Sog.: dal romanzo omonimo di Dmitrij Furmanov e da testi di Dmitrij Furmanov, Anna Furmanova e Trofimov. Scen.: Fratelli Vasil’ev. F.: Aleksandr Sigaev, Aleksandr Ksenofontov. Scgf.: Isaak Machlis. Mus.: Gavriil Popov. Int.: Boris Babočkin (Čapaev), Boris Blinov (Furmanov), Varvara Mjasnikova (Anna), Leonid Kmit (Petka), Illarion Pevcov (colonnello Borozdin), Stepan Škurat (il cosacco Potapov), Vjačeslav Volkov (Elan), Nikolaj Simonov (Žicharev), Boris Čirkov (un contadino), Konstantin Nazarenko (lo spilungone). Prod.: Lenfilm. 35mm. D.: 95’. Bn.
Čapaev might be the most successful of all Soviet films. One couldn’t even say that it was ever re-released because for Čapaev 159 several decades it never left the theaters: even forty years after its release it could have been seen at least once a month in cinemas of all the major Soviet towns. Today it has the status of a classic film, but even in the 1960s and 1970s, children were certain that Čapaev was a brand new blockbuster.
Not only was it a box-office hit, it was also praised by the authorities – and very specific ones: in the course of just one year Stalin watched Čapaev thirty-eight times. For generations of filmmakers Čapaev became the Model, the standard. A matter of pride for its authors, and a curse at the same time. “We have brought up an elephant”, complained the directors, “now we have to feed it all our lives”.
Nobody expected a masterpiece from The Vasil’ev Brothers (who were not brothers in real life, but had the same family name – a very common one – and had come up with this catchy pseudonym).
Brilliant editors (their ‘class-suitable’ Soviet re-editing of ‘bourgeois’ films from Europe and the US was legendary), they were considered no more than skilful epigones as directors. And being commissioned to make yet another pathetic film about a Russian Civil War hero was indicative: all the leading filmmakers were busy with the burning issues of collectivization and industrialization.
The secret was in the genre. Which might be considered a heroic comedy. Boris Babočkin, a pungent and witty character actor (and, one should add, a man who passionately despised Soviet power), was the last one to be chosen for the role of a heroic Red commander. Yet, it was precisely his unpredictable temper and prickliness that, right after Čapaev’s release, made Babočkin the number one actor of the whole Soviet Union – much to the discontent of his older and eminent colleagues.
One unconventional solution led to others. Babočkin’s teacher, the great theatrical actor Illarion Pevcov was chosen to be his antagonist – and never was an officer of the White Army so charming and intelligent in a Soviet picture. The girl (not Čapaev’s girl, but that of his orderly) was played by a silent film actress Varvara Mjasnikova, who didn’t look a day younger than her thirty-four years and was far from a conventional screen beauty – but that’s exactly what made her stand out. And turned her into a star – along with practically all the members of the cast.
While working on the script the directors drew numerous ‘charts of emotional effect’, predicting the audience’s reaction to every twist in the plot. Their experienced colleagues were ironic, to say the least, and these charts were about to become anecdotal. But the audience reaction proved these charts right, every single inch of them.