Great Russian Movies: The Tragedies

Nobody does beautiful despair like the Russians:

Брат (Brother): At his mother’s behest Danila goes to visit his brother Viktor, a low-level gangster, in St. Petersburg. Turns out that, of the two, Danila is the better criminal. Friends have told me that when this movie came out Sergei Bodrov, who plays Danila, was heralded as the great new Russian star. Tragically, he was killed in an avalanche only a few years later.

Утомленние Солнцем (Burnt by the Sun): The year is 1936 and Sergei Petrovich, former revolutionary hero, hopes to spend a relaxing summer at his family country home. But when his wife’s cousin Dmitri returns after some time in Paris, things start to go sour. Stalin’s powers are increasing and Dmitri’s visit is no accident. For your info Nikita Mikhalkov, who stars here, was also in Walking around Moscow some thirty years earlier.

Иди и Смотри (Come and See): During the Nazi occupation of Belarus young Flyora finds a rifle in the sand. That marks the beginning of the end. As the war continues things become more exaggerated and more intense as Flyora and his companion Glasha sink deeper into despair. This one is tough to take–I recommend a couple of sittings.

Летят журавли (The Cranes are Flying): Veronika and Boris are in love. But when Boris goes off to war his musician/slacker cousin starts making increasingly obvious advances to Veronika. This is a particularly beautiful film because Tatiana Samoylova, who plays Veronika, has such an expressive face. Some of the camera angles are just incredible too and have been discussed extensively.

Гамлет (Hamlet): You may think you have seen Hamlet, but have you seen the version with a text translated by Boris Pasternak, a score composed by Dmitri Shostakovich, and a performance praised by Laurence Olivier? That’s this one. And for a bit more gossip, the protagonist, Innokentiy Smoktunovsky from Watch out for the Automobile (an honest-to-goodness comedy!) plays Hamlet.

Иваново Детство (Ivan’s Childhood): This was Andrei Tarkovsky’s first major film, and my favourite. Ivan’s family is killed on the Eastern front and Ivan, only twelve years old, vows to avenge their death. Very, very sad but very, very good.

Крылья (Wings): Nadezhda used to be a famous fighter pilot and was fiercely loyal to The Party. Now, some years later, she is finding her life as a headmistress unfulfilling. Say what you will about feminism in Russia but Larissa Shepitko, the director of Wings, was getting nominated for film awards in 1966. The first woman nominated for an Oscar for directing came only 10 years later, with Lina Wertmüller. Incredible.