Scen.: Aleksandr Žarov, Igor’ Savčenko. F.: Evgenij Šnejder, Julij Fogel’man. Scgf.: Valentina Chmelëva. Mus.: Sergej Potockij. Int.: Pëtr Savin (Timoška), Zoja Fëdorova (Marusen’ka), Igor’ Savčenko (il cupo), Nikolaj Jaročkin (il malizioso), Nikolaj Zyrjanov (il ragazzo vestito alla marinara). Prod.: Mežrabpomfilm. 35mm. D.: 56’. Bn.
In textbooks Garmon’ is often credited as the first Soviet musical. Maybe. ‘An idyll’ would be a more suitable definition. But if it is a musical, it is a very unconventional one indeed. On the other hand, what should one expect from a feature-length adaptation of a short poem? Igor’ Savčenko had a most Garmon’ 163 eclectic artistic background: a native Ukrainian, he was studying with a highbrow professor of acting in Leningrad, and afterwards started his career as the director of a very leftist avant-garde semi-professional Theatre of Young Workers (TRAM) in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. He made two short films in Baku, both were banned. Nevertheless, he was offered a job at Mežrabpomfilm, a company aimed at entertainment and profits (a rather exotic goal in Soviet Russia of the 1930s).
The advent of sound called for new genres. And Savčenko suggested a simple story with rhymed dialogue, infiltrated with singing and dancing. The best accordion player in the village is elected secretary of the village Komsomol (Young Communist League). He decides to lead a serious life from then on and buries his accordion in a haystack. Life without music becomes dull, until a kulak, an enemy of the state, appears from his Siberian exile with his own accordion and his own ‘kulak music’. The only way to save the village from his influence, to destroy him, is to exhume the ‘Soviet accordion’…
The plot is deliberately silly. But it isn’t just a comedy. It is also a very poetic film, highly influenced by Dovženko. If Dovženko had decided to turn Earth into a comedy, he would have made something like Garmon’. There is a most unusual camera style – Evgenij Šnejder was a refined cinematographer with a taste for eccentric angles and expressionist lighting. To make things even more complicated, Savčenko decided to turn field labor (such as harvesting) into musical numbers – several years later this technique became the core of Ivan Pyriev’s famous collective farm musicals.
Never make such rubbish as Garmon’ again”, said Stalin. Thus began Igor’ Savčenko’s remarkable film career. Not only did he become a versatile film director, he was also a legendary professor of film: among his pupils were Marlen Chuciev and Sergej Paradžanov.