Scen.: Ivan Perestiani. Int.: Ivan Perestiani (‘Nonno’, un vecchio rivoluzionario), Vladimir Striževskij (suo figlio), Zoja Barancevič (sua figlia), Michail Stal’skij (un prigioniero morente), Konstantin Zubov, K. Askočenskij, Vasilij Il’in. Prod.: Aleksandr Chanžonkov & Ko. 35mm. L.: 708 m (incompleto). D.: 34’ a 18 f/s. Bn.
1917 was too confusing a year in Russia to reflect reality fairly and objectively. Most filmmakers produced ‘escapist’ melodramas set in the exotic South. Not least of all because Yalta, on the Crimean seashore, was becoming somewhat of a Russian Hollywood. The weather and the landscapes were so atypical of Russia they almost called for exotic melodramas set in an abstract country. Evgenij Bauėr’s Za sčast’em is a fine example of that. A rich widow Zoja Verenskaja and her suitor Dmitrij Gžatskij are definitely Russian, but the widow’s half-blind daughter Li and the daughter’s beau Enriko are probably not… It doesn’t matter really. Social issues never attracted Bauėr. A master of extensional lighting schemes with lights hidden behind columns, drapes, vases, etc., sophisticated interior mise-en-scènes with actors and objects forming complex geometrical patterns, he enjoyed shooting outdoors for a change. And mastering a new lighting style: Crimean landscapes resembled Italian ones – so should the acting, he thought.
Bauėr didn’t care much about psychological consistency – something Russian filmmakers were highly concerned with. Thus he could easily unite masters of the stage with non-professionals. The former were represented by Nikolaj Radin, a subtle, ironic actor of ‘the French school’, and Lidija Koreneva, one of Stanislavskij’s favourite pupils at the Moscow Art Theatre. Lev Kulešov was the non-professional this time. The future pioneer of montage theories and a leading avant-garde director, he was an 18-year-old set designer in 1917. Kulešov recalled many years later that the only reason Bauėr had cast him in the role of a hopelessly enamoured artist was because in real life he was indeed desperately in love with his partner. When the girl abandons him for another man, and the artist sits on a rock by the raging sea and weeps, Kulešov was sobbing for real. Nevertheless he was ashamed to see the results on-screen: so comical and artificial his real sufferings seemed. Having watched the film again half-a-century later, he got another impression: “A miracle happened, time has made my talentless acting equal to that of the famous actors of the time. Now we all looked comically on the screen, as the first automobile would look among modern ones”.
Well, Kulešov belonged to a new generation, a new country, a new mentality. Whereas Za sčast’em was the swan song of Russian pre-revolutionary cinema.
However, there was a need for issues of the day, and the burning issue was, of course, the Revolution. The first that is, the one that took place in February and resulted in the abdication of Nicholas II and the end of the Russian Empire. It was greeted with great enthusiasm – unlike the second Revolution in October, the Bolshevik one, which resulted in a five-year-long civil war.
Revoljucioner was one of the first films that responded to the new political climate. It was released on 16 April 1917, only a month after the historical event.
Of all Bauėr’s films, this one has the least amount of interior shots, a great deal of it takes place at the Siberian katorga. Siberia was filmed in Neskučnyj Garden, Moscow’s oldest park. March was incredibly warm for Moscow that year, and the crew was suffering from a lack of snow. Particularly when it came to shooting the funeral scene (a revolutionary dies in exile and is buried in snowbanks), the tragic climax of the film. While the crew was desperately seeking for patches of unmelted dirty snow, all of a sudden it started snowing rapidly and extensively. Within an hour Siberia looked as real as it could. “It was like a miracle”, recalled Ivan Perestiani, the star and scriptwriter of the film, “you should have seen Bauėr. At least I could have never suspected how merry and joyful could this earnest and meditative man be”.
As Perestiani mentions in his memoirs, Bauėr made the film “with incredible promptness”. Considering the usual shooting period of one-two weeks, “incredible promptness” must have meant several days. Perhaps this explains why Revoljucioner is lacking Bauėr’s trademark effects. There are no records of who did the camerawork, so it might have been somebody other than Boris Zavelev, Bauėr’s constant cameraman and his true collaborator. In that case, this might also be the reason for a ‘simplified’ visual solution.
On the other hand, Bauėr made a clear distinction between genres. Thus, his many farces always lack the visual complexity of his melodramas – he considered them as mere hackwork. It could very well be that politics was also a farce of sorts for him. Bauėr was one of the few filmmakers who was not in the least involved in politics. It is barely possible to imagine his input in the increasingly politicized Soviet cinema. As well as in the ironical extravaganzas produced by the Russian emigre filmmakers in Europe – Bauėr was too serious and pathetic for that. Those were the two main alternatives. By the irony of fate, he didn’t have to face them: in July 1917 he died from pneumonia.
As for Revoljucioner, it was an absolute hit. And so was Za sčast’em.