The Soviet 60s Films: Dissolution of Tension

Author: Dmitry Paranyushkin (on 01 Dec 2015)
When the Second World War came, Russian cinema had enough emotional tension to deal with. While the revolutionary art was supposed to agitate and propagate, the post-war art had a more healing and educative (sometimes even sedative) function. Many great narratives about the war came out during the 40s and 50s, but a particularly interesting film in this regard is "The Cranes are Flying" by Mikhail Kalatozov made in the 1957.

The film is a story of a couple who are separated by the war. It is beautifully made, full of tension, suspense, and has an amazing resolution. Instead of following the standard cathartic Hollywood "happy end" routine, the film offers some kind of salvation to all those who have lost their loved ones during the war. A standard procedure would be to separate the couple at the beginning, the girl marries another guy, her man comes back from the war, the conflict follows, she gets back to his arms, the conflict resolved, the audience is happy. However, "The Cranes are Flying" is not about resolving the tension. Instead, it diffuses it into love, spreading it onto all those who were left alive, who came back as heroes, who continued to live. In that way it finds optimism and affirmation at the place of a personal loss, which can be a strong statement even nowadays.

A shot from the Soviet comedy Brilliant Hand

Another, less intense example is the "Brilliant Hand" comedy made in 1968 by Leonid Gaidai. While it surely belongs more to the sedative category than the healing one, it is interesting as a typical representative of the Soviet slapstick genre, it is funny at moments, and, most importantly, it has great cast and scenography so one can fully experience the atmosphere of the Soviet 60s through this film.

 
A very good Soviet comedy to watch is "Three Plus Two" shot in 1963. It tells a story of three young guys who came for a camping vacation on the Black Sea coast (in Crimea) and meet two young girls who are claiming that the spot at the sea is theirs. The great thing about the film is its lovingly shot scenes of the Soviet life back in the 60s. Careless, full of joy, love and good vibes. After the film was out on big screens many people got inspired to do wild camping and it started a whole new movement in Soviet Union.

 
If you're after something a bit more existential, check out a little-known Soviet science fiction movie "The Mysterious Wall" made in 1967 by Irina Povolotskaya and Mikhail Sadkovich. The action takes place in Siberia where a mysterious wall appears from time to time. Scientists are dispatched to study it and some of them believe that the wall is produced by some sort of alien intelligence, "the Martians", as they call them. The scientists attempt to communicate with the Wall, but all they experience in return are hallucinations about their past experiences. In those visions they are faced with some unresolved issues, repressed memories, and absurd dream-like situations. They meet people – messengers – from their past who reveal to them some simple truths about their own lives, which may be hard to accept, so they dismiss those messengers as the Martians and stubbornly continue attempting to "understand" the Mysterious Wall using their rational minds. 
 

Partially a very cunning political satire, partially an allegory on the dichotomy between the conscious and unconscious, rational and irrational, The Mysterious Wall is a film that raises a question about the real and imaginary borders that we erect in our own and our collective consciousness. The real value of the wall is that it provokes a reaction. Most of the time it is a reaction of fear. Fear before the unknown, fear in front of a possible change, in face of something that is considered as "alien". At the same time, some people are willing to transgress that fear and plunge into the depths of unconscious, desires, myths, memories and phantasies. In that case the wall is not an obstacle, but, rather, a portal into another world. The Mysterious Wall is, therefore, not so much a critique or a call to destroy all the walls, but, rather, an invitation for every viewer to make up their own choice about the walls they are erecting and facing continuously during their lives. 

It's hard to believe that a film with such explicit political implications was made in the Soviet Union, but somehow it managed to get through censorship. Also, a lot of the plot's elements and the general idea is very much related to Tarkovsky's Solaris, which was made 5 years after.
An interesting account of the film's plot as well as some scientific background is available on this blog. If you are interested to get English subtitles for that movie, leave us a comment below and we'll do it.

 


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