[Marionette] : . Scen.: Vladimir Švejcer, Jakov Protazanov. F.: Pëtr Ermolov. Scgf.: Moisej Levin, Sergej Kozlovskij. Mus.: Leonid Polovinkin. Supervisione artistica: Sergej Jutkevič. Int.: Anatolij Ktorov (Do, il principe), Nikolaj Radin (Re, l’arcivescovo), Valentina Tokarskaja (Mi, il cantante), Konstantin Zubov (Fa, il fascista), Sergej Martinson (So, il barbiere), Michail Klimov (La, il ministro liberale), Sergej Tichonravov (Ti, il socialista), Leonid Leonidov (il burattinaio), Vasilij Toporkov (il direttore del teatro di marionette), Ivan Arkadin (il maestro delle cerimonie). Prod.: Mežrabpomfilm. 35mm. D.: 90’. Bn.
Mežrabpomfilm was the most commercially successful (and commercially-oriented) film company in the Soviet Union. Jakov Protazanov was its leading director. Making smashing box-office hits regularly (of which Aelita is the most well-known today), he could afford to experiment a bit once in a while. Marionetki is one such experiment – not in film language, but in genre. It is a highly stylized political grotesque, something the Soviets were never particularly famous for.
Yet, from the international perspective, Protazanov was part of a trend: grotesque political satires were gaining popularity. Leo McCarey’s Duck Soup came out just a few years later (it was never screened in Russia, and there is a very low probability that Protazanov ever saw it), René Clair’s The Last Billionaire was to be released a year later. And the plot – a barber and a king who change places – would be echoed in Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, made six years later.
Protazanov, who started his career long before the revolution and spent several years in France and Germany, had the dubious reputation of perhaps the most ‘a-soviet’ and ‘western’ director in the country. It was considered good manners to criticize him, yet he was the only filmmaker of his generation who was taken seriously by the avant-garde (including Ėjzenštejn, who taught some of Marionetki 162 Protazanov’s films to his students, and Barnet, who even started making a film with Protazanov).
Marionetki is indeed a story of marionettes, “a political comedy in a puppet theatre, or, if you like, a puppet comedy in a political theatre”. All the puppets are played by the leading actors of Soviet theatre, the sets are designed by Moisej Levin, one of the best set designers of the Soviet stage and screen, the extravagant choreography is by Kas’jan Golejzovskij, the biggest name in the field. So the puppet theatre is indeed a fancy one. But that is typical Protazanov: never risk too much, an exotic genre must be balanced by other attractions.