Olga Preobrazhenskaya (1881-1971) started a successful career as a stage actress in 1905 and came to film in 1913. She co-directed several films with Vladimir Gardin and taught from 1918 to 1925 at the State Film School. As a filmmaker with a pre-revolutionary career she was under suspicion, and directed three films for children in the mid-1920s – Anya is as remarkable as Kashtanka – before the overwhelming success of Baby ryazanskie (Women of Ryazan, 1927) and the extraordinary Svetly Gorod (Bright Town, 1928, only one reel known to exist).
“Kashtanka by Olga Preobrazhenskaya, print 1995, a film of winter, of night and snow, of children and animals, a film about loss, a masterpiece”, read my viewing notes from 2012. My Prague colleagues had it screened for me because they knew I was interested in colour in silent cinema, and they knew a tinted Soviet silent film to be a rare item. I had never heard the name of the director. My encounter with her work was enhanced by the shock of discovering that a major director who had reached international audiences with Baby ryazanskie and Tikhiy Don (The Quiet Don) around 1930 could disappear without a trace from official film history. In 2013, Il Cinema Ritrovato dedicated a retrospective to her.
In the original story by Chekhov, Kashtanka is a little dog that gets lost following the trail of his drunken owner. In the film he is stolen, sold, tossed out into the street and saved by a clown. The boy Fedyushka gets lost looking for the dog and ends up a prisoner of the sinister Mazamet who compels him to rove from house to house to make money, while Fedyushka’s father wanders through the streets in search of his lost child. The film was approved by the censors in 1926 and received the authorisation for international distribution the following year. Before the Czech print was discovered in 2012, Kashtanka had been considered lost in Russia, following the decision by the Central Committee of film censorship to ban the film in 1932 (“the underclass is portrayed as evil, lacking in class consciousness and social awareness”).
Cast and Credits
T. copia (versione ceca / Czech version): Fedus Pes. Sog.: from the epnomious short tale by Anton Pavlovič Čechov. Scen.: Jurij Bolotov, Ol’ga Preobraženskaja. Ass. regia: Ivan Pravov, N. Zubova. F.: Grigorij Giber. Scgf.: Dmitrij Kolupaev. Int.: Nikolaj Panov (clown Georges), Evgenija Chovanskaja (affittacamere), Antonin Pankryšev (Luka), Naum Rogožin (Mazamet, suonatore d’organetto), Leonid Jurenev (Chiodo, vagabondo), Jura Zimin (Fedjuška), Elena Tjapkina (Nastas’ja, lavandaia), Michail Žarov, B. Snegirev (Agafon), Gulja Koroleva, il cane Jackie. Prod.: Sovkino. 35mm. Bn.
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