Despite the February 1917 Revolution, the subsequent abdication of the Tsar and the setting-up of a provisional government led by the Social-Democrats under Kerensky, the war continued to wreak havoc and the government lacked strength. In April 1917, the Germans took advantage of this and made it possible for highly radical Russians to return from exile in Switzerland, whose aim was to end the war and set up a Communist regime. The Bolshevik Lenin, together with his comrades, returned to Russia in a “lead-sealed wagon”, or so the legend goes. The October Revolution could then take place. Those “ten days that shook the world”, according to the book by American journalist and eyewitness John Reed, inspired October, the film by Serguei Eisenstein commissioned by the regime to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Russian Revolution. This film, though not as successful as Battleship Potemkine, nevertheless strengthened Eisenstein’s theories of montage. The filmmaker was given significant means with which to make it. The reconstructions are impressive, particularly of the Winter Palace. There were more than 10,000 extras, with the principal characters played by amateurs, including Lenin whose likeness is surprising. The score by Dimitri Shostakovich was added in 1967. A huge film in every sense of the word, October is a brilliant work of propaganda and historical reconstruction. The Patriots (1933) by Boris Barnet is a modest piece of work in comparison, telling the story of a small tsarist village from 1913, through the war and ending with the 1917 Revolution. A magnificent film in which the tragic and the burlesque, the sentimental and the laughable, the political and the absurd are continuously intermingled. You laugh as much as you cry. Boris Barnet, author of The Girl with a Hatbox (1927), was a great poetic and comic filmmaker. The ambition of Knight without Armour, an English pre-war mega-production by Alexandre Korda, directed by French director Jacques Feyder, tells the tale of a journalist/secret agent (Robert Donat, who also starred in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps) who infiltrates the Bolsheviks and falls in love with a Russian countess played by a sublime Marlene Dietrich, who had just finished working with Joseph von Sternberg. Dr Zhivago, directed by David Lean in the mid-60s and adapted from Boris Pasternak’s great Russian novel banned in his own country, was a true production challenge, shot for the most part in Spain (and also in Canada and Finland) where Lean had one of the most phenomenal cinema sets ever built. The love scenes between Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, set to the music of Maurice Jarre and his famous Lara’s Theme against the backdrop of WWI, the Russian Revolution and the civil war between the Red and White Russians, are just as moving today as then. “The Archipelago of Goulash” according to Libération. One hell of a melodrama, whatever your views.
- Olivier Broche
OKRAINA de Boris BARNETT (1934) – USSR
OCTOBER - TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD de Sergueï Mikhailovich EISENSTEIN (1928) - USSR
DOCTOR ZHIVAGO de David LEAN (1965) - USA
KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR de Jacques FEYDER (1937) – Great Britain