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Thread: Russian Film

  1. #1
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    Russian Film

    So, now that I'm settled into college I can finally return to the filmleaf community with a banner over my head. Since I'm taking a program that allows me to view a classic Russian film every week or two, I decided I might as well get my writing skills up to par by writing reviews of the films I watch. I'm also very eager to discuss these films with you guys, so any comments are appreciated. Here we go!

    Alexander Nevsky (Eisenstein) (1938)

    As I looked at myself within this new echelon of existence known as the college community, I found that I was viewing a film of classic caliber known as Alexander Nevsky, a film by the proclaimed Russian director and film theorist, Sergei Eisenstein. In my youth, I am generally fascinated by any form of film, for much is still so new to me. It is most interesting, in this case, to observe Eisenstein's obvious influence upon modern film technique. It is a movie rife with blatant motifs and visual creativity; its history is as entrancing as the film itself. If every motion picture had the cultural saturation that this one does, I might never see daylight again.

    The film is, to a degree, about a battle between Rus forces, led by Prince Alexander Nevsky, and a malicious Teutonic crusade in 1242. The film is very straightforward in its expression of who is good and who is evil. The faces of the Rus people will always be visible, whilst the Germans will always be concealed, almost inhuman figures of ominousness. The beauty of the film really comes from the lack of great focus upon Nevsky himself; instead it tends to center itself upon various characters of less fame, such as two soldiers vying for the love of one woman, or an old man pretty much in his own world on the battlefield.

    Nevsky is, among other things, a film about nationalism, which is a concept I commonly deem abhorrent. However, in this case it is a most enthralling notion because it really strikes at the heart of Russian culture. Throughout Russian history, it is clear that national identity is an important facet of one's life. From Nevsky, it is easy to draw this conclusion from the constant expression of Rus brotherhood and glory for the motherland. The aforementioned love triangle is affected by this motif, as the woman will only marry the man who is the most courageous on the battlefield. The old man from above dies protecting his prince, and is utterly content in his last moments.

    This theme of pride was not all an expression of culture. Joseph Stalin had a great hand in making sure the film would rally the people under one notion that Germans were not to be trusted. His motives were made even more evident when he revoked the release of the film due to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the agreement that evoked non-aggression between Germany and Russia. Stalin allowed the release of the film once again in 1941, when the pact was broken by Hitler. The anti-German nature of the film is shown through parallels in uniform and symbols by the Teutonic knights. Some of the warriors wear helmets eerily similar to those of S.S. Officers in the then-modern German army. Motifs are donned by the Teutons that bear resemblances to eagles and even swastikas. The film is ultimately much less historical as a result, and is essentially made into a cultural expression of Soviet Russia.

    Eisenstein was a common employer of facial expressions within his films. In many early shots, the devastation of the Rus people by the Teutonic knights is expressed through the tragic faces of the common people. The same goes for the villains, except they always simply look stern and unrelenting in their quest to murder innocent people. It reminded me instantly of the work of Sergio Leone, except Eisenstein's use of this technique was a lot more “in-your-face” than the slow nature of Leone's extreme close-ups.

    The greatest cinematic influence of this film is the climactic thirty-minute battle scene. In many classic battle scenes of later films, one can instantly recognize the notion of the calm before the storm, and then the chaos of combat on a large scale. There are several shots that show oceans of people in the battle, which brought to mind the riots of the hundreds of workers in Fritz Lang's Metropolis. By the end of the battle, time is taken to observe the nature of this slaughter. Rus warriors dying on the ground cry out the names of their lovers, then fall into eternal sleep. The effect is devastating and beautiful; I did not cry but I sure felt like it.

    Eisenstein was a pioneer of film for a people who at the time lived under controlled oppression. He, like many Soviet filmmakers, was forced to play games with the censors in order to get his message across through his work. His struggle was ultimately our reward, thankfully, for Alexander Nevsky is yet another important chapter for the evolution of the motion picture.
    "So I'm a heel, so what of it?"
    --Renaldo the Heel, from Crimewave

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
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    Re: Russian Film

    Originally posted by HorseradishTree
    I might as well get my writing skills up to par by writing reviews of the films I watch. I'm also very eager to discuss these films with you guys, so any comments are appreciated.

    Congrats, Tree. Enjoy college. This essay is informative and well written. I enjoyed it. Keep 'em coming!

    Nevsky is, among other things, a film about nationalism, which is a concept I commonly deem abhorrent.

    Bravo! Way I see it, when one is overly identified with one's nation, gender, race, religion, sexual preference, ethnic group, etc. one ends up losing touch with the fact that we are all human beings. One ends up viewing the world as "us vs. them", so to speak.

    It reminded me instantly of the work of Sergio Leone, except Eisenstein's use of this technique was a lot more “in-your-face”

    "In art sometimes, the crudest device works best. Never spare the viewer a direct blow between the eyes." (Sergei Eisenstein)

    Eisenstein was a pioneer of film for a people who at the time lived under controlled oppression. He, like many Soviet filmmakers, was forced to play games with the censors in order to get his message across through his work. His struggle was ultimately our reward, thankfully, for Alexander Nevsky is yet another important chapter for the evolution of the motion picture.

    Yep. I'd just like to add the names of two major contributors of Eisenstein: the Latvian cinematographer Eduard Tisse, who lensed every single film Eisenstein ever made or attempted to make; and composer Sergei Prokofiev, whose score is so crucial to the artistic success of Alexander Nevsky.

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