17 moments of spring

seventeen-moments-of-springThere are so many TV series out there, one can’t watch them all; not even just the ‘best’ ones (supposing ‘best’ makes any sense when it comes to tastes). Unlike films, series are very much time consuming, and often addictive (actually, for the consumerism cultures we’re totally immerse in, such addictiveness is the ultimate goal of producers, and it is much preferred over quality), and unless you’re as sickly overcritical as I am, or have thrice my free time, you’ll be simply overflowed with the offer and just pick whichever serial is made the easiest for you to watch, or the ones more aggressively distributed and publicized.
And this is how, hadn’t you come across this post, you would miss one of the most and true unforgettable TV series ever: 17 moments of spring (Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny); an excellent twelve-chapter Soviet production from the 70’s directed by Tatyana Lioznova that relates, in a WWII historical background,  the vicissitudes of fictional character Colonel Maksim Maksimovich Isayev, a Soviet undercover agent infiltrated as an officer into Hitler’s SD under the name of Max Stirlitz. The plot covers seventeen moments spread throughout February and March 1945 (not really spring, but well), narrating how Stirlitz struggles to carry out a mission he’s received from Moscow: to ascertain whether some high-rank German officers are trying to secretly negotiate a separate peace deal with the allies in the Western front (that would allow the Germans to concentrate their forces in the East) and, in case affirmative, to try to foil any such agreement. Continue reading “17 moments of spring”

That very Münchhausen

totsamyyThis Russian version of the renowned Munchhausen adventures is, by far, the best of them all, both in print and on stage — though perhaps ‘the best’ doesn’t mean much in this case, since a one-eyed person can always be the king in the blinds’ realm. No: The very same Münchhausen is far above other attempts to bring Raspe’s literary work to screen, and the script by Grigoriy Gorin is also far above the book.
Baron Karl Hyeronymous von Münchhausen was an interesting, real-life German personage from 18th century who, as history has it, used to entertain his audience with the exaggerated tale — nay, with blatantly impossible stories about his travels and adventures, though these were told in such matter-of-factly way that it would be quite unfair to designate him as a mere liar. Out of this baron and his tales, another no less interesting character surnamed Raspe, an ‘impudent scoundrel’, wrote and sent to print a number of editions of a book (whose authorship he wouldn’t acknowledge) under titles like Outrageous adventures of baron Munchausen that, in years to come, would became a classic in the genre of marvelous travels, in par with Gulliver or Crusoe.
munchausen One century and a half later, Raspe’s book was taken to stage, and throughout the following decades several films were made, the most relevant of which are a 1943 German production, a Czech animated version in 1961, this Russian movie for TV (Tot samyj Mjunkhgauzen), dated 1979, and an obscure Hollywood production from 1988 (Uma Thurman and Robin Williams in the cast). But, as I say, the Russian beats them all by a landslide, in every possible way: direction (by Mark Zakharov), scenography, interpretation and, most of all, the script: while the others, targeted to a children’s audience, barely reproduce some of the baron’s adventures, without aiming any further or deeper, Gorin’s script tells us a nicer, linear story meant for adults, and takes a more ambitious approach — though thankfully not pretentious, brilliantly playing with absurd or paradoxical ideas, more or less mindblowing, hilarious or dramatic, ultimately aimed to offer us a series of moral dilemmas. Continue reading “That very Münchhausen”

Moscow does not believe in tears

cartelTranscending any genre cage, Moskva slezam ne verit is probably the first Soviet movie I see that does not end tragically. But it is not the less ‘Russian’ for that – not the less touching. On the contrary, it is one of the most captivating stories I’ve ever seen, about a humble woman in pursuit for happiness. It gives a glimpse into life in the USSR on a very human level and from a women’s point of view; and is also a tribute to the Soviet era some people in the ex-USSR still consider to be the best years of their lives.
In 1958’s Moscow, three provincial women in their twenties who share a room in a workers’ dormitory (typical for the time and place) strive for making a living in the metropoli and for pursuing their goals. In a close and endearing way, some of the popular clichés about Russia are depicted, like the unstylish dresses, the worker’s paradise that isn’t, the sharp contrast between the city and the peasants who live outside… And the three different personalities have been carefully chosen in a way that virtually any of us can feel identified with one of them: modest Antonina, bold Lyudmila and responsible Katerina. They are believable, easy to understand, and by the end of the story we have grown quite fond of them, getting a feeling of familiarity, as if they were our personal acquaintances. Continue reading “Moscow does not believe in tears”

The dawns here are quiet

azorizdestikhie1I’m a devotee of Russian cinema because it almost never disappoints me, and it takes in fact a pre-eminent place among my all-times favourites. Títles such as Siberiad, Solaris, Uncle Vania, Dersu Uzala o Moscow does not believe in tears, to name just a few, are among the first in my top list. But today a new film has come to by its own right oust a step down many of the others: I’m talking of The dawns here are quiet (A zori zdes tikhie).
And by saying ‘new’ I don’t mean it’s a release – actually it was produced in 1972 – but that I’ve just watched it for the first time, having never heard of it before. Indeed, because of this ‘hermetic markets economy’ our planet is divided in (European, USAmerican, Chinese, Russian…) not even Culture – or maybe least of all Culture! – is granted free trade, and thus Sovietic cinema very rarely reaches our Western shores. So, it’s only thanks to some acquaintances of mine from the former Eastern Block that I get to know, every now and then, of these cinematographic gems. Continue reading “The dawns here are quiet”

Solaris (film review)

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Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet) durante su monólogo en la biblioteca de la estación

“¿La ciencia? ¡Bobadas! En nuestras circunstancias, la mediocridad y el genio son igualmente inservibles. No estamos interesados en conquistar cosmos alguno: lo que queremos es extender la Tierra hasta los límites del cosmos. No sabemos qué hacer con otros mundos. No necesitamos otros mundos: lo que necesitamos es un espejo. Nos esforzamos por establecer contacto, pero nunca vamos a encontrarlo. Nos hallamos en el insensato dilema de buscar una meta a la que, sin embarrgo, tememos, y de la que no tenemos necesidad alguna. El hombre necesita al hombre.”
Este es probablemente el mejor discurso en la película de Andrei Tarkovsky Solaris (producción rusa que ganó el Gran Premio del Festival de Cannes en 1972), una adaptación libre de la novela de ciencia ficción del mismo nombre escrita en 1961 por el polaco Estanislao Lem).
Aunque más larga de lo necesario y más lenta de lo conveniente, esta inolvidable película postula la definitiva insuficiencia de cualquier comunicación entre la especie humana y cualquier posible inteligencia exterior. Sus brillantes diálogos y el cautivador tema musical, la fuerte personalidad de sus personajes y la excelente interpretación de sus actores (entre los que merece destacar Jüri Järvet, en el papel del doctor Snaut) me llamaron poderosamente la atención, y quedé hipnotizado no sólo por su elegante puesta en escena, sino sobre todo por la riqueza de los temas sobre los que nos propone meditar.
Solaris es un ensayo filosófico sobre las limitaciones antropomórficas del ser humano; un sesudo drama psicológico que apunta hacia la futilidad de intentar una comunicación con vida extraterrestre. La trama se desarrolla en su mayoría a bordo de una estación espacial que orbita alrededor del lejano planeta Solaris, cubierto en su totalidad por un océano que es un único organismo pensante. En tanto estudian esta superficie oceánica desde la estación orbital, sus científicos son a su vez observados por el planeta consciente, que sondea los pensamientos y la conciencia de los humanos y tiene la facultad de recrearlos y materializarlos en forma humana. Tras años de investigación, la misión se encuentra estancada porque todos los miembros de la tripulación han sufrido crisis emocionales; y de aquí que la Tierra envíe a un psicólogo para que estudie y evalué la situación, aunque no hará sino toparse con los mismos fenómenos misteriosos que el resto de científicos a bordo de la estación.
Para mí, esta película es un must; uno de tantos que, por desgracia, el oligopolio de la distribución en Occidente rarísima vez trae hasta nuestras pantallas.[:en]
Dr. Snaut (Jüri Järvet) monologue in the space station’s library

“Science? Nonsense! In our situation, mediocrity and genius are equally useless. We have no interest in conquering any cosmos: we want to extend the Earth to the borders of cosmos. We don’t know what to do with other worlds. We don’t need other worlds: we need a mirror. We struggle for contact, but we’ll never find it. We’re in the foolish human predicament of striving for a goal that we fear, that we have no need for. Man needs man.”
Such goes one of the best pieces of speech in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (Russian production awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes Festival in 1972), a film adaptation loosely following Stanisław Lem’s science-fiction novel Solaris (Poland, 1961).
Though needlessly long and overly slow, this finely performed and unforgettable movie postulates the ultimate inadequacy of communication between human and alien species. Its brilliant dialogues and snaring musical theme, the strong personality of its characters and the excellent performance (Jüri Järvet, playing Dr. Snaut, deserves being highlighted) powerfully captured my attention to an almost hypnotizing degree; not only because of its excellent scenography, but mostly becaue of the rich food-for-thought provided.
Solaris is a philosophical essay on man’s anthropomorphic limitations; a meditative psychological drama proposing the futility of attempted communications with extraterrestrial life. The plot occurs mostly aboard a space station orbiting the far-distant planet Solaris, totally covered by an ocean which is a planet-encompassing, single organism. In examining this oceanic surface from the hovering research station, its scientists are being studied, in turn, by the sentient planet itself, which probes for the thoughts of the humans and has the ability to recreate their secret or guilty concerns in human-like material forms. After years of observation, the mission stalls after all the crew members have fallen to emotional crises; hence, a psychologist travels from Earth to learn and evaluate the situation, though only to encounter the same mysterious phenomenon as the other scientists aboard have.
To me, this is a must-see film; one of those many that, unfortunately, very seldom reach our Western countries’ screens because of the limited scope of film distribution oligopoly.[:]