Category Archives: Soviet

Shine, Shine, My Star (1969)

“The peasant is on a farm. The worker is in the industry, and the bourgeois bloodsucker in on the Black Sea.”

Shine, Shine, My Star (Gori, Gori, Moya Zvezda) a 1969 film from director Alexander Mitta is a gem of Soviet cinema which examines the role of Art in society and asks whether or not an Artist can perform and create without political consequences. A complex, subtle and highly symbolic  film, Shine, Shine, My Star presents the story of a young, nimble actor, Iskremas (Oleg Tabokov), an artist who wants to bring  “The Art of Revolution to the Masses.” This he intends to accomplish by driving into the countryside and offering free theatre performances to the People.

The film begins with an explanation that it’s 1920, and that the story is set in the village of Krapivnitsky. The village is basically Red, but as the story plays out, it’s under frequent assault by bandits and also a White detachment passes through on the way to join Wrangel in the Crimea. Iskremas arrives in the village of Krapivnitsky with his “People’s Experimental Theatre,” and he’s full of enthusiasm which is conveyed through his energetic performances and speeches to the villagers.  He takes a young girl, a now unemployed Polish servant named Krysya (Elena Proklova) under his wing, and together they plan to put on the play Joan of Arc:

500 years ago, the bourgeois and the money bags sent to the stake the beautiful Jeanne. Jeanne from Arc.

The villagers, however, appear much more interested in the salacious silent film powered by Pashka, a man who ad-libs the narration and alters the content depending on the audience. Trouble arises for the villagers when the Whites arrive….

The film’s secondary title is Destiny of An Artist in Revolutionary Russia, and there are three artists whose fate we follow in the film.  There’s the idealistic actor Iskremas who wants to bring Shakespeare to the masses and his interpretation of Julius Caesar includes telling how the Roman Emperor was “killed by Revolutionaries.” Iskremas is disgusted by Pashka’s titillating film which shows the bourgeois sporting on the Black Sea. Iskremas sees the film as low-brow “vulgarity,” and tells Pashka that “people [are] yearning for genuine Art, and you give them junk.” The third artist in the film is house-painter Fedya (Oleg Efremov) whose home is full of amazing, incredibly beautiful Avant-garde paintings and who also is responsible for painting the Revolutionary Committee in the local meeting-house.

It would be easy and erroneous to dismiss this film as Soviet propaganda, and one should bear in mind the film’s conclusion and its secondary title “Destiny of an Artist in Revolutionary Russia.” The film depicts all sides of the political spectrum using art and various art forms for their own purposes (several scenes include a maudlin theatre performance of patriotic songs for the Whites), and inevitably since artists are the vanguard of culture, they all too frequently absorb the punishing results of any shift in political ideology.

The film is full of the most astonishing Avant-garde art–Avant-garde art was initially incorporated into Bolshevik culture, but after Stalin took power Avant-garde art and those who created it were suppressed. Avant-garde art was replaced by Socialist Realism which became the officially sanctioned art form. Shine, Shine, My Star shows forbidden art through the works of Fedya and then shows them being destroyed by the Whites, but including these scenes in the 1969 film is in itself a revolutionary act on the part of the director. At least some members of the audience must have known who really destroyed Avant-garde art and killed those who produced it, and including Avant-garde art in the film is a bold stroke. The Whites are shown as a fairly erratic, cruel bunch (one of the Whites is an insane Prince who shoots up everything in sight),  and while this must have pleased the censors, the scenes of this forbidden art form are breath-taking. Ultimately the film’s overall message is that the true Artist will inevitably be destroyed while Art is reduced to its lowest common denominator.

Shine, Shine, My Star, an incredible film in my opinion, is an entry into Caroline and Richard’s World Cinema Series

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Torpedo Bombers (1983)

“We”ll fix you up with a parachute.”

The marvellous 1983 Soviet film, Torpedo Bombers (Torpedonostsy), from director Semyon Aronovitch is a homage to the Soviet pilots and crews who lost their lives during WWII in their fight against Germany. For the film’s intense look at the lives of these men, Torpedo Bombers is a unique film, and the cinematography of shots of the men in their planes is simply incredible.  Brilliant, stunning shots depict the planes’ navigators in close quarters; other shots depict planes in flames–one in a kamikaze dive in a last-ditch effort to destroy the enemy. Other close-ups show faces inside smoking planes, and then shots of a plane disintegrating and falling from the sky. The Soviet planes must fly in close to drop their torpedos, so these missions tend to have a suicidal edge. This incredible film is based on the stories of Yuri German.

It’s 1944, and the film opens with the report of a “fascist convoy” in the area, so crews scrambles, planes are prepared and then take to the skies. Some shots give us an idea of the rudimentary nature of life on the base, and many of the pilots and crews have their families there with them. There’s a downside to this which becomes evident as the film continues.

Torpedo Bombers throws us right into the action, so the story can be a bit disorienting at first until you get your bearings. Many characters are introduced summarily through barked out orders, or called out greetings, and it’s not initially easy to place just who’s who. The relationships between the ranks seems casual and friendly. There’s the sense that life on the base wouldn’t be bad at all–if it weren’t for the threat of imminent death. As one man says, “Life could be so simple, so pleasant. War is so ugly.”

While the plot explores aspects of the lives of a handful of characters, the main story revolves around Sasha Belobrov (Rodion Nahapetov) who’s just returned from 3 months leave after being injured. He returns back to the remote Northern base to discover that the woman he loved has married another man. Another sub-plot concerns Sgt  Cherepets (Aleksei Zharkov), a man who falls in love with a kitchen worker named Maroussia (Tatyana Kravchenko) but is uncertain just how to approach her.

Torpedo Bombers shows the men at home on the base and at war, and of course we follow their stories to their conclusions. In one scene Soviet crew members investigate a downed Messerschmitt only to discover the pilot dead and frozen while his thermos of coffee still steams when opened.  Another scene depicts the men attending a theatre performance conducted entirely by midgets, and when the acting troupe leaves and the pilots & crew members thank them, it’s impossible not to draw the conclusion about just where these midgets would be if Hitler ever got hold of them. No heavy-handed conclusions are necessary from the plot, but these scenes grant humanity to the Soviet cause.

Real black and white footage from WWII is seamlessly spliced together with the created scenes.  We see grainy archival black and white footage of German ships firing at the sky, and then these scenes are juxtaposed with the Soviet flyers. While a large portion of the film concentrates on the air war, a substantial portion of the film concerns the men’s private lives: one man is reunited with his mentally traumatized son who was thought to be lost, but there’s no news of the pilot’s wife and baby. The boy was located in an orphanage, and the father begins to question whether the boy is indeed his son. Belobrov’s opinion seems to be that it doesn’t matter: here’s a boy who needs a father and a man who needs a son. This aspect of the film underscores the social upheaval afoot inside the Soviet Union with millions dead and missing, and those left behind trying to enjoy whatever time they have left.

Another subtle idea within the film examines the role that women play as supporters for the Soviet pilots and crews. There’s tremendous pressure on them to have sex. One woman’s husband is killed and there’s substantial social pressure for her to pick up with Belobrov. No one seems to appreciate the fact that she’s pushed to the brink by the death of a husband, and may be too fragile to get involved again in a relationship with another pilot who’s very likely to die.

The film concludes with a photo library of real torpedo bombers who died in WWII.

Torpedo Bombers is an entry in Caroline and Richard’s World Cinema Series.

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The Cranes are Flying (1957)

“Give me something I will always remember.”

If you are in the mood for Soviet cinema, then go grab a copy of the 1957 film The Cranes are Flying (Letyat Zhuravli). It really doesn’t get much better than this eloquent touching film from director Mikhail Kalatozov. The story focuses on the impact of war on two young lovers, Veronika (Tatyana Samojlova) and Boris (Aleksey Batalov).

The film begins with the lovers enjoying the last moments of the afternoon together as they walk beside the banks of a river. As is typical with lovers, Boris and Veronika focus on the wonder of being in each other’s company, but they also find joy in nature–cranes flying overhead in a v-shaped formation. They part, eagerly counting the moments until the next encounter, and Boris heads off to his night-shift job at the local factory while Veronika dashes home.

From this point, things begin to go downhill for Veronika. Boris has secretly enlisted in the army with his friend, Stepan (Valentin Zubkov). Like many young men who respond to the call for volunteers, Boris doesn’t want to ‘miss’ the opportunity. He imagines that he will leave some time in the misty future, and so both he and Veronika are stunned when Germany invades and the volunteers are ordered to report for duty the next day.

The next day is Veronika’s birthday and she’s still reeling from the news that Boris enlisted without telling her. Feeling hurt and betrayed, she refuses to spend Boris’s last evening with him, but Boris leaves her a birthday present to be delivered after he leaves. Boris tells his family, his physician father Fyodor (Vasili Merkuryev), his practical sister, Irina (Svetlana Kharitonova) and his cousin Mark (Aleksandr Shvorin) to take care of Veronika if she should need help.

At this point, the film enters some sentimental territory which is ameliorated by some ambiguities in the plot. While this is a wonderful film and can easily be judged on its own merit, it’s interesting to note some of the subtle undercurrents in the film’s dialogue. Boris’s father, Fyodor is the film’s moral centre, and he’s distressed when his son volunteers. The scene involving the factory workers’ send-off to Boris includes a speech that would have been unacceptable a few years before. Two young girls from the factory arrive at Boris’s home to give him the hero’s send off, but their speech is preempted by Fyodor who announces for them:   “and we at the plant will meet and exceed our production quotas.” The two young, eager girls are flummoxed by Fyodor’s behaviour. He’s taken the wind out of their sails, but Fyodor is too generous a human being to continue making fun of the girls’ mission, and Boris’s last evening is spent in celebration.

In another scene, Fyodor, a widely respected physician is approached by a slimy party member who wants to use the ambulance for his own sleazy purposes. The man completely mis-understands Fyodor and thinks he’s corrupted (and corruptible).  The film subtly notes the man’s shift in tone and body langauge when he realizes that the doctor isn’t just another corrupt human being after all.

The Cranes are Flying is an incredibly touching film which also explores the issue of the loyalty of Soviet women while their men served at the front. The themes of grief and patriotism are overwhelmed in the film’s superb finale which takes place at the train station. The key, of course, is forgiveness; I won’t give too much away here, but bottom line, this is an exquisite film.

The film’s director Mikhail Kalatozov and the cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky also made the stunningly beautiful film I am Cuba in 1964. Urusevsky’s skill with the camera is apparent in the very first scene of The Cranes are Flying, and he shoots the same location several times throughout the film. In this fashion, the landscape becomes a sort of character as events take their toll not just on the people but on the country too. Another scene takes place at Fyodor’s home and one shot takes in the entire family as they all sit around the table. The camera’s placement effectively makes us the invisible guest at the table, and indeed this sort of intimate mood is present throughout the film.

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Bread, Gold, Gun (1980)

“I don’t give a shit for your views and beliefs.”

The title of this Soviet film Bread, Gold, Gun (Khleb, Zoloto, Nagan) just about covers what happens in this action-packed adventure set during the Civil War era. I’ve come across a couple of Soviet films to date that depict the same scenario–a race against time to deliver gold (sometimes stolen) to the beleaguered Bolshevik forces so that they can win the day and beat the forces of the White Russians. Add this film to the sub-genre. I expect it has a name, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to name this the Bolshie-Banditry sub-genre.

Ok, here’s the premise. Loyal Bolshevik party member and Moscow orphanage director, Olga obviously a formerly pampered member of the privileged classes, is given an assignment to deliver 3 sacks of grain to the starving children under her care back in Moscow. A sailor, Sasha,  is ordered to accompany Olga on her mission. He’s more than a bit resentful at having to guard a young bourgeois and he initially sees his role as a servant or underling and this makes him taciturn and uncooperative. As the two suffer through a series of hardships, they form a bound which acknowledges their shared morality and political goals.

At the same time, a Chekist officer is given three gold bars to deliver to the Bolsheviks. This gold will, of course, determine the outcome of the civil war.

All the characters converge on a train station as they try to make a connection to Moscow, but here they are ambushed by a sneaky party of Whites. The Chekist is killed but he hands over the bullion to stationmaster Zaytsev. Olga, Sasha, and Zaytsev are joined in their escape from the train station by another Chekist officer, the steely-eyed Gorbach. At first they seem to be safe, but then they run slap bang into a nest of bandits.

We really had a lot of fun with this film. For some reason, these Bolshie-Bandit films have the air of a spaghetti western. In one scene for example, as the four characters flee from the train station, the bandits appear up on top of a hill. Remember how the Indians would always appear on the hill and look down on the wagon train? Well the same moment occurs here. Also in a later part of the film there’s a long back and forth chase sequence through a small narrow village with the Reds in a car and the Whites on horseback. I’m telling you, it’s just like one of those old cowboy and indian films. The only thing that’s missing is John Wayne. Instead we get a sort of John Wayne–except here he’s a narrow-eyed, cool customer who’s the Chekist Gorbach, and of course he’s the hero of the film. 

Some of the film’s very best scenes occur in the bandit lair. The Whites are not portrayed altogether unsympathetically but when it comes to heroics, no one comes close to the cold steely courage of the Chekist officer–a man the chief bandit describes as a psycho. But in spite of the Chekist heroics, Arkady the bandit leader steals the film. He displays a fastidiousness that is diametrically opposed to his sadistic behaviour, and of course his amorality and love for money is also seen in contrast to those willing to die for their respective causes.

One of the things I enjoyed about this escapist film is that its romanticism is found in the tale itself and in the sacrifices the characters make for each other–not in some drippy smoochy scenes. Great stuff!

From director Samvel Gasparov

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Autumn Marathon (1979)

“I’m not a talented man. I just translate talented writers.”

Set in Leningrad, Autum Marathon (Osenniy Marafon) is touted as a sad-comedy. It’s the story of translator and lecturer Andrei Pavlovich Buzykin (Oleg Basilashvili), a middle-aged man who’s caught between two women. Andrei is married to Nina (Natalya Gundareva) but locked into a passionate affair with typist Alla (Marina Neyolova). When the film begins, Andrei is busy juggling his affair and his marriage while satisfying the demands of his wife, his mistress, and his career. On top of that, he is hosting a Danish professor, Bill who’s there to work on Russian translations and learn about Soviet culture at the same time.

As the story continues, Andrei finds himself in hot water with his mistress, his wife, and his publisher. Trying to keep both women happy, Andrei passes off a number of increasingly thin lies, and on some occasions, he even tells both women the same lies. There are tense scenes with Nina and the poisonous undertones at the dinner table, and these moments are contrasted with petulance and stone silence from Andrei’s mistress. With Alla pressuring Andrei for marriage, Nina unable to believe Andrei’s pathetic lies, and his publisher warning him to “stop chasing women,” the tense domestic situation reaches a crescendo.

Autumn Marathon is an enjoyable look at a very familiar story. Andrei, who is unhappy with either his wife or his existence, finds some solace in the arms of his mistress, and yet he’s loath to take the final step of breaking away from Nina completely and seeking a divorce. One of the funniest scenes takes place when Alla produces an expensive jacket that she insists Andrei wear home because she wants him to look “modern.” He explains that he cannot just show up in his apartment in a brand new jacket as his wife will be suspicious. Andrei is nagged into accepting the jacket and then must suffer the consequences when Nina sets eyes on it.

One of the interesting things about Autumn Marathon is while the film is ostensibly about a love triangle, the plot shows that the affair is just a symptom of Andrei’s characters flaws. Andrei’s biggest underlying problem is that he’s a push over, and it’s because of this huge character flaw that Andrei finds himself in a state of limbo, unable to make a decision and stuck between Nina and Alla. This character flaw is explored by views of Andrei’s other relationships–relationships in which he cannot set boundaries. Pushy obnoxious neighbour Vasili (Evgeni Leonov), a man who insists that Andrei & Bill go mushroom gathering manages to cause immense trouble with a bottle of vodka. And then there’s a fired teacher, Varvara (Galina Volchek), a woman who begs for Andrei’s help. Andrei cannot refuse Varvara–the word No does not exist in his vocabulary. And this relationship with Varvara brings the final blow to Andrei’s life. This is not a relatively simple matter of  a man who cannot chose between two women–Andrei is a man who cannot decide anything.  His life is totally out of control and under assault from forces that he is unable to harness. From director Georgi Daneliy

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The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (1938)

“You’ll have a hard life, but don’t surrender to anyone.”

The Childhood of Maxim Gorky (Detstvo Gorkogo) was released in 1938, Gorky (whose real name was Peshkov), the man on whose life (and books) the film is based died two years earlier. The Childhood of Maxim Gorky is the first of a trilogy (the other two titles are My Apprenticeships, & My Universities) all directed by Mark Donskoi and adapted from Gorky’s autobiography. These three films are all from Russico, and apparently all three were available at one time with English subtitles, but so far I’ve only been able to find the other two films in Russian only. 

The film is set in the 19th century and begins with the arrival of Aleksei Peshkov (Aleksei Lyarsky) and his mother by boat to join his mother’s family. Although it’s not expressed, the idea is present that Aleksei and his mother Varvara Peshkova (Yelizaveta Alekseyeva) have returned to her family due to harsh necessity. It seems that Aleksei’s father was not popular with Varvara’s irascible contentious father, Vasili Kashrin (Mikhail Troyanovsky), but Aleksei’s father is now dead. Structurally, the film follows Aleksei’s early life concentrating on the people and incidents that influenced him.

Varvara and her son Aleksei return to a viper’s nest. The problems within the family are glaringly apparent, and most of the squabbles arise over the question of inheritance and how the family dye business will be divvied up among the three children. Aleksei’s two uncles engage in endless battles of recrimination, but they shelve their quarrels for the most part in the presence of their domineering father. The uncles, Mishka and Yashka (Aleksandr  Zhukov & Vasili Novikov) are unpleasant and stupid, and according to the grandfather, when they inherit they “will squander everything on drink.” Given the few scenes involving the uncles, there’s not much reason to argue with the grandfather’s assessment, and in some ways this pathological family situation is very stereotypical. The grandmother (Varvara Massalitinova) is viewed as indulgent, excusing her sons’ behaviour and pestering the grandfather to share the inheritance while he is still alive (reminds me of Zola’s The Earth), and of course, the grandfather reacts by arguing that his wife coddles the sons and has made them into loafers. Basically the family members are at each other’s throats for a battle over the limited resources.

The film shows Aleksei’s relationship with two of his grandfather’s workers: the nearly blind Gregori (K. Zubkov): a good man who’s worked for the grandfather for 37 years. Being in close contact with the dyes has caused Gregori to lose his sight, but there’s no sense of obligation felt by the grandfather towards the man who’s served him for almost four decades. Another huge influence on Aleksei is the Ivan the Gyspy (Daniil Sagal): an employee, a kind, vigorous young man whose zest for life is squashed by Aleksei’s revolting uncles. The grandfather regrets the Gyspy’s death as he would have been “priceless in 5 years.”

A major influence on Aleksei is his wonderful grandmother, an avid storyteller, a woman who loves her home and her family and suffers mistreatment & beatings from her husband. The grandmother is obviously the glue that holds the family together, but when adversity strikes, even she cannot fix the situation, and Aleksei lives with his grandparents, moving and sinking farther and farther into poverty.

Living with his grandparents, but left more to less to his own devices, Aleksei learns to scavenge to earn enough kopecks for food. As their fortunes decline, Aleksei’s grandfather, who is apparently not the most stable of men, vacillates between petty childish tantrums and vicious attacks on his family.

A lodger (S. Tikhonravov) becomes another tremendous shaping influence on Aleksei. Through the lodger, who’s a revolutionary, Aleksei learns that “a man with learning can be anything he likes.”

Various animals appear throughout the film, and clearly they have an important role in Gorky’s life. The film includes moments of whimsy in its depiction of Aleksei running wild in the streets and fields with a band of equally wretched boys (see the DVD cover). But underneath these sentimental touches, there’s the clear message that all these poor people have are their bodies and their ability to labour. There is no social structure to buoy up the blind, the elderly, or the infirm, and those who cannot work must beg for a living or starve. The grandfather recalls how he pulled barges for a living, but in the grandfather’s case, adversity makes him meaner and less likely to share a crust of bread with a passing beggar. The film does not touch on the upper classes but stays firmly with the peasants.

Gorky, a founder of Socialist Realism, is a problematic figure in the history of Russian literature. I don’t want to spend a great deal of time on Gorky’s politics–although it seems impossible to review the film and not mention Gorky’s position in both Tsarist Russia and Stalin’s Soviet Union. At first a supporter of the Revolution, Gorky became disillusioned, as many did, with the outrages of the Bolsheviks. Censored under the Tsar, Gorky found himself censored under the Bolsheviks too. Gorky lived abroad for some years but then returned to the Soviet Union at the personal invitation of Stalin. There are photos of Gorky and Stalin together, and I know I wouldn’t want my mug to go down in history next to Stalin’s.  Gorky was given a mansion and a dacha by Stalin, but by 1934 he was back under house arrest. I’ll admit that one of the reasons I didn’t watch the film earlier is because I connect Gorky with Stalinist propaganda. Gorky knew what was happening in the Soviet Union; he knew that writers, such as Gumilyov were being executed, so Gorky didn’t even have the excuse of ignorance when he returned and effectively endorsed the Stalinist regime. No matter what Gorky’s motives were in returning to Stalinist Russia, his legacy to Russian literature suffered as a result. Many Russian emigre writers suffered in exile and many poets and writers were slaughtered in Stalinist times. My sympathies are with them.

At the same time, to wipe out The Childhood of Maxim Gorky as pure propaganda seems nonsensical. This was Gorky’s childhood, and his childhood mirrored the lives of millions of Russians who depended on their health and their strength to eke out a living. The quantification of humans into the volume of labour they can produce is horrifying (makes me think of factory farming). Watching the film brings to the fore the tremendous waste of human potential under such a system. And of course that brings us back to the idea of revolution….

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A Cruel Romance (1984)

a cruel romanceA Cruel Romance (Ruthless Romance, Zhestokiy Romans) is a gem of Soviet cinema. Based on the play The Dowerless Girl by Aleksandr Ostrovsky and directed by Eldar Ryazanov, this is the story of Larissa Dmitrievna (Larisa Guzeyeva), a young girl from an impoverished family of the gentry in late 19th century Russia.

The film begins with the wedding of Larissa’s sister, Olga, who’s being married off to a Caucasian prince. The wedding is over, and Olga, obviously a desperately unhappy bride, is about to sail off to the Caucasus with her new, wildly jealous husband whose tribal culture is vastly different from her own.  Olga’s future happiness may be doubtful, and while wedding guests murmur their amusement with the situation, the marriage is seen as a stroke of luck for Olga’s mother, Kharita Ogoudalova (Alisa Frejndlikh).

The Ogoudalova family was once considered the finest family in the region, but when the film begins those days are long gone. Matriarch Kharita lives on the family estate which is mortgaged up to the hilt. There’s no mention of Kharita’s husband, but she has three daughters. Anna is married to a gambler and living in Monte Carlo in somewhat desperate straits, and now with Olga married off, that leaves Larissa in the nest. Marrying off the last daughter is an imperative.

Kharita lives beyond her means in order to continue the facade that she’s wealthy, but her problems go far deeper than this. Kharita’s poor judgment is reflected in her dress–she dresses like a much younger woman, but even worse, she places herself and her daughter Larissa in a most morally precarious position by allowing married banker, the portly Moky Knurov (Alexei Petrenko) to give her money–sometimes with questionable objectives.

Larissa seems to have no shortage of suitors. Or at least it would appear so from the large number of men who flock to the social events at the family home.  One of Larissa’s most patient suitors is the dull post office worker Yuli Karandyshev (Andrei Myagkov) who’s very easily made to look like a complete idiot by the suave playboy Sergey Sergeyevich Paratov (Nikita Mikhalkov).

Just as Larissa seems to on the path to engagement, fate intervenes. Will she be saved or destroyed as several males in Larissa’s circle take her fate into their own hands….

While A Cruel Romance is the tale of exactly what happens to Larissa at the hands of the men in her social circle, the film also makes a larger statement about Russian society and the erosion of the gentry by the merchant class. The Ogoudalovas are the ‘finest’ family around, but the mother resorts to fobbing off her daughters on the highest bidder, and since the girls have no dowry, they are sold off quite cheaply. Kharita must be held at least partly responsible for what happens to Larissa. Kharita’s carelessness cannot be blamed on either naivete or a desire to see her daughter happy. And then what of Kharita’s relationship with the married banker Moky Knurov? Does Kharita find it convenient to turn a blind eye to his intentions?

Ivan Petrovich is also a member of the gentry, and while he appears as a glamorous, dashing lover–a perfect foil to the stodgy Yuli Karandyshev, in reality, Ivan has plunged his family estate into debt. He owns The Swallow, a huge steamship and plans to become a successful businessman. Wherever Ivan goes, he moves in a self-created cocoon of splendour, action and adoration, but Ivan’s world is as false and empty as he is. Meanwhile while Larissa is courted and romanced, both Ivan’s and the Ogoudalova’s  family fortunes are carefully monitored in a predatory fashion by the banker Moky Knurov and Ivan’s rival Vassily Vozhevatov (Victor Proskurin).

A Cruel Romance is a marvelous costume drama, beautifully acted, with a marvellous musical score, and full of gorgeous shots of the Volga. While there’s plenty of romance, it’s delivered with a bitter touch that’s certain to please Russophiles.

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