marigolds in Flower' which was less of an adaptation and more of a transposition of a Chekhovian spirit at least according to contemporary reviews.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Kira Muratova's Asthenic Syndrome.

Since I've mentioned Kira Muratova's in a couple of posts and have desparately tried to find a subtitled version (unsuccessfully) of this film, here are a couple of youtube videos of short sections of the film. One five minute section set in Moscow's metro, and the other video showing the ending of the film with the song Chiquita. As there is no dialogue the clips are for all. Of course those who have never travelled on Moscow's metro at rush hour won't get that frisson of recognition of the absolute truth of the first scene. Well these Muratova clips are only a minor section of what is available of Muratova's films on You Tube- alas, little of 'Melody for a Barrel Organ' has been posted there yet. For me these two films represent pinnacles of Muratova's art. Bleak but magnificent.

Amateur, Parallel and Underground Cinema in the Soviet Union & other articles from Kino Kultura

The January edition of the brilliant online journal, Kinokultura, dedicated to Russian cinema has just become available. This journal has some fascinating reviews of contemporary films and usually two or three brilliant scholarly articles and reports from film festivals. This time in the journal a fascinating account of the Amateur film movement of the late Soviet period was given by Maria Vinogradova. Amateur film was established in a number of contexts and it is not correct to suggest that amateur film was necessarily less conformist (or even less susceptible to state control) than professional cinema. Sometimes it was under double censorship but Vinogradova details the ways in which amateur auteurs like Evgenii Iufit & Irina Evteeva (pictured above) managed to develop their own unique styles and what material circumstances led to the development of the Underground style of Iufit and Kondratiev.

I have yet to watch all my Iufit DVDs but my viewing of 'Papa, umer ded moroz' (Dad, Father Christmas is Dead') certainly led to curiosity about how this director could be working in the early 1980s. Vinogradova's article suggests a whole new area of research could be opened up given that amateur cinema was in some way linked to different epochs of Soviet cinema. The 1920s and the 1950s were significant periods (the director Grigory Roshal played an important role after the war) but the 1980s was when the whole movement lifted off.

Vinogradova's article is interesting in that she suggests that an undiscovered treasure trove of potentially fascinating hitherto unknown artworks may come up which could have considerable consequences for a writing of the history of Soviet film and maybe will expand our knowledge of Soviet experimental film beyond the 1920s.

In the same edition of Kino Kultura is a review by David Gillespie of last years Moscow International Film Festival's winner 'Peter on the way to heaven' by Nikolai Dostal. I think Gillespie is right in his scepticism about the film. It certainly didn't overwhelm me at the Festival and was way below the superb film by Muratova 'Melody for a barrel organ' which was reviewed in the previous edition of Kino Kultura by Nancy Condee. Muratova, of course, was Soviet cinema's answer to Underground in her own inimitable way. The excluded professional who returned to Formalism and made the bleakest of portraits of the perestroika period in her Asthenic Syndrome. Muratova who has been able to make the most uncommercial of cinema in the most commercial of times.