Scen.: Boris Laskin, Vladimir Poljakov. F.: Arkadij Kal’catyj. Scgf.: Konstantin Efimov, Oleg Grosse. Mus.: Anatolij Lepin. Int.: Igor’ Il’inskij (Ogurcov), Ljudmila Gurčenko (Lena Krylova), Jurij Belov (Griša Kol’cov), Georgij Kulikov (Usikov), Sergej Filippov (il conferenziere), Ol’ga Vlasova (Romaškina), Andrej Tutyškin (il contabile), Tamara Nosova (la segretaria), Gennadij Judin (il direttore dell’orchestra jazz). Prod.: Mosfil’m · 35mm Col.
The underlying rules of Karnaval’naja noč’, a celebrated comedy of the early Thaw period, are indicated in its title: a masquerade filled with festive and ritual laughter grounded in the drama of eternal renewal, a universal laughter that celebrates both birth and burial, that glorifies and mocks.
The screenwriters had a “revue” in mind, a variant of the popular cine-concert in the form of a grandiose spectacle with classical music and ballet, which after Stalin’s death veered towards variety and circus. The numbers framed a plot based mostly on love mishaps. But in Karnaval’naja noč’’s screenplay a director, “the enemy of fun”, intervenes and tries to thwart the show: the uncultivated bureaucrat Ogurcov, inspired by the slogan “I don’t like jokes, and I don’t tolerate them in others”. Director Ėl’dar Rjazanov wanted to shoot a realist satire with a grotesque and fearsome Ogurcov and had the dramatic actor Pëtr Konstantinov in mind for the part.
The last word on the film, however, belonged to Ivan Pyr’ev, the Director of Mosfil’m and the project’s driving force. A great director and exceptional producer, Pyr’ev sensed Rjazanov’s potential for comedy and compelled the young documentary-maker to be the film’s director. Rjazanov later recalled: “ Pyr’ev put me on the path of a more conventional film in which vitality, music and the carnival spirit created a joyous atmosphere and Ogurcov was simply absurd, ridiculous and feared by no one”. Pyr’ev wanted to cast at all costs Igor’ Il’inskij, one of the biggest actors at the Mejerchol’d and one of Soviet comedy’s top stars since the 1920s. Il’inskij was the perfect expression of the carnivalesque ‘king of fools’, a core irreverent character who dismantles the director as a representative of the powers that be.
Officialism is countered by the variety show, especially pop music, depicted as young music. In line with the carnivalesque theme, the climactic scene sees the musicians taking off fake beards, doing somersaults and letting loose to upbeat jazz, a musical genre that happened to have been prohibited by Stalin.
Young VGIK pupil Ljudmila Gurčenko, whom Pyr’ev was also keen on casting, is an expressive embodiment of the film’s spirit. Her inexperience was compensated by her energy, pretty face and vocal talent, qualities that would make her a musical comedy star.
Rjazanov’s film managed to free itself of the weight of the past. It was not, however, with the means of satire, originally proposed by the director, but with the resources of the carnivalesque story, which Pyr’ev had insisted on in tune with the screenplay.