Margarita Barskaja

[Torn Boots]. Scen.: Margarita Barskaja. F.: Georgij Bobrov, Sarkis Gevorkjan. Scgf.: Vladimir Egorov. Mus.: Vissarion Šebalin. Int.: Michail Klimov (professore d’istruzione religiosa), Klavdija Polovikova (cieca), Ivan Novosel’cev (padre di Walter), Vladimir Ural’skij (spia), Vera Alechina, bambini da un anno e tre mesi a tredici anni. Prod.: Mežrabpom- Fil’m. 35mm. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

“A real masterpiece… The best talking film from the Soviet Union”, wrote Henri Langlois of Rvanye bashmaki in 1936. Working with children led Barskaya to create superb direct sound and an inspired style of shooting. Don’t look for conventional cinematic syntax here. The film is chaotic in the way that Soviet films still knew how to be, and Langlois couldn’t help but be seduced by its rebellious spirit, its anarchy and love of children, comparable to Vigo’s Zero de conduite.
As well as being a film made with and for children, it offers a complex take on Western society. Pre-Nazi Germany is not named as such but is carefully reconstructed, possibly under advice from Karl Radek, and children offer a playful reflection of class struggle – doubly excluded, as proletarians and as minors. “They play in the same way that they live”, one intertitle says. The interaction between their comical games and the yet more ludicrous ones played by adults is developed on several levels. The first shot quotes M: children are playing, one of them is excluded from the circle. As with Fritz Lang, this is one of the keys to the film’s meaning, but it leads to another moral message. Foremost here is the depiction of daily life: soup, the unemployed father, poverty and the work born of poverty. Barskaya had seen Dudow and Brecht’s Kuhle Wampe. Gradually the country’s situation becomes visible. Class hostility at school and in the factory; a portrait of Hindenburg presiding over the classroom; the appearance of one and then many swastikas worn by older students; conflict that starts with the nationalist chants to which Rotfront marschiert responds; rebellion in the classroom, then on the streets; police firing at children… Until the obligatory marches and well-ordered parades, where Communist leader Ernst Thälmann is glimpsed. But this is not the real end: ultimately it is the children, like Lang’s little Elsie Beckmann, who will be sacrificed.

Irène Bonnaud and Bernard Eisenschitz   

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