[Tenente Kiže] Scen.: Juryj Tynjanov. F.: Arkadij Kol’catyj. Scgf.: Pëtr Snopkov, Konstantin Kartašov. Mus.: Sergej Prokof’ev. Int.: Michail Janšin (Paolo I), Boris Gorin-Gorjajnov (conte Palen), Nina Šaternikova (principessa Gagarina), Sof’ja Magarill (la sua dama di compagnia), Erast Garin (aiutante), Michail Rostovcev (comandante della fortezza), Vladimir Lepko (conte Kutajsov, barbiere dell’imperatore), Leonid Kmit (scrivano dell’esercito), Konstantin Gibšman (medico di corte). Prod.: Belgoskino 35mm. D.: 86’. Bn.
Sergej Prokof ’ev’s score is Poručik Kiže’s ticket to immortality. Being turned into a symphonic suite, it lives a life of its own and occasionally revives interest in its cinematic ancestor. Yet, there are many more points of interest in this very bizarre motion picture. Starting with the genre and plot. Historical comedies were popular in Europe, but the Russians didn’t fancy making fun of history – it was usually a subject of either pride or condemnation, pathetic in both cases. But the mad Czar Paul was a proper character for a political satire. A rather refined satire from the aesthetic point of view. The Russian cameramen had a taste for the nineteenth century with its naturalism, factory smoke, railroads, top hats and uniforms. But there were no standards for the eighteenth century. Arkadij Kolcatyj’s photography and Pëtr Snopkov and Konstantin Kartašov’s sets created an entirely novel universe – fragile and cold as fine china. Together with Prokof ’ev’s bells, flutes and drums, it created the right sense of absurdity.
But what is truly, outrageously and delightfully, absurd is the plot. Poručik Kiže is a biopic of sorts. The story of a military man – his exile and miraculous redemption, his marriage, his meteoric career, his illness and death. All the ingredients are present but one: the military himself. For Lieutenant Kijé is just a spelling mistake. Such was the screenplay of Juryj Tynjanov, a talented historical novelist and one of the greatest philologists of the XX century. And only a philologist could have chosen a spelling mistake for a protagonist – a spelling mistake which (or rather who) made a career.