Sunday, May 27, 2007

Two Films From Russia

Two wonderful Russian films I saw recently. They were both made in the late fifties, a period of de-Stalinization in Russia, when the artistic controls were loosened a bit, after decades of social realist films which valorized the red army and the great leader. These two films do not really shed the romanticised patriotism completely but rather their main emphasis is on the personal and subjective experience of the war. They are also very inventive in visual terms, specially The Cranes are Flying. It has some really virtuoso camerawork and editing. In one scene the girl and the boy are climbing the spiral staircase and the camera follows both of them in one long unbroken shot. It creates a dizzying effect. There are many similar scenes where camera approximates the subjective emotional states of the characters. There are a couple of crowd scenes which are amazing too. The girl is frantically searching for her fiancee in the crowd just before he is sent off to the war and the camera tracks her face closely, again in a long take. The same scene is repeated at the end on a railway station when the troops have returned from the war.

Ballad of a Soldier is less inventive visually but makes it up for an even more powerful melodrama and generosity of spirit and sentiment (the good, honest kind). In fact it starts off with what seemed like a parade of cliches. Handsome boy at the front, meets Beautiful girl on way, chaste love affair ensues, lonely mother waiting for him at home, noble souls all around who suffer only to become even nobler (one of the great themes of nineteenth century Russian literature), the spare and beautiful Russian landscape, almost like a textbook illustration of the "Mother Russia" stereotype, something you'd think Woody Allen will have nice time parodying. And yet in the end I was feeling lachrymose like I haven't felt in a long time after watching a movie. (I have to admit I am generally a little biased in favour of the Russians. What a tragic country, what a poor suffering lot!)

In short, both really marvellous and moving films. It is almost like putting life back in the overexploited conventional humanism genre.

1 comment:

scarecrow said...

did watched The Cranes are Flying some time ago.It truly was a good visual treat..
remember the scene where the guy dies in the battle field and the sky over him, with bare trees starts circling and then slowly the circling frame changes into spiral staircase with him running upwards, where his marriage is taking place...

What a tragic country, what a poor suffering lot!

Yeah, it looks like so..few of the good Russian movies that i have manged to watch, all happened to be tragic ones..two that I guess can top the charts for me were : Crime & Punishment and An unfinished piece of a piano player(this one too had good visual moments)...
and incidentally the most badly made ones were actually comedies..n