Sog.: dal romanzo Žurbiny [Gli Žurbin] di Vsevolod Kočetov. Scen.: Vsevolod Kočetov, Sokrat Kara. F.: Sergej Ivanov. Scgf.: Viktor Volin, Viktor Savostin. Mus.: Venedikt Puškov. Int.: Sergej Luk’janov (Matvej Žurbin), Boris Andreev (Il’ja Matveevič), Vera Kuznecova (Agaf’ja Karpovna), Aleksej Batalov (Aleksej), Sergej Kurilov (Viktor), Vadim Medvedev (Anton), Boris Bitjukov (Kostja), Ija Arepina (Tonja), Klara Lučko (Lida). Prod.: Lenfil’m · 35mm. Col.
Bol’šaja sem’ja was among the first Soviet films after the death of Stalin that created a bit of a stir abroad. Something indeed had changed, even if the story talked about continuities and cycles – at the end, a great-grandfather and his great-nephew both named Matvej Žurbin watch a ship christened in their name leaving the dock. The subject itself may be run-of-the-mill socialist realism: scenes from the life of a proletarian dynasty spanning four generations – a big family that stands in for the gigantic clan called Soviet Union. But thanks to the subtle touches of the incomparable Iosif Hejfic, the film develops a liveliness rarely seen at the time on Soviet screens – or any others for that matter. Colour has a lot to do with it: Bol’šaja sem’ja truly shines and sparkles; the darker tones sooth those in despair with gracious shadows, the brighter ones light the world when people are merry and happy. Also, masses and masses of nuances that as always make the difference: how a worker’s pride in his achievements is shown, how a couple comes to terms with its short-comings and failings, how a bureaucrat deals with being chastised by a living example of proletarian virtue. This is all the more remarkable when we look at the novel on which Bol’šaja sem’ja is based: Vsevolod Kočetov’s widely translated 1952 Žurbiny. Kočetov was quite a character even by Soviet standards: a hard-liner deemed reactionary even by many conservatives, a man-of-the-masses artisan of the word whose novels strove hard to be prime examples of Socialist Realism at its most plainly unambiguous and party-line supportive, as becomes a functionary. Yet, on re-reading, Žurbiny proves surprisingly agile, at times bluntly elegant – the work of somebody sensing something. Hejfic, one is tempted to say, takes off from these idiosyncratic moments in Kočetov’s prose. Both, Žurbiny and Bol’šaja sem’ja show that things during the early- to mid -50s were far more complex than we tend to think…