May 012014


Unfortunately I couldn’t make today’s May Day parade in Moscow, but I did something even better. I re-watched the May Day parade in Mne Dvadtsat Let (1965).  I don’t usually like being part of a crowd or parade, but I can’t help but enjoy this one.

It’s great fun, partly because of all the people-watching opportunities. Marlen Khutsiev filmed it at as part of an actual May Day celebration, so the crowd consists of a lot more than professional actors.

This isn’t the only place where Khutsiev used this technique of placing scenes in the context of actual public events.  A couple that come to mind are a poetry reading (in the same film) and a reception for foreign ambassadors (July Rain).  But this is one that makes me go, “How’d he do that?”  May Day comes only once a year, so he had only one chance to get it right, but he blended the film with the actual street scenes very well.  The sound track does a lot to tie things together, but the sound track couldn’t do it all by itself.

Anyhow, there is a lot to watch – the people in the crowds, and the filmmaker’s technique, as well as our hero Sergei and his new friend Anya.  Sergei finally got to meet her at the celebration, after having followed her home, at a distance, after seeing her on a tramcar the previous year.  (The tramcar scene is the subject of an earlier post, Twentysomething Lost in Books.)

Here are screenshots to help others join in the spirit of the celebration (I hope).  Maybe even more helpful would be to watch the scene on YouTube, even though that version doesn’t have English subtitles. The parade starts at 50:20.

The celebration finally comes to an end, and later in the film Sergei and his two male friends, as well as Sergei and Anya, start to drift apart.   The issues that came between them were not entirely unlike issues that were confronting young people in the United States as the 50s turned into the 60s.  The film was released in 1965 but was mostly filmed several years earlier.  The delay was partly due to Khrushchev denouncing it, prompting Khutsiev to make some changes.   I’ve long wished I could see the version that Khrushchev denounced, before Khutsiev made his changes, but maybe it doesn’t exist anywhere.   This article at Kinoeye (Being 20, 40 Years Later) provides a little more detail about what happened than I’ve read elsewhere.

This film and Khutsiev’s next one, Iulskii Dozhd (July Rain) are two that sometimes make me think the world of the Soviet Union of the late 50s-early 60s is more familiar to me than the United States in the 2010s.  For me they are high impact films – especially July Rain. Strangely, I’ve yet to meet anyone from Russia, either online or in person, who has seen July Rain, and I’m not sure I’ve even met anyone who even heard about it.  These films did not endear Khutsiev to the Soviet authorities, so they weren’t seen by many people back at the time.  And I’m not sure they would have quite the same impact on younger people, anyway.  So maybe there is nobody to talk to about them.

Here’s the IMDB link for Mne Dvadtsat Let.


Feb 052012

A few weeks ago I learned about the Georgiy Daneliya film, “I Walk Through Moscow”.    In some places it’s spoken of as reminiscent of the French New Wave films of its time.   It was interesting enough to re-watch, and it’ll bear further re-watching.

I’d say it’s a very good film except for one thing:  I had already seen “I am Twenty,” a work by Martin Khutsiev.  It also features young people on the streets of Moscow, and it, too, has been described as reminiscent of the French New Wave films.

I am Twenty“I Walk Through Moscow” is very superficial in comparison.  The characters are interesting but shallow in comparison.   And its camera work, while fun to watch, is nothing compared to “I Am Twenty.”

The Khutsiev film was begun in 1959, but not released until 1965 or 1966.   Khrushchev had denounced it, revisions were made, and still it was not released for wide distribution for several years.  In the meantime “I Walk Through Moscow” came out.

It makes me wonder if Danieliya’s film was a politically correct version that was made in response to Khutsiev’s film.   I have tried using Google to find out, but have not been very successful in finding any articles that compare the two.

Oct 012010


In the October 4 issue of The Weekly Standard, Thomas Swick tells about a literary cruise in the Aegean that included a reading list. (“Passenger’s List : Cruising the Aegean with a company of bibliophiles“) One passage toward the end reminded me of some Russian movies:

But one morning I spent an hour in the library reading…. In Cefalu we visited the great Norman cathedral…and then repaired to the café in the square in front. At a nearby table three young women in white summer dresses sat reading books. I asked them where they were from.

“Sweden,” said one of the two blondes.

I told her what an unusual sight it was for me to see a trio of twentysomethings not talking or texting but lost in books.

“In Sweden, too,” she said. I almost invited them back to the ship.

I don’t know about a trio of young women, but in Russian movies there are scenes of solo young women reading books, usually on public transit. Probably the most attractive one I ever saw is this one in Mne Dvadtsat Let. This young woman is so engrossed in her book that she never notices the fine looking young man who is watching her closely. I don’t know if such a scene is possible, but it is very nicely done. She reacts to what she is reading, but is oblivious to everyone else. She is aware enough to move to the empty window seat when it becomes open, and does her part to relay the money that is passed from hand to hand from someone on one end of the bus to the conductor on the other end, and the same for the ticket that makes the return trip. And she doesn’t miss her stop. But she is thoroughly caught up in her reading.

I was kind of hoping to learn just what book she was reading, but we never find out, even though boy does finally meet girl. He should have asked her.

It was a fine bit of film-making just the same.

Sep 192010


This film (Mne Dvadsat Let) looks promising. To find it I had to paw through a bunch of 18th and 19th century costume dramas.


At least that’s what they looked like from the screenshots. It seems I’ve gone through this routine several times in my search for a new-old film to watch — toss aside a bunch of ruffles and lace (and a larger amount of war movies) to get to one that depicts life in Russia in modern (post-revolutionary) times.

When Anatol Lieven wrote, “…even though nostalgia for the pre-revolutionary past is very common in contemporary Russian cinema,” I had no trouble believing him. There is a lot of that type of film.

Some of the depictions of older times are pretty good. Nikita Mikhalkov, whom I don’t particularly like, has done a very good job with some Chekov stories, for example. However, although those can be interesting, it seems I’ve developed a greater taste for civilian socialist realism.

Maybe Mne Dvadsat Let doesn’t qualify as good socialist realism, though. It was a product of the Khrushchev thaw, but Khrushchev himself denounced it in 1963, attacking the filmmakers (according to Wikipedia), for “[thinking] that young people ought to decide for themselves how to live, without asking their elders for counsel and help.” It wasn’t released in full until 1989.

Whether or not this one counts as socialist realism, it’s very good so far. Among other things, it does a very good job of telling stories even without dialog.